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Scobie, Grace Locke (1876–1957)

by Lucy Taksa

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

Grace Locke Scobie (1876-1957), inspector of factories and shops, was born on 3 July 1876 in Bombay, India, eldest child of Robert Scobie (d.1917), Scottish-born saddler, and his wife Elizabeth Buchanan, née Farms. About 1878 the family moved to New South Wales, where her father opened a saddlery and general business at Menindee. On his election to the Legislative Assembly in 1901 he moved to Sydney: Grace was his private secretary for many years and, like him, a member of the Labor Party until the conscription split.

On 2 March 1916 Miss Scobie was appointed inspector of factories and shops and industrial inspector (and inspector under the Early Closing Act) in the Department of Labour and Industry. Her report for 1918 showed that she generally supported employers and found that often the blame for insanitary conditions 'rests upon the employees'. She also believed employers' assertions regarding workers' reluctance to work overtime unless under pressure and reported on certificates of fitness in those establishments which employed children under 16. She was a member of the State Children Relief Board and in 1920 was censured by Labor News for condoning (with the majority of the board) the harsh treatment of illegitimate children.

Of her three brothers, Walter was killed at Pozières, France, and Robert was a trooper with the Imperial Camel Corps in Palestine. Grace Scobie spoke at recruiting meetings, joined the recruiting staff of the Neutral Bay branch of the Win the War League of North Sydney, and campaigned for conscription before the two plebiscites. In 1917-18 she was a council-member of the National Association of New South Wales and in 1918 was appointed O.B.E. In March 1920 she stood for Eastern Suburbs in the Legislative Assembly, for the Soldiers and Citizens Political Party of Australia. Although hailed by the Daily Telegraph as 'the incarnation of vivacity and feminine vigour', she lost. She was a handsome woman, with short, wavy dark hair.

In the 1920s Miss Scobie's political activities increasingly focused on women. She was a member of the National Council of Women of New South Wales and convener of its standing committee on trades and professions for women, until forced to resign in 1924 as she was refused permission by her department to attend daytime meetings. After several clashes, in December 1927, as president of the Professional Women Workers' Association, she accused the council of 'overbearing impertinence' in its failure to consult over proposals put to the royal commission on child endowment. She was a council-member of the Town Planning Association of New South Wales and in 1928 a member of the Citizens' Association of New South Wales which lobbied for municipal reforms.

Supported by, and secretary of the campaign council of the United Associations of Women, she stood for the assembly as an Independent for Bondi in 1932. Losing, she resigned as secretary at the end of the year. In 1931-39 she was honorary secretary of the standing committee working to reduce maternal and infantile mortality. In September 1938 she helped to organize its conference and edited the booklet, Save Australian Mothers. She was also secretary of the Australian Federation of Women Voters and next year was vice-president of the Feminist Club.

Grace Scobie died at Bondi on 2 June 1957 and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. Working to improve the living standards of the majority of women, and eschewing Labor politics, she apparently invoked the hostility of the labour movement over her intervention into the lives of 'underprivileged' working-class women and children. In contrast, the Bulletin in 1927 noted that she belonged 'amongst the foremost leaders of the women's movement in Australia'.

Select Bibliography

  • Department of Labour and Industry, New South Wales, Inspectors' Reports 1918 in Report with an Historical Review on the Operations of the Department of Labour and Industry During the Year 1918 (Syd, 1920)
  • Win the War League of North Sydney, Neutral Bay committee, Report, 1917
  • Lone Hand, Mar 1920
  • Health, Nov 1924
  • Plain Talk, 30 Mar 1929
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25, 26 Jan, 16 Aug 1917, 10 Oct 1928, 22 Sept 1930, 5 June 1957
  • Fighting Line (Sydney), 20 Aug 1917
  • Labor News, 2 Oct 1920
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 12 Mar 1920
  • Bulletin, 8 Dec 1927
  • M. Foley, The Role of Women's Organisations in New South Wales and Victoria, in 1910-1938 (Ph.D. thesis, University of Sydney, 1985)
  • National Council of Women (New South Wales), minutes, 28 Oct, 2 Dec 1920, 26 June 1924 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Feminist Club records (State Library of New South Wales)
  • United Association of Women records (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Lucy Taksa, 'Scobie, Grace Locke (1876–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/scobie-grace-locke-8364/text14677, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 2 September 2014.

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

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