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Parker, Florence Mary (1872–1966)

by Gillian Winter

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Florence Mary Parker (1872-1966), community worker, was born on 7 July 1872 at Roseville, New Town, Tasmania, daughter of (Sir) John George Davies, newspaper proprietor, and his wife Sarah Ann, née Pearce. She was intensely proud of being the eldest grandchild of John Davies, founder of the Mercury. Educated at the Misses Garrett's Ladies' Grammar School, Hobart, she acted as her father's hostess after her mother's death in 1888 and by inclination, as well as circumstance, continued an active public life. On 13 October 1898 at St John's Church, New Town, she married Arthur Charles Parker (d.1920), an English electrical engineer; they built their home Charlton on Roseville land.

Initially, Florence Parker's work reflected her father's mayoral duties: in December 1900 she arranged the welcome for the first Tasmanian contingent back from South Africa; in July 1901 she organized street decorations for the Duke and Duchess of York's visit. A foundation member of the Victoria League in Tasmania (1903) and the Queen Mary Ladies' Club (1910), she also initiated the 1903 exhibition which inspired the establishment of the Arts and Crafts Society: her own exquisite needlework and handsome woodcarving won numerous prizes.

In 1903 Mrs Parker joined the Tasmanian Society for the Blind and Deaf. A tireless fund-raiser, she served as vice-president and house committee secretary (1908-25). In 1905 she led in establishing the (Queen) Alexandra Hospital. Secretary of the board of management until 1923, then president to 1950 when the hospital was taken over by the government, she was government nominee on the new board and its vice-chairman in 1952-58; she was a life member from 1927.

For her work with the Tasmanian division of the Australian Red Cross Society Mrs Parker was, in 1918, one of the first two people appointed O.B.E. in Tasmania. She was particularly proud of the hostel for returned soldiers (now Red Cross House) established in 1916 and of the speed with which the Red Cross administration equipped a 100-bed emergency hospital during the 1919 influenza epidemic.

Mrs Parker was the only person in Australia to serve as Red Cross secretary in both World Wars. State as well as southern area secretary, she was also secretary of the body controlling Voluntary Aid Detachments and, from 1939, of the Joint Council of V.A.D. and the newly formed Red Cross Emergency Service. In 1941 she reorganized the Blood Transfusion Service. For her work with the St John Ambulance Association she was appointed officer sister in the Order of St John of Jerusalem in 1946.

A lifelong interest in women's political movements led Mrs Parker to presidency of the women's division of the Tasmanian National Federation in 1924. In 1929 she was a founding member of the Australian Women's National League, Tasmania, and its State president in 1933. Staunchly anti-socialist, she was later active in the Liberal Party, although she declined to stand for parliament.

In 1933 Premier (Sir) John McPhee said he did not know 'any member of the community who deserved so much of the people of this State'. Newspapers described her 'zeal, forceful personality and organizing ability', praising her as 'humanitarian in thought, word and deed'. A commanding figure, bespectacled, with serious demeanour, she had a warm smile and was a woman of humour, tact and understanding. She was an excellent public speaker.

Mrs Parker, who never learned to cook, trained her staff to run her house 'like clockwork'. The maintenance of her garden, renowned for its beauty, was her chief hobby. Survived by her daughter, she died at home on 5 June 1966 and was cremated. Charlton, purchased by the government and renamed Parker House, was used by community welfare groups until 1984.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania (Hob, 1931)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 8 Oct 1941, 6 Jan 1966.

Citation details

Gillian Winter, 'Parker, Florence Mary (1872–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/parker-florence-mary-7953/text13845, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 18 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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