Fanny Reading

Fanny Reading (1884-1974), medical practitioner, was born on 2 December 1884 at Karelitz near Minsk in Russia, daughter of Esther Rose and Nathan John Rubinovich. Shortly after her birth her father fled Russia and went to Ballarat, Victoria; a year later Esther and Fanny left Russia and after some time in London were reunited with Nathan in Ballarat. Subsequently Esther ran a shop in Baloac Lake, while her husband travelled as a hawker. They returned to Ballarat in 1901 and later moved to Melbourne. Hostility to Germans during the war led to their changing their name to Reading, after the Marquess of Reading an outstanding English Jewish statesman.

Fanny taught Hebrew to private students at home before studying music at the University of Melbourne, winning the University medal in 1915. She returned to study medicine and graduated MB BS (1922) before moving to Sydney to join her brother Dr Abe Standley Reading in a partnership, first in Kogarah, then in Darlinghurst, and later in Bondi Junction. She was an honorary at St George District Hospital and at Rachel Foster Hospital where she later became life governor.

In Sydney, Dr Fanny Reading became aware of the need for a broadly-based Jewish women's group; in 1923, during the visit of Zionist emissary Bella Pevsner, she founded the Council of Jewish Women; its aims included service to all worthy causes, Jewish and non-Jewish and especially women and children, and support for the Jewish homeland.

In 1925 Fanny Reading travelled in the United States, Europe and Palestine. While in America she gained valuable experience helping organise a conference for the International Council of Jewish Women. In Sydney in 1929 she organised the meeting at which the National Council of Jewish Women was formed. As a result of her drive and dedication it developed into one of the central organisations within the Jewish communal fabric. She was to see two of her dreams realised: the opening of the Council House in Woollahra, Sydney, in 1963 and the development of Wolper Jewish Hospital following a bequest by Gertrude Wolper.

She was active in many other organisations including the National Council of Women and the Socialist Club, of which she served as vice-president in 1929. An active Zionist she was vice-president of Youth Aliyah (to assist Jewish orphans in Israel) and in 1948 she represented it in a libel suit against Smith's Weekly over an article alleging that Youth Aliyah was raising funds to buy weapons to fight the British in Palestine. The case was lost as there was no provision then for class actions. In 1929 she played a central role in the formation of the Young Men's Hebrew Association in Sydney.

Dr Reading was much loved for her work in immigration reception. Remembering her first bewildering hours as a child in Australia, she helped make the arrival of others more pleasant, especially refugees escaping the Nazi terror. Through the National Council of Jewish Women and the Australian Jewish Welfare Society, she and her committees dedicated many hours to this work. During the 1939-45 war she organised a kiosk in Martin Place to raise money for the war effort. Her popularity was shown in 1955 when she topped the poll for the general franchise elections of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies.

She had a flair for organisation. 'A dreamer of great dreams with the courage to implement them even in the face of strong opposition', a woman of boundless enthusiasm, energy and idealism she was able to inspire Jewish women throughout Australia for over a half century. Although she did not marry, the girls and women of Sydney were like a family. In 1961 she was awarded an MBE. In ill health she moved to Wolper Hospital in 1962 where she died on 19 November 1974.

Suzanne D Rutland

Lysbeth Cohen Not Merely Housewives, Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal June 1981.