Dorothy Kay (formerly Elvery) was born in Greystones, County Wicklow, Ireland in 1886. In 1900 Kay started her studies at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and Royal Hibernian Acad School. She also participated in short courses and learning excursions in France. In 1910 she moved to South Africa in order to marry Dr Hobart Kay, a surgeon. By 1916 the married couple had settled in Port Elizabeth, where Dorothy would become a founder-member of the Eastern Province Society of Arts and Crafts (EPSAC).
Her active artistic involvement in the area meant that she was vitally central to the art community which had emerged there and which she had fostered.
Aided by her own careful observation, Kay captured the texture and atmosphere of a newly independent South Africa with such clarity and explicit consideration. Opposed to newly imported modernist styles, such as those employed by Irma Stern, Kay opted to work in a manner which can be considered to be of a South African temperament.