This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007
Thelma Eileen Jarrett (1905-1987), soroptimist, was born on 25 February 1905 at Gladesville, Sydney, second child of New South Wales-born parents Robert Loxton Jarrett, accountant, and his wife Elizabeth, née Hill. Educated at Fintona Girls’ School, Camberwell, Melbourne, Thelma trained as a teacher and in 1927-36 and 1938-39 was senior geography mistress at Tintern Ladies’ College, Hawthorn. She completed a diploma in geography (1937) at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and, after leaving Tintern, accepted a post in public relations for the Murray Valley Passenger Service. In 1940-47 she was assistant administrative superintendent at the Munitions Supply Laboratories, Maribyrnong.
Pursuing an interest in personnel management, Jarrett investigated it in North America and Britain before becoming general secretary (1952-70) of the Good Neighbour Council of Victoria. She travelled extensively around the State, co-ordinating resettlement and assimilation services; she was appointed MBE (1957) in recognition of this work. Based in London in 1960-62, she lectured for the Commonwealth Department of Immigration, addressing audiences throughout the United Kingdom to raise awareness of the opportunities for migrants in Australia.
Jarrett had joined the Soroptimist Club of Melbourne in 1952, and while in London she was the Victorian representative on the board of governors of the Federation of Soroptimist Clubs of Great Britain and Ireland. For much of the 1960s she served as Victorian representative on the Australia and New Zealand co-ordinating committee; in 1964-66 she was president of the State’s divisional union. The first person from outside Britain to be vice-president (1969-71) of the federation, Jarrett was elected president at its 1972 conference, held at Killarney, Ireland. She faced a huge task in making the presidency work from such a distance, but with large postal, telephone and airline bills, she effectively fulfilled the office. In Sydney in August 1973, shortly before the end of her term, Jarrett chaired the first conference of the federation to be held in the Southern hemisphere.
Arguing for the increasing relevance of soroptimism at a time of substantial change in `the pattern of women’s lives’, Jarrett sought to advance their access to health and family planning, education, employment and economic security. Her particular interest in conditions in underdeveloped countries was reflected in her work as representative of the Victorian branch of the National Council of Women (1971-83) on the State division of the United Nations Association of Australia (secretary 1973-74; executive director 1974-75) and as the honorary secretary of the UNAA’s Status of Women Committee (1976-84).
With an upright carriage and insistence on the deference due to the many offices she held, Jarrett was a formidable if respected figure for younger soroptimists. Yet she had a delightful sense of humour and a warm manner, and was a generous mentor. An active member of the Business and Professional Women’s Club, Melbourne (president, 1955-57), she also served (1963-68) on Fintona’s board of directors. Thelma Jarrett died on 13 August 1987 at Hawthorn, Melbourne, and was cremated.
Joan M. Banks, 'Jarrett, Thelma Eileen (1905–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jarrett-thelma-eileen-12695/text22885, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 August 2014.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007