She Helped Assemble Aeroplanes
We’re only a few days into the annual March Women’s History Month and one full day away from International Women’s Day (IWD), which takes place on 8 March. The March Women’s History Month has experienced a bit of a ‘stop, start’ existence in Australia, but it seems that new life was breathed into it in 2019, particularly in Victoria through the Royal Historical Society. As a history enthusiast, I commend their initiative.
I’ve said many times that Australian Church Women (ACW) has been blessed to have so many current and past members who have made valuable contributions to the story of our organisation, as well as to other bodies and communities advocating for women’s issues and equality.
Our Herstory Blog reminds us of some of these women and their achievements, and what they accomplished demonstrates that they should be long remembered and honoured in our ACW records. And we should also be making them known more widely outside of our organisation.
Often, our members have and had very interesting and significant careers, which is sometimes surprising because they are such humble women that their past employment or achievements are rarely mentioned, especially by them. Careers such as scientist, social worker, accountant, pharmacist, musician, nurse, doctor, minister, priest and pastor, air hostess, illustrator, first female Federal Commissioner of the Girls’ Brigade, missionary, draftswoman, church worker, bank employee, tertiary educator, public servant, health worker, secretary, working for the International Monetary Fund, bookkeeper, author, TV personality, editor, stenographer, researcher, housekeeper, business owner, retail and hospitality employee, artist, manager, dental nurse, governess, farmer, dressmaker, theologian, child care worker, librarian, nanny, and early childhood, primary, secondary and business school teachers, including first female principal of a secondary school, and the list goes on and on.*
Great strides were made for women in employment and dismantling social barriers during the terrible conflicts of World War I and II when women took on more and more traditional male occupations, as those men were recruited into the armed forces to defend their countries. I doubt very much that these women received remuneration equal to the men, nor would their work output be considered in comparable terms, however, once again in a time of crisis, women proved they were not only essential workers but also essential to solving problems such as labour shortages.
Grace Sims found herself in this position of essential worker during World War II when she was employed on the production line that assembled Bristol Beaufort bombers for the defence of Australia by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Before this war ended, 700 Beaufort bombers were constructed in Australia and more than one-third of the 8,500 employees of the Department of Aircraft Production (DAP) were women.
Later, after the war, Grace joined the staff of the YWCA and worked in Toowoomba, Canberra and Adelaide. In Adelaide, she became a member of the North Adelaide Congregational Church (later the Brougham Place Uniting Church), and the Board of the London Missionary Society, a non-denominational Christian mission with strong ties to the Congregationalist movement. She also accepted the role of editor of The Bellman, the magazine of the North Adelaide Congregational Church.
When Grace moved on from the YWCA, she commenced work in the Congregational Church Office as well as the Lady Gowrie Child Care Centre, a not-for-profit community service that provided early childhood programs for young children.
Then in 1964, at 50 years of age, Grace entered a completely new phase of her life when the Reverend Winifred Kiek commissioned her to work as a missionary at Parassala in South India for five years – where she ended up staying for 18! Grace continually sought ways to improve life for the Indian women and girls, and one of the things that she did for them was to develop a cottage industry in embroidery. For many women, this was their only source of income, and Grace coordinated the purchase and sale of the materials needed in addition to keeping the books.
She was also warden of a foster home for 60 girls and later organised the building of a second hostel, to enable girls to attend the dressmaking school that she began in 1972. Another area of her responsibility was to travel to outlying villages where she started 12 new centres for women and girls.
In 1982, Grace returned to Adelaide and became an active member of the Dulwich-Rose Park United Parish, serving as Parish Secretary and a church elder. Grace wasn’t suited to retirement, instead she ‘retyred’ herself with new tread and continued to give much more to the wider church and her community. Locally, she ministered to the residents of her retirement village and worked in the garden.
Fortunately for Australian Church Women, Grace became involved in the South Australian Unit of ACW in 1987, where she served as treasurer for five years and acting secretary for part of those years. Wearing these two hats would have kept her well occupied. ACW has often benefitted from retired Christian women who bring their life experience and skills to the business of ACW and participate wholeheartedly in our advocacy, scholarship and fundraising projects for women.
Grace Sims was another example in our herstory of a committed disciple of Jesus Christ. She lived an extraordinary and varied life, serving others and demonstrating the abilities of women to enrich their communities and influence changes that increase opportunities and improve circumstances for women and girls.
After a full and active life, Grace died in January 1995 at the age of 80.
*Noted earlier in a post at https://www.acw.org.au/post/another-wonderful-surprise
Records of the National ACW Archives.
Royal Historical Society of Victoria https://www.historyvictoria.org.au/march-is-womens-history-month/
International Women’s Day https://unwomen.org.au/get-involved/international-womens-day/
If you have or know the whereabouts of any photos of Grace Sims, please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org