Mary Matilda Brown was born in Sea Point, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on 20 July 1847. She advocated for social and moral reform and was a campaigner for women’s rights. Brown trained as a midwife in Scotland. She actively participated in the temperance movement against the trade of alcohol.

Brown’s long-standing friendship with the author Olive Schreiner is noteworthy. As a young girl, Schreiner became acquainted with the Browns when she visited her married sisters at Fraserburg during 1873. In 1880 she sent the manuscript of her novel, The story of an African farm, to the Browns for evaluation and dedicated the second edition of the book to Mary Brown, who remained her lifelong friend.

In 1905 she became actively involved in social upliftment work. She utilised her organisational skills and was a speaker and spokesperson throughout South Africa. Brown was elected by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union of the Cape Colony to be a member of its executive council. She served as the Union’s superintendent for moral education training until 1922, and as editor of its monthly paper, The White Ribbon, from 1911 until 1920. Brown was active in the National Council of Women in the field of moral reform.  She also did pioneering work in the Women’s Enfranchisement League.

In 1917 Brown’s active work came to an end as a result of her age and poor health. After her husband’s passing, she was almost completely helpless, yet she was steadfast in her Christian faith and retained her interest in the problems of her time. She passed away on 16 January 1935, in Kenilworth, Cape Town.

  • Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology. 2000. Women Marching Into the 21st Century: Wathint' Abafazi, Wathint' Imbokodo. Shereno Printers: South  Africa.

Collections in the Archives