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Catherine Helen Spence was a 19th century Adelaide feminist who left an indelible mark on the country

Catherine Helen Spence may have passed away more than a century ago but many Australians will still recognise her face. 

It adorned the $5 Federation note, which was released in 2001, recognising her work to improve women's rights and help the underprivileged.

Her achievements encompassed writer, preacher, reformer and feminist, as well as being the only woman in a collective that helped set up one of Adelaide’s first trustee firms which became part of Australian Executor Trustees (AET), and now part of Equity Trustees.

Born in Scotland in 1825 before immigrating to Australia, she penned several works of fiction, but her social conscience soon took hold.

In 1872, she co-founded the Boarding-Out Society which placed orphaned, destitute and struggling children in the homes of families. She later became a member of the State Children's Council and the Destitute Board.

She supported the foundation of kindergartens and a government secondary school for girls and was also active politically, becoming Australia's first female political candidate in 1897. She joined the fight for female suffrage in 1891 and became a vice-president of the Women's Suffrage League of South Australia. 

When she died on 3 April 1910 she was mourned as 'The Grand Old Woman of Australia' and her portrait still hangs today in the Art Gallery of South Australia.

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