Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Chase, Muriel Jean Eliot (1880–1936)

by Noël Stewart

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Muriel Jean Eliot Chase (1880-1936), journalist and philanthropist, was born on 2 July 1880 at Geraldton, Western Australia, eldest of the four children of John Henry Cooper and his wife Priscilla Richenda, née Eliot. On her mother's side she was descended from the Marshall Waller Cliftons, pioneers of Australind, and through Mrs Clifton was related to the great English social worker, Elizabeth Fry. Her maternal grandfather, George Eliot, arrived in Western Australia in 1829, accompanying his cousin (Sir) James Stirling, first governor of the colony.

Muriel's father, a senior officer of the Union Bank of Australia Ltd, died in 1888 and his widow and four children then lived for some years with the Eliot family. Muriel was educated at Amy Best's school and she married, at the age of 20, Ernest Edward Chase, some fifteen years her senior. They left immediately for England where, on the recommendation of Sir Alexander Onslow, chief justice and acting governor, Ernest became secretary to Sir Charles Rose, a Conservative member of the House of Commons; however, Ernest's ill health obliged them to return to Australia a year later. On the homeward voyage Muriel formed a close friendship with Sister Kate Clutterbuck which greatly influenced her life. Always an essentially religious woman, she early became deeply interested in theosophy, though maintaining a close association with St George's Cathedral, where she had been married.

In 1903, at the invitation of (Sir) J. Winthrop Hackett, she became social editress of the West Australian, and 'Aunt Mary' of the Western Mail's Children's Corner. Her journalistic career continued until her premature death. Writing under the name 'Adrienne' in the West Australian, and also as 'Aunt Mary', Muriel Chase continually stressed the need for more social welfare services in the rapidly expanding Western Australian community. Meanwhile her husband had been seconded to Government House where he served as private secretary and aide-de-camp until his death in 1927.

The State-wide organization known today as the Silver Chain District Nursing Association had its genesis in Aunt Mary's Children's Corner, through which Mrs Chase enrolled her young readers as silver links in a chain of service. By 1904 she had raised sufficient money to appoint a district nurse (Sister S. L. Copley); she was succeeded after one year by Sister Frances Cherry, who served the organization and helped supervise its initial expansion until her death in 1941. These two pioneer nurses visited their patients first by bicycle and then by horse and buggy, their work being financed by the Silver Chain.

From the many visits of the Silver Chain nurses, the need for a maternity hospital, infant health clinics, cottage homes for the aged and bush nursing services was soon recognized, and all these gradually came into being. Behind them was the gentle, unobtrusive influence of Muriel Chase. She lent practical support to many worthwhile women's organizations, more particularly those caring for children and the aged, and was a foundation member of the Karrakatta Club and the Women Writers' Club. Her devotion to the city's sick and aged extended at times to her relieving the district nurse on night duty.

Survived by two daughters, Muriel Chase died suddenly of cardiac disease on 13 February 1936. Next day the West Australian wrote: 'Of all the women of the State, none, it may safely be said, was so well-known and certainly none more widely beloved for her rare qualities of mind and heart'. At her memorial service, St George's Cathedral was filled to overflowing with citizens who wished to pay tribute to a great West Australian woman. One of the Silver Chain Cottage Homes in North Perth bears her name.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Stewart, Little but Great (Perth, 1965)
  • M. L. Skinner, The Fifth Sparrow (Syd, 1972)
  • Western Mail, 3 June 1905, 27 Sept 1907, 16 Feb 1936
  • West Australian, 14 Feb 1936
  • Women Writers' Club, newsclippings, 1937 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Noël Stewart, 'Chase, Muriel Jean Eliot (1880–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/chase-muriel-jean-eliot-5565/text9489, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 21 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Cooper, Muriel Jean Eliot
  • Mary, Aunt
  • Adrienne
Birth

2 July 1880
Geraldton, Western Australia, Australia

Death

13 February 1936

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation