Mary Teresa Enright was born in Charleston on the West Coast on 22 July 1880, the daughter of Irish Catholic parents Mary Hayes, a hotel-keeper from County Clare, and her husband, Timothy John Enright, a miner and businessman from County Kerry. The fifth of six children, Mary had three sisters and two brothers. She attended Charleston Girls’ School and Nelson College for Girls, where she was a prefect and dux. In 1897 she won a senior civil service scholarship and began working as a teacher on the West Coast, passing the teachers’ examination in 1899. With her elder sister, Margaret, she successfully coached young men for entrance examinations to the public service; with her younger sister, Honoria (Nonie), she conducted a private school in Westport until 1918.
In August 1920 Mary Enright became the first full-time editor of the Christchurch Press ’s women’s page, beginning a career which lasted 35 years. While she retained its social notes, her major concern was to promote the work of women’s organisations and to encourage women to be active in the community. During her career she witnessed the expansion of groups like the Country Women’s Institute, the Women’s Division of the New Zealand Farmers’ Union and the National Council of Women of New Zealand. Her role as chronicler and publiciser of such organisations’ activities was a major factor in their success.
Mary Enright also reported on the growth of the League of Mothers, various garden clubs, parent and parent–teacher associations, the Plunket Society, and social services like Meals on Wheels run by the Red Cross. On behalf of these bodies she made fruitful appeals through her columns: ‘I think the secret was that when I appealed people knew that within a day, or perhaps two, their gifts would go to the people on whose behalf the appeal was made’.
Enright, as well as reporting community activities, also participated in them. She chaired the committee that opened the Glenelg Health Camp in 1945, spent about six years on the Dominion Advisory Board of the National Federation of Health Camps, and served as vice president of the New Zealand Federation of Tuberculosis Associations. She was a foundation member of the Catholic Women’s League of New Zealand, and at various times belonged to the New Zealand Red Cross Society, the New Zealand Navy League, the English-Speaking Union, the Victoria League, the friends of St Helens Hospital, Christchurch, the friends of Te Wai Pounamu Maori Girls’ College, and the Nelson College for Girls Old Girls’ Association. She never married.
An active sportswoman, Mary Enright was a West Coast tennis doubles champion, a member of the United Tennis Club, and a keen golfer who served 18 years on the Christchurch Ladies’ Golf Club committee and at one time acted as secretary. Inspired by this personal interest, she was instrumental in gaining greater newspaper coverage of women’s sport. She was the first representative of a major newspaper to go to other metropolitan centres to report on women’s national golf championships, and about 1930 she persuaded the editor of the Press to increase the space given to women’s golf.
Through her work Mary Enright met many leading overseas women sports figures. She also enjoyed interviewing personalities such as New Zealand soprano Rosina Buckman and her husband Maurice d’Oisly, and actors Sybil Thorndike and Sir Lewis Casson. Of particular interest, however, was an interview with Lord Listowel, a member of a British parliamentary delegation, whose Irish seat in County Kerry was the birthplace of her father.
Among the Press staff ‘Miss E.’ was known for her professional thoroughness, enthusiasm, vitality, generosity and patience. She held firm convictions about the role women should play in society, and set a sterling example by being associated with nearly 250 social welfare and women’s organisations during her career. However, she remained disappointed at women’s lack of participation in public life. Mary Enright was made an MBE in 1948, and in 1953 she received Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation Medal. She was 75 when she retired in August 1955. Soon after retirement she was awarded life membership of the Christchurch branch of the NCW. She died in Christchurch on 21 January 1966.