A Quiet Achiever
Doris Mabel Mitchell was born in Victoria, in 1908, but spent most of her life in New South Wales (NSW). She attended Petersham Primary School and Sydney Girls’ High School. After graduating from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts, in 1928, she became a teacher. For sixteen years, teaching was her life until 1944 when Doris had a career change followed by an opportunity to travel, before returning to teaching.
It was her interests after retiring early that benefited Australian Church Women (ACW). Doris had found great satisfaction in her service to women during her brief change in career, and in retirement she was able to devote herself to serving several organisations. These included the Australian Board of Missions, the National Council of Women, the New South Wales Women’s Inter-Church Council (later the NSW Unit of Australian Church Women), and the Pan Pacific and South East Asia Women’s Association. She was a very busy lady.
In 1974, Doris became the President of the NSW Women’s Inter-Church Council, and a report on her installation and address to the congregation appeared in the July 1974 issue of Women at Work, the ACW national newsletter. It contained an overview of her early years of service to the organisations she had joined. Here is an excerpt from the report:
'Miss Mitchell brings to her role as President of the Council a wealth of training and experience. She is a graduate of the University of Sydney and a teacher by profession. She was invited to join the board of the Australian Anglican Board of Missions at their Head Office in Sydney [in 1944] and was in turn, Federal Youth Secretary, Federal Secretary of the Women's Auxiliary and Accountant*. Miss Mitchell has travelled extensively and has had the special objective of looking into women's part [sic] in the Church both in voluntary organisations and professionally and in particular, training programmes for women Church workers. She has been a member of the Executive of the National Council of Women of N.S.W. since 1962, having held the office of Recording Secretary 1962-64, Hon. State Secretary 1964-70 and [National] Vice President since then. Her interest in Pacific and Asian countries led her to join the Pan-Pacific & South East Asia Association. In 1969, she was elected Hon. National Secretary of PPSEAWA/Australia, and held this office until 1972 when she became First National Vice President. Her close association with the Australian Board of Missions has been maintained through her membership of the N.S.W. State Committee and Executive, the central Council of the Women's Auxiliary of which she has been Chairman since 1966. Miss Mitchell has made several visits to the Pacific areas, including P.N.G., Br. [British] Solomon Islands, New Hebrides and Fiji.
'The high point of the [installation] ceremony is when the Retiring President reaffirms the aims of the N.S.W. Women's Inter-Church Council and the new President receives a copy of the President's Bible, as signifying her acceptance of the responsibilities of the office. She brings to her task the talents and abilities with which God has endowed her and undertakes to keep alive the light of witness in unity and service, and by a willingness to serve, ensures that the light of the Word continues to shine with ever increasing brilliance to the glory of Almighty God. Her acceptance of the Bible is accompanied by a solemn commitment of her willingness to serve for the fulfiIIment of His purposes.
‘The President then addressed the congregation.
'Her opening remarks recalled a small church in a village in Norfolk upon the baptismal font of which were engraved the words "Think and thank God." In the church were many examples of the skill of craftsmen but it was left to the skill of this particular craftsman to carve a sermon in stone. The morning ceremony has caused her to think of the beginnings of the Women's Inter-Church Council thirtysix years ago, when four women from different churches came together and found in sharing and co-operation, a richer experience. These women were pioneers in the ecumenical movement and for their vision and faith, we can thank God today. Over the years, these representatives of churches were joined by the women of other churches and so the circle widened. And so we today share the richness and variety of our traditions and in the common ground of our Christian faith find fruitful ways of working together. For this we can thank God.
'Progress was achieved with the coming together of similar groups throughout the Commonwealth, all established at different times to develop an Australian fellowship and so Australian Church Women came into existence. We can be thankful that the coming together was fostered and developed in N.S.W. This was accomplished by women who, in spite of difficulties and in the face of many problems persisted. For this, we can thank God.
'Through these women there has been an extension of links with church women in similar organisations far beyond Australia, in America, in Europe and in Asia, and through them A.C.W. has become a member of the East Asian Christian Women's Conference [later the Asian Church Women's Conference (ACWC)] and has been ably represented at their Conferences over the years.
'We have also been linked with Christian women of Asian places through the Fellowship of the Least Coin, a great circle of praying women which is another example of caring and sharing. For this, we can thank God.
'This service was being held within the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – from Ascension Day to Pentecost. It had been so placed quite deliberately so that we may pause to consider the significance of this observance when Christians of many traditions came together, not for discussion or debate, but for prayer ...
'It was a fitting gesture that the Service concluded with prayers for Christian unity, it was also fitting that a contribution was made by an ecumenical choir from the Lane Cove-Longueville Women's Inter-Church Fellowship which is made up of singers from the various churches in the area.
'At the conclusion of the Service, all were invited to proceed to the Chapter House adjoining the Cathedral, to meet the office bearers and members of the Council. Refreshments were served by members of the Mothers' Union and the A.B.M. Women's Auxiliary.'
She also served in the positions of Secretary and Treasurer of the NSW State Unit of Australian Church Women and National Secretary from 1977 to 1979 and National Vice-President from 1989 to 1991. Doris was made a State Life Member of Australian Church Women in 1983. She was also former President and a Life Member of the Pan Pacific and South East Asia Women’s Association. In 1980, she was appointed a Life Vice-President of the Anglican Board of Missions.
Doris was awarded the Queen’s Silver Medal, in 1977, and in 1993 the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for her work with women [for service to women and to the Australian Board of Missions].
The tribute to Doris in the ACW Memorial Bursary Record tells us that she ‘was a rather reserved lady, always ready with wise and common-sense advice. She was very committed to ecumenism and is remembered with great affection by members of the NSW State Unit of Australian Church Women’.
Doris was also a writer, and her publications include:
Leaders All (1946)
Bush Folk (1948)
Challenge to Melanesia (1959)
Workers Together – the Story of the ABM Auxiliary (1985)
Sixty Years On – the Story of the Pan Pacific South-East Asia Women’s Association, 1928-1988, Australia’s Part.
She also assisted Jean Arnot to write the history of the National Council of Women in Australia when the Council celebrated 75 years.
Doris died in November 1997, and the Thanksgiving Service held in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, on ‘26 November 1997 was a wonderful tribute to her life and her devotion to service for our Lord’.
*Doris left the ABM office early in 1960 to travel overseas and on her return, she became Headmistress of St Faith’s School, Yeppoon, Queensland.