Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stelzer, Eunice Minnie (1880–1962)

by Rachel Grahame

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

Eunice Minnie Stelzer (1880-1962), founder of the Happiness Club, was born on 13 December 1880 at Darlinghurst, Sydney, daughter of Alfred Sydney Carpenter, a native-born plasterer, and his wife Phoebe, née Parker, who came from New Zealand. Educated at Harvard College, Potts Point, Eunice was appointed a pupil-teacher at Crown Street Superior Public School in 1898 and promoted in 1900. She resigned in 1902 to teach music (stringed instruments) at a music warehouse. In 1903 she began to play at musicales held by the Theosophical Society in Australia.

At the Congregational Church, Pitt Street, on 20 April 1905 Eunice married William Jacob Stelzer, a manufacturing jeweller; they were to have five daughters, then a son. She performed in many charity concerts during World War I, and was thanked by the Belgian consul for her contributions to the Belgian Relief Fund.

A. E. Bennett asked Mrs Stelzer in June 1927 to broadcast a musical item on the Theosophical Society's radio-station 2GB. She agreed to do so for one week only. An immediate success, she was encouraged by Bennett and joined the staff in 1929. From Monday to Friday she ran an afternoon session for women and soon began to receive letters from listeners, confiding their worries and seeking her advice. Although she attempted to answer them herself, she organized local suburban groups to assist her when the number of letters increased.

In October 1929 Stelzer launched the Happiness Club on 2GB to gather all the groups as branches. The club's motto was 'Others First'. She remained its president until 1950. Entirely staffed and run by volunteers, the club soon had thousands of members and raised money for a wide variety of charitable causes, such as Sydney and Royal Prince Alfred hospitals, the Far West Children's Health Scheme, the Smith Family, and the New South Wales Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind. It also supported individuals in need. In 1930, when the mayor of Rockdale telephoned to say he had found an empty house for a distressed family, but needed furniture, Stelzer appealed for help over the radio and furnished it in three minutes.

The Happiness Club expanded with younger sets and a boys' branch. It held balls, 'Queen' competitions, egg days, Christmas parties and afternoon teas. Hundreds of women were attracted to its functions, which came under vice-regal patronage in 1933. During World War II the club donated two mobile canteens, eight mobile food-trolleys and two ambulances, made 158,230 dressings and 9500 camouflage nets, knitted hundreds of garments for the Australian Comforts Fund and baked innumerable cakes for the troops.

Stelzer continued to broadcast on weekdays until 1950, by which time the Happiness Club claimed more than 20,000 members; by 1954 it had raised and distributed £168,840, either in cash or as gifts of food or clothing. She became a life governor of five Sydney hospitals, and was awarded Queen Elizabeth II's coronation medal (1953). With her family's concurrence, she donated land at Newport to the club. Several cottages were built there to enable aged couples—many of whom were separated in homes for the elderly—to holiday together. Named the Eurobodalla Home, it was the forerunner of retirement villages.

An early admirer wrote of 'Mrs Stelzer's business ability, as well as her cheery, obliging disposition' which helped to bring a wider understanding 'of what mutual service . . . really means'. Survived by her husband and their children, Eunice Stelzer died on 4 June 1962 at Wahroonga and was cremated with Methodist forms. Her husband and daughter Joyce also worked for 2GB.

Select Bibliography

  • Wireless Weekly, 18 Sept, 4 Dec 1931, 9 Feb, 2, 16 Mar, 6 July, 28 Sept 1934
  • ABC Weekly, 20 Aug 1949, p 42
  • Sunday Telegraph (Sydney), 22 June 1947
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 June 1953, 5 June 1962
  • private information.

Citation details

Rachel Grahame, 'Stelzer, Eunice Minnie (1880–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stelzer-eunice-minnie-11759/text21031, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 1 November 2014.

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

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