Woodlock, Ellen (1811–84), philanthropist and social worker, was born 27 January 1811, second daughter among seven sons and four daughters of Martin Mahony (1764–1834) of Cork, woollen manufacturer, and his second wife, Maria (née Reynolds), of Roscreg. The Rev. Francis Sylvester Mahony (qv) (‘Father Prout’), writer and humourist, was an older brother.
She married (1830) Thomas Woodlock of Dublin, brother of Bartholomew Woodlock (qv), founder of All Hallows College, and was widowed in 1834, shortly before the birth of her only son, Thomas. She spent some years in charity work in Cork, but by 1843 had entered the convent of the Sisters of St Louis in Juilly, France. Her son attended a boarding school run by the sisters nearby. Deciding to forego teaching and return to more active charitable pursuits, she received a dispensation from her vows, and by the summer of 1851 had returned to Cork, where she set up a form of industrial school. By 1855 she had moved to Dublin and, along with Sarah Atkinson (qv), established the St Joseph's Industrial Institute, Richmond Avenue, which catered for girls from the South Dublin Workhouse and for other impoverished young women. The institute comprised two main areas: a laundry, where girls were taught to wash and iron, was opened in September 1855; and a school for younger children was opened in April 1856. This small institute was well respected as a model for the rescue of destitute girls, where they learned useful skills such as knitting, glove making, and baking bread, to train them for employment. This last accomplishment, as a contemporary observer, Fanny Taylor, conceded, was ‘a most useful preparation for domestic service’ (Irish homes and Irish hearts, 94).
Considered an expert in her field of work with young girls, Woodlock presented a paper, ‘The relief of pauper children’, to the Social Science Association on 22 August 1861, and was the only woman to give evidence at a house of commons select committee on poor relief in Ireland in 1861. Staying in close contact with her former order, having been instrumental in their establishment in Monaghan in 1859, in the early 1860s she sought unsuccessfully to have the Sisters take over St Joseph's. She maintained a constant involvement in catholic philanthropies, including taking an active role in the establishment and management of the Children's Hospital, Upper Buckingham St., Dublin, in 1872. The first hospital for children in Ireland, it was subsequently run by the Sisters of Charity from 1876, and relocated to larger premises at Temple St. in 1879.
After a two-day illness, she died 13 July 1884, aged 73, at the home of her brother, Timothy Mahony, 8 Sydney Place, Cork. She was buried in St Joseph's cemetery, Cork. Her longtime colleague, Sarah Atkinson, eulogised her as a ‘devoted friend of the poor’ and a ‘valiant woman’.