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Riddle, Dorothy (1894–1979)

by P. A. Howell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

This is a shared entry with Arthur Raymond Riddle

Arthur Raymond Riddle (1888-1967), biophysicist, and Dorothy Riddle (1894-1979), librarian, were husband and wife. Arthur was born on 24 July 1888 at Yorketown, South Australia, sixth of seven sons of William Riddle, an English-born machinist, and his wife Elizabeth Angel, née Pegler, who was born in South Australia. Educated locally and at Kyre College, Adelaide, he was required to join the family's ironmongery business, but became an accomplished photographer and won medals in several competitions. His work came to the notice of (Sir) Kerr Grant, professor of physics at the University of Adelaide, who secured him employment as a laboratory assistant. Riddle studied science at the university in 1913-14 before enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force. He served (1915-21) as radiographer and physicist with the Australian Army Medical Corps at No.7 Australian General Hospital, Keswick, and rose to the rank of warrant officer.

At the office of the registrar-general, Adelaide, on 24 May 1921 Riddle married Dorothy Lemon; they had no children. Dorothy had been born on 17 December 1894 at Ipswich, England, daughter of Fred Lemon, an officer of the inland revenue, and his wife Eileen, née Jones. Eileen and her three children had emigrated to South Australia during World War I. On the day of their wedding the Riddles sailed for the United States of America. Arthur studied at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York (B.S., 1922; M.S., 1932), while working as an instructor in physics (1921-27). He undertook research in spectrography, ultra-violet fluorescence, X-ray measurement, and the use of photography in solving scientific problems.

Biophysicist (from 1927) at the Hegeman Memorial Research Laboratory, Mount McGregor, Riddle designed special filters for use in assessing biological responses to infra-red and ultra-violet solar radiation. Appreciating the value of applying physics to medicine and biology, he returned to Cornell in 1930 to take advanced courses in physiology and biochemistry. In 1932 he became head of the biophysics department, Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic, New York Hospital. The collapse of the hospital's endowment income in the following year led to the retrenchment of its research staff. Riddle decided to return to Australia, but his wife—who was employed as a library assistant at Cornell—refused to leave and they separated. In 1937 Dorothy sought Arthur's consent to a divorce. He declined, and never heard from her again.

In 1934 Riddle went to the Brisbane abattoir, Cannon Hill, to take up a temporary post funded jointly by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the Queensland Meat Industry Board. He investigated the effects of various types of radiation on micro-organisms in beef, and the physical condition of beef during chilling. Appointed to the C.S.I.R.'s permanent staff in 1937, he became officer-in-charge of the food preservation research laboratory at Cannon Hill in 1940. In 1953 he retired. He died on 22 November 1967 in Brisbane and was cremated. Riddle bequeathed between $35,000 and $40,000 to the University of Adelaide for student scholarships. Thousands of his photographic negatives on glass, stored in a shed at Yorketown, had been destroyed by larrikins while he was in America; 258 that survived, and 2000 of his prints, are held by the Mortlock Library of South Australiana.

The diminutive and dynamic Mrs Riddle returned to Adelaide in 1942 and joined the research service at the Public Library of South Australia. Her evidence to the Education Inquiry Committee stressed the need for every school to have its own library and impressed (Sir) Charles Abbott, the State's minister of education. In July 1944 she was appointed organizer of school libraries. Through her articles in Department of Education and South Australian Teachers' Union journals, and her visits to some one thousand schools over the next ten years, she exhorted teachers to apply for grants for library training and preached the value of children having access to school libraries. Insisting that all but one-teacher schools should have at least one room dedicated to library purposes, she advocated voluntary rather than scheduled library visits by pupils. She emphasized that reading was enjoyable and important 'in the mental, emotional and spiritual life of the child'. As chairman (1945) of the committee which organized the first children's book week in South Australia, she argued that children should be given access to a wide range of material and taught how to find information themselves.

Although the department provided money for buildings, shelving and catalogue cabinets, its funding of book purchases was confined to subsidizing (on a pound for pound basis) what each school could raise locally. Everywhere she went, Riddle convened meetings of parents and citizens. They raised over £2000 in her first year in office, and increasing sums thereafter. Hundreds of schools entrusted her with their book-buying; her enjoyment in wielding that power was resented by booksellers. Little money, however, was collected in drought-stricken and other impoverished areas. In 1950 the American Library Association agreed to send children's books to schools in need. Due to Riddle's efforts, by 1952 the number of government schools with specially designated library areas had risen from 6 to 603. She also promoted the employment of full-time librarians in large schools and teacher-librarians in smaller ones.

After retiring from the Department of Education in 1954, Riddle became director of the Young Women's Christian Association's hostel at Binghamton, New York. In 1957 she was engaged by the Y.W.C.A. of Sydney to catalogue its library. Back in Adelaide, she was teacher-librarian at Nailsworth Girls' Technical High School (1960-61) and Methodist Ladies' College (1962-70). She served on the executives of the Y.W.C.A. of Adelaide (1947-55) and the New Education Fellowship. Convenor (1949-79) of the international committee of the National Council of Women of South Australia, she was a member of the Australian-American and United Nations associations, and a council-member of the Wanslea Emergency Home for Children (1962-68) and of St Ann's College, University of Adelaide (1953-55). In 1969 she was appointed M.B.E. She died on 17 September 1979 in Adelaide and was cremated. The bookroom at Marjorie Black House, Unley, was named after her.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Jan 1945
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 15 Sept 1955, 25 Sept 1968, 1 Jan 1969
  • J. Brewer, A Critical History of the Development of School Libraries in South Australia (M.Lib. thesis, Monash University, 1982), and for bibliography
  • Riddle papers (State Library of South Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

P. A. Howell, 'Riddle, Dorothy (1894–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/riddle-dorothy-12100/text20555, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 19 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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