MULVANY WAS KNOWN TO PRE-WAR CANADIANS AS THE ‘JUNGLE WOMAN’
The remarkable life of Ethel Rogers Mulvany started on Manitoulin Island, where she was born in 1904. Her mother died shortly after she was born, and she was adopted by the local Presbyterian minister and his wife, Henry and Isabella Rogers. She did well in school, becoming a teacher when still in her teens. She eventually moved to Toronto, where she worked part-time at a department store while studying social work at the University of Toronto. She later studied economics at McGill University and at the London School of Economics.
She went on to become the director of the Canadian Society for Literature and the Arts, which sent her on a tour of Asia in 1933 to do an educational survey. While on her travels, she met and married Denis Mulvany, a British army doctor who was stationed in Lucknow, India.
In India, she was well-connected with the elite of colonial society and initiated a project to take $50,000 worth of exotic wild animals and village crafts to the 1935 Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) in Toronto.
Mulvany used the exhibit in Toronto as an opportunity to raise funds for underprivileged women and children in India. Her work won her the King’s silver jubilee medal in 1935. The Toronto Daily Star reported that she was one of the few women to receive the honour.
The Star also noted on June 26 of that year that Mulvany presented Prime Minister R.B. Bennett “with the skin of a man-eating tiger” the previous week.
The presentation was to publicize Mulvany’s “Jungle Club” — an organization that Canadians could join to learn about India’s wildlife. The Star published a series of articles describing the club’s progress and referring to Mulvany as the “Jungle Woman.”
The newspaper also carried many of the stories Mulvany told of her hairraising adventures, such as her tale of witnessing a lunchtime fight staged between a mongoose and a python — a performance that lasted five hours. “According to Mrs. Mulvany, a great many people would rather witness a snake fight than dine with a general.” Mulvany also described going on a crocodile hunt, noting that human remains were often found inside the reptiles. She claimed to have seen a woman being snatched by a crocodile as she drew water from a river: “She never came up.”
Mulvany’s promotional efforts paid off. Hundreds of children, and many adults, paid to be members of the Jungle Club. Also, General Motors presented Mulvany with a “light deluxe sedan” to be used for her work in India.
News of her wartime captivity also made headlines: “Fear Former Toronto Girl May be Prisoner of Japs,” said the Star on April 20, 1942. The article mentioned Mulvany’s CNE exhibit and noted that she had once survived the bite of a cobra. She was summed up as a “vivacious and talented woman, writer, social worker, and globe trotter.”
Ethel and Denis Mulvany on their wedding day, in Lucknow, India, in 1933. The pair was stationed in Lucknow until 1940, when Denis Muvany was posted to Singapore. Their marriage ended after the war.