Ada Cain was Lady Mayoress of the City of Adelaide (married to the Lord Mayor) between 1933-1935

Early Life and Career

Ada was born in Ballarat, Victoria in 1870 to parents Richard and Eliza Davey. 

Ada was working as a milliner when she met the 23 year old John Robert Cain who was working as an undertaker and the couple married in Collingwood, Melbourne on the 30th of July 1890. 

Jonathon, whose family had settled in Adelaide after immigrating from England when he was ten, convinced Ada to return to Adelaide where they opened a confectionery shop in 1903 and then in 1908, the couple established a successful millinery and drapery shop, ‘Cain and Co’ at 191 King William Street, which they owned and operated for the rest of their lives .

On the 26th of February, 1916 , Ada gave birth to their first and only child, a daughter, Ada Evelyn who was born on the 26th of February 1916. 


Johnathon was elected Councillor for the Hindmarsh Ward in the Adelaide City Council in the same year, a position he held for 17 years before being elected as  Lord Mayor in 1933.

Jonathon Cain’s tenure as Lord Mayor was defined by the lasting effects of  the Great Depression. The 1933 census recorded an 18% unemployment rate among the male workforce and although the Great Depression is generally held to have occurred between 1929 and 1934, many South Australian families were still living below the poverty line in 1936. 

On the 12th of October 1934 a ball was held at town hall for the Prince Henry the Duke of Gloucester and third son of King George V and future Governor General of Australia. Newspapers of the era describe large crowds which formed along King William Street and particularly around town hall in the hope of catching a glimpse of the Duke.

Personal Note

Ada and her daughter, now Mrs. Howard Dunstan, both attended but Ada had been suffering from an unspecified, serious illness for one year by the time of the Duke’s visit. Her illness meant that she had only brief spells of good health during her husband’s term as Lord Mayor and her daughter, Ada Evelyn would often step in as acting Lady Mayoress to perform her duties. 

Ada died almost exactly a year after the Duke’s visit on the 5th of October 1935. Despite the fact that her illness often prevented her from performing her role as Lady Mayoress, Ada’s funeral cortege consisted of the hearse and three cars carrying floral tributes. The entrance gates to Town Hall were closed for a short period in the afternoon and the town hall bells were rung as the procession passed by. Her casket was carried by serving councillors including past and future Lord Mayors and her funeral was attended by representatives of many prominent civic and business organisations. Prime Minister Lyons sent a message of sympathy to the Lord Mayor.

By Steven Page, HerStory Project

The HerStory project came about to recognise and celebrate the lives and the achievements of Women’s work in South Australia and was initiated in 2015 on the 175th anniversary of the City of Adelaide, by Genevieve Theseira-Haese, Lady Mayoress of Adelaide. The stories collected offer a unique perspective of Adelaide and South Australia that form a different history to what is often heard. This community built initiative is supported by the City of Adelaide and the History Trust of South Australia.

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