Eleanor MacKinnon

A remarkable humanitarian dedicated to caring for others.

Eleanor MacKinnon was born in Tenterfield in 1871. She was a remarkable humanitarian who dedicated her life to easing the suffering of soldiers and their families, caring for vulnerable children and supporting women’s rights.

Eleanor MacKinnon was the daughter of Glentworth Addison, who served as the Police Magistrate in Tenterfield in the late 1860s and early 1870s. She was the only female child in a large family of boys.

From these modest beginnings, MacKinnon was to become a world-recognized figure for her outstanding work for the Red Cross Society in Australia during and after World War 1.

Based in Sydney, MacKinnon was active in charitable and political organisations such as the Women’s Liberal League from an early age. In 1914, she had developed the leadership skills, organisational abilities and gift for public speaking which placed her in a unique position to take up Lady Helen Munro Ferguson’s call to the women of Australia to assist in the war effort. With the founding of the British Red Cross Society, Australian Division, MacKinnon became the foundation Honorary Secretary of the NSW Division.

During the war, MacKinnon acted as honorary director of Red Cross branches and the director of the produce depot. Red Cross achievements in raising vast sums of money in Australia for the war effort and coordinating the shipping of tons of goods to support prisoners of war or wounded soldiers was the result of the tireless work of extraordinary women such as Mackinnon.

MacKinnon also served as co-director of the state Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachments during this period. These women volunteers (VADs) provided first aid, nursing assistance, comforts, domestic assistance and other supports for returned and wounded soldiers.  As Red Cross publicity officer, MacKinnon established and edited the Red Cross Record, a valuable record of the organisation and the war era.

MacKinnon’s greatest achievement was the establishment of the Australian Junior Red Cross in NSW in 1914.  The movement rallied and guided children to support children of soldiers and children who were sick and in need in their community. This training ground for young humanitarians became an international movement with tens of thousands of participants.

Eleanor MacKinnon was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (Civil), in 1919, for her invaluable war work through the Red Cross Society.

However, MacKinnon’s work and achievements were not confined to the war and continued until her death in 1936.  Among her other accomplishments are:

  • 1915 Initiated “Our Flag” movement to benefit the War Chest and worked enthusiastically for the Peace Loan.
  • 1919 Directed the Red Cross campaign during the outbreak of the influenza epidemic in NSW.
  • 1924 Appointed substitute delegate to the League of Nations in Geneva- her address documented her work in helping to found the Australasian Armenian Relief Fund in 1922.
  • 1925-6 Oversaw the reconstruction of the Red Cross peace-time role in Australia and lead the fight against tuberculosis.
  • 1925 Appointed a Fellow to the Senate of the University of Sydney.
  • 1929 Appointed member of the Hospitals Commission – established many hospital auxiliaries throughout NSW.
  • 1935 Worked on establishing the Sister Kenny Clinic at the Royal North Shore Hospital for children with infantile paralysis.
  • 1935 Awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal in recognition of her contribution to hospitals and health care in Australia.

Information compiled by Louise Kear. Sources used include: