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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Longworth, Isabel Frances (1881–1961)

by Bob James

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Isabel Frances Longworth (1881-1961), dentist and peace-activist, was born on 1 June 1881 at Temora, New South Wales, sixth daughter of William Swann, a schoolteacher from England, and his native-born wife Elizabeth, née Devlin. Isabel was brought up from childhood 'to think war evil'. Registered as a dentist on 20 June 1902, she practised at Parramatta. From 1907 she had several city addresses before setting up at Buckland Chambers, Liverpool Street, in 1912. Her patients included Miles Franklin, Jennie Scott Griffiths and other social and political reformers. She joined the Australian Freedom League in 1912. Disappointed with Rose Scott and her supporters whom she believed were advocating war in the name of defence, she sought out militant anti-conscriptionists in the Domain.

In 1917-20 Swann spoke at Socialist Sunday Schools, offered dental services to imprisoned Industrial Workers of the World, embroiled herself in controversies over compulsory saluting of the flag at schools, became secretary of the Women's Peace Army and founded a local branch of the Howard Prison Reform League (life member 1938). She corresponded with Henry Holland in New Zealand, and, as part of an Anglo-Indian committee, claimed to have ended indentured labour in Fiji. She also worked on the New Guinea Natives' Welfare Committee which hid native seamen in Sydney until their shipboard conditions were improved.

Representing the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Swann attended the interstate conference organized by the Australian Peace Alliance in 1921. On 23 August 1924 at the district registrar's office, Randwick, she married William Longworth, a universal grinder; they were to have one daughter. Mrs Longworth continued to practise in Sydney, at Wyong (from 1932)—while they tried to grow passionfruit commercially near Toukley—and at Newcastle where the family settled in 1936. In that year she helped the Christian Socialist Movement to organize a broad-based peace conference at the Newcastle Town Hall at which she argued that fascism was anti-women. She published a pamphlet, An Open Road to International Order, in 1938 and established the Newcastle branch of the Australian League of Nations Union, which she recast as a branch of the Australian Association for the United Nations after World War II.

In 1941 Longworth had arranged a northern meeting of the Congress for Friendship and Aid to the Soviet Union. Standing for the House of Representatives as an Independent ('Scientific Socialist'), she unsuccessfully contested the seats of Newcastle (1946) and Shortland (1949). Her prodigious plans to influence educators, politicians and workers in the 1950s produced radio programmes, letters to newspapers, questions in State and Federal parliament, and school lessons on international affairs. Recognized as the longest-practising dentist in Australia, at the age of 78, small, frail and grey haired, she worked to establish a Cessnock branch of A.A.U.N. She attended (as an observer) congresses of the (United Nations) Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East, held in Queensland (1959) and in Karachi (1960). Survived by her daughter, she died on 13 January 1961 at Newcastle and was cremated with Congregational forms.

Select Bibliography

  • R. W. Halliday, A History of Dentistry in New South Wales 1788 to 1945, A. O. Watson ed (Syd, 1977)
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 6 Sept 1951, 18 Mar 1954, 14 Jan 1961
  • Cessnock Eagle, 17 Nov 1959
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Jan 1960
  • Longworth papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Longworth folder (Newcastle Regional Library)
  • B8023-4, A5200 (University of Newcastle Archives).

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Bob James, 'Longworth, Isabel Frances (1881–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 30 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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