Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lupton, Joan Mary (1904–1995)

by John Lawrence

This article was published online in 2019

Joan Mary Lupton (1904–1995), medical social worker, was born on 11 September 1904 at Mainpuri, India, elder daughter of English-born Walter James Edwin Lupton, an under-secretary in the Indian Civil Service (ICS), and his wife Sybil Beatrice Fendall, née Currie, who had also been born in India. By 1911 Joan was living in England. She was educated at Headington School, Oxford, and then at the Sorbonne in Paris for a year. In 1924 she joined the Society of Oxford Home-Students and completed a degree in French at the university (BA, 1927).

Although Joan’s father wanted her to take up medicine, as he had done after retiring from the ICS, she undertook studies in social work. She completed a certificate of social science at the London School of Economics and Political Science (1930), and trained with the Institute of Hospital Almoners. In 1930 she joined and soon headed the almoner’s department at the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital, Moorfields. Her department saw all patients. While she acknowledged the almoner’s role in follow-up and preventive medicine, she lamented that, with the nation’s problems of high unemployment and poor housing, much of the work was palliative.

During 1936 Lupton visited a former school friend in Adelaide. She stayed on after being invited to head the new social service department in the Adelaide Children’s Hospital. Aware of her pioneering role in the profession, she confided to her father that, unlike England where the ground had been ‘cleared,’ she would ‘plunge into virgin scrub’ (Lupton n.d., 135). In the first year and a half, she reported, nine hundred and fifty patients were referred to the almoner, including victims of the infantile paralysis epidemic. She established the Fighting Forces Comforts Fund Family Welfare Bureau during a three-month secondment from the hospital in late 1940; she then became a member of its executive and case committee (until 1944).

An ‘arresting personality’ (News 1936, 15), with extensive professional knowledge and a passion for her work, Lupton soon took on leadership roles. She was appointed inaugural president of the State branch of the Australian Association of Hospital Almoners (1941), and of the South Australian Social Workers’ Association (1942). She also became heavily involved in local welfare activities. This was often in association with Amy Wheaton who directed South Australia’s first social work training course from 1936. Lupton served on the board governing the course and continued in this role when it moved to the University of Adelaide in 1942. In her 1943 hospital report she acknowledged the view that almoners patched up individual problems when what was needed was social reform. She saw an opportunity for trained social workers to collect data to improve social planning.

In 1944 the board of social studies at the University of Sydney appointed Lupton as practical work supervisor of students at local agencies, including the Family Welfare Bureau and the Australian Red Cross. Early in 1947 she visited the United Kingdom, but returned in March 1948 to establish a modern almoner department at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney. Within a decade, the department became the major employer of medical social workers in the country. Also active in the New South Wales Institute of Hospital Almoners, she served on the executive council and training subcommittee, presenting lectures and tutorials in its medical social work course until 1956. She resigned as social worker in charge at RPAH in about 1962.

For many years in the 1960s and 1970s Lupton shared houses at Darling Point and Bungan Beach with her closest friend and social work colleague Kate Ogilvie. She also enjoyed the witty company of Professor Dick Spann, a specialist in public administration at the University of Sydney and her long-standing opera companion. Outliving them both by more than a decade, she spent a rather lonely old age without family support in her adopted country. She died on 31 July 1995 in Durham Lodge Nursing Home, Bondi, having donated her body to the University of Sydney.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Adelaide Children’s Hospital Incorporated. Almoner’s Report. Adelaide: The Hospital, 1938–43
  • Almoners’ Department, Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital. Annual Report. London: The Hospital, 1931–32
  • Lawrence, John. ‘In Memoriam: Joan Lupton, A British/Australian Pioneer in Medical Social Work.’ Australian Social Work 48, no. 4 (December 1995): 57–58
  • Lupton, Joan. Letters of Joan Lupton, 1936–1943. Adelaide: The Author, n.d
  • Martin, Elaine M. W. ‘Social Work as a Profession: The South Australian Perspective.’ Australian Social Work 40, no. 2 (June 1987): 11–18
  • News (Adelaide). ‘Looking After a Hospital “Family”.’ 16 July 1936, 15
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject

Additional Resources

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Citation details

John Lawrence, 'Lupton, Joan Mary (1904–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lupton-joan-mary-27415/text34848, published online 2019, accessed online 5 December 2020.

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