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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kumm, Frances Gertrude (1886–1966)

by Janet McCalman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Frances Gertrude Kumm (1886-1966), churchwoman and philanthropist, was born on 8 April 1886 at Collingwood, Melbourne, eldest of eight children of Frederick John Cato, a Victorian-born merchant, and his wife Frances, née Bethune, who came from New Zealand. In partnership with his cousin Thomas Edwin Moran, Cato was steadily building a grocery empire. When Gertrude was 2 he bought a house at Toorak in which she was to spend much of her life.

Gertrude was educated at home until the age of 14. She then entered Methodist Ladies' College (wearing a ruby-red dress) where she was conspicuous as one of the few from wealthy homes. The Cato family was deeply Methodist, and, despite the demands of business, her father spent so much time working for the Wesleyan Church that he was 'almost its unpaid employee'. Hence Gertrude absorbed from birth the ideals of service to the Church and of philanthropic work.

Fred Cato's international missionary involvement brought to the family home in 1911 Dr Hermann Karl William Kumm, a missionary and explorer. Born in Prussia and later based in England, Kumm was a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society who had traversed the north-central African divide between the Niger River and the Nile. His wife had died in 1906, leaving him with two young sons. Within a fortnight of announcing their engagement, Gertrude and Karl were married with Methodist forms on 12 January 1912 at Hawthorn.

The couple travelled to England. From there Dr Kumm continued his work for the Sudan United Mission. On the outbreak of World War I they moved to New Jersey, United States of America, where their son John and daughter Lucy (d.1934) were born. Their American life was more settled: Karl was restricted by heart disease and Lucy was a diabetic.

Dr Kumm died in 1930. His widow was distraught. Her sister Una (later Dr Porter) was sent to bring Gertrude and the children back to Australia and the family home. Mrs Kumm threw herself into Christian public life, serving the Young Women's Christian Association as national president (1945-51) and as vice-president (1951-55) of the World Y.W.C.A for the South Pacific Area. Other commitments ranged from the Australian Red Cross Society and the National Council of Women (president 1945-53) to various agencies of the Methodist Church, the Victorian Diabetic Association (president 1953-57) and the Women's Hospital, Melbourne (president 1938-42). Her greatest service was to postwar refugees and immigrants as a member (1952-61) of the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council. In 1948 she was appointed O.B.E.

Mrs Kumm possessed a loving and gracious disposition which endeared her to the many people with whom she worked around the world. Survived by her son, she died on 4 June 1966 at South Yarra and was cremated. A wing of the Royal Women's Hospital, Carlton, is named after her; the Y.W.C.A.'s Cato conference centre in Melbourne commemorates the work of Gertrude, Una and their mother.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Blainey, If God Prospers Me (Melb, 1990)
  • YWCA, Association News, Mar 1947
  • Australian YWCA, Dec 1951, July 1966
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 11 Sept 1947
  • Age (Melbourne), 6 June 1966
  • Herald (Melbourne), 7 June 1966.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Janet McCalman, 'Kumm, Frances Gertrude (1886–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 28 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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