Keelah Pulsford Dey (née Dickson) is another past member of Australian Church Women (ACW) who appears in our Honouring Australian Church Women Book. She was a founding member of ACW and was elected as the first treasurer in 1965. Keelah represented the Congregational* Church in New South Wales.
Education was important to Keelah, and as a young person she set her sights on becoming a teacher. She achieved her goal and received a diploma from the Sydney Kindergarten Training College. Keelah was known as a gracious and loving woman and no doubt those ‘little people’ in her care benefited from those personal qualities, including her two much-loved daughters.
As a Church woman, Keelah was interested in ecumenical concerns, and this led to a long-standing interest in and support of the Australian Council of Churches (ACC). She became a member of Christian Women Concerned, an ecumenical group which was formed in 1968 in Sydney, New South Wales. This group began as women concerned about social justice and as their concerns about gender inequality grew, they sought to study and demonstrate feminist theology. They began to advocate against male patriarchy in the Church and for women to hold positions of Church leadership, and they published the Magdalen magazine to publicise and raise awareness of this matter. These women were from the denominations of Anglican, Catholic, Congregational, Methodist, Presbyterian, and the Society of Friends. From this group the Commission on the Status of Women of the Australian Council of Churches was formed, of which Keelah was a member.
She was also elected by the Congregational Union of Australia to be the first woman member of the Board of the Uniting Church in Northern Australia. As you can see, Keelah was well occupied in supporting female leadership in the Church and developing relationships with Church women from other denominations.
The main issue that underpinned the groups that Keelah belonged to was gender equality. Her concern for this inequality was expressed in a paper submitted for the ‘Enquiry into the Status of Women in the Church’ where she wrote:
‘I would like to see the status of women in the Church as one of sharing equally with men on the basis of complete equality in all aspects of the Church’s activities with everyone giving leadership and discharging responsibilities upon the basis of their capabilities without regard to their sex and with no functions regarded as especially suited to one sex or the other.
It seems to me that the achievement of a proper status for women within the Church is a part of the struggle and that many of the factors involved in the general movement find their counterpart in the special situation of the Church.’
Australian Church Women valued Keelah Dey and her contributions to the organisation and the status of women in the Church, making her a National Life Member in 1973. Keelah passed away on 5 January 1987 at the age of 76, and the New South Wales Unit of ACW paid tribute to her in the ACW National Memorial Book, renamed the Honouring Australian Church Women Book.
*The Congregational Church joined with two other denominations in 1977 to form the Uniting Church of Australia.