Frances Levvy

Mary Frances Debora Levvy (1831-1924), humanitarian, was born at Penrith, New South Wales, in 1831, one of four children of Sarah Emma (born Wilson) and Barnett Levey, actor, publican and owner of the Theatre Royal in George St, Sydney. He died in 1837 leaving his widow impoverished. No records survive of this period of Frances's life, but from later references to living in the country and her sister Emma's marriage to Dr George Clarke of Penrith, it seems the family moved to Penrith and lived with the Clarkes. The Levvy children were brought up as devout Christians.

After George Clarke's death in 1874, Emma and Frances moved to Sydney. In 1884 they founded the first Australian Band of Mercy, an organisation for young people which promoted the protection of animals through the fostering of Christian attitudes. By 1920 there were 131 bands and a membership of over 60,000. Miss Levvy won the approval of the Department of Public Instruction and received an annual subsidy of 50 pounds to promote the work of her association in the state school system. She visited up to 60 schools a year and organised and judged an annual essay competition which attracted hundreds of entries. She paved the way for the Gould League and similar organisations. She conducted an extensive correspondence with band members in and outside the metropolitan area and with the international animal protection movement. Miss Levvy was also founder and honorary secretary of the Women's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The Society participated in campaigns for the establishment of a lethal chamber where stray dogs could be destroyed painlessly, for fixed stops for horse-drawn buses, free water for horse troughs, the provision of sand to prevent slipping on wet roads, and a horse ambulance.

Her major achievement was the editorship of the Band of Mercy and Humane Journal of New South Wales (1887-1923), which reported the activities of her own and kindred organisations. What she presented was no mere pastiche of overseas mercy literature but an original publication of remarkably even quality. Her editorials, stories and poems reveal a passionate belief in a Christian God. In common with contemporary mercy writers she created a child-centred world where pure divine and maternal love triumphed over male brutality and baseness. In this world spirit was paramount: compassion was extended to all who were weak or who suffered. Her belief in woman's superior innate morality led her to resist an amalgamation with the Animals' Protection Society of New South Wales in 1902 - a decision which may also have been influenced by the humiliating public rejection of her society by the RSPCA and the Animals Protection Society in 1896, following the conviction of one of her inspectors for extortion.

Frances Levvy was a member of the Girls' Friendly Society and the Church of England Temperance Society. She donated money to the London Society to promote Christianity among the Jews.

For some years before her death on 29 November 1924 she had been blind, partly deaf and bedridden. Her memory was honoured by the creation of the Frances Levvy Essay Competition for children.

Jennifer MacCulloch