Kelly, Ethel (1875–1949)

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Kelly, Ethel (1875–1949)

Canadian-born Australian actress and author. Name variations: Ethel Mollison. Born Ethel Knight Mollison on January 28, 1875, in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada; died on September 22, 1949, in Sidney, Australia; elder daughter of William Knight Mollison (a merchant) and Margaret (Millen) Mollison; educated in St. John; married a man named Moore around 1893 (died around 1894); married Thomas Herbert Kelly (a metal merchant), on August 29, 1903; children; two sons and two daughters.

Ethel Kelly was born in 1875 in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, and was educated there and in Britain. She enjoyed reading and dramatics as a child and, in 1893, made her stage debut in the play A Mischievous Miss, produced in St. John. Around this time, she married a man named Moore and moved to New York. Widowed within a year, she remained in the United States, where for the next eight years she was associated with a number of major stage companies. Acting under her maiden name, she appeared in such classics in Cyrano de Bergerac and The Taming of the Shrew. In 1903, while on tour on tour in Australia, Kelly married metal merchant Thomas Kelly, after which she left the professional stage. The couple settled in Melbourne, where Kelly raised a family (two sons and two daughters), and pursued a number of charitable activities. A visit to India inspired her first book, Frivolous Peeps at India, which was published in 1911.

During World War I, Kelly used her theatrical experience to stage a number of fund-raising events. From 1922 to 1923, she served as the woman's page editor of Smith's Weekly. One of her assignments took her to Tutankhamun's tomb in Egypt, which inspired a second novel, Why the Sphinx Smiles (1925). Another novel, Zara (1927), and her memoirs, Twelve Milestones (1929), were completed in Italy while she was supervising her daughters' education. Returning to Australia in 1934, she and her husband built an Italian villa at Darling Point, near Sydney. In 1937, she served as the president of the Pageant of Nations advisory committee for the 150th Anniversary Celebration.

During World War II, Kelly was involved in numerous charitable organizations including the French-Australian League of Help, the Victoria League, the St. John Ambulance Association, and the French Red Cross Societies. She subsequently raised money for St. Vincent's hospitals, the Kindergarten Union of New South Wales, and the Actors' Benevolent Fund. In private life, she shared her husband's love of music and enjoyed collecting antiques. Kelly died in September 1949.


Radi, Heather, ed. 200 Australian Women. NSW, Australia: Women's Redress Press, 1988.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts