Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Taylor, Doris Irene (1901–1968)

by Greg Crafter

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

Doris Irene Taylor (1901-1968), founder of Meals on Wheels, was born on 25 July 1901 at Norwood, Adelaide, eldest of four children of Thomas Simpkin Taylor, bricklayer, and his wife Angelina, née Williams, late Pulford. Doris spent her childhood first at Mount Gambier and then at Norwood. A fall at the age of 7 caused her to limp quite badly. In 1912 she sustained a spinal injury from another fall and was permanently paralysed. After several operations and years of extended stays in hospital, it was suggested that she should live in the Home for Incurables. Doris and her mother strongly resisted this proposal: Doris went home and remained 'independent' for the rest of her life.

Little is known of Miss Taylor's education, save that she was well read. She was confined to a wheelchair, and her condition was compounded by rheumatoid arthritis so severe that she was completely dependent upon others for her physical needs. Her mobility only extended to her head and shoulders, and, to a limited extent, her arms. Although her hands were twisted and stiff, and she could not raise her arms high enough to brush her hair, she devised her own method of putting on lipstick, making telephone calls and doing embroidery.

Taylor's character and determination led her to find ways to participate in society. During the Depression she became secretary of a local kindergarten mothers' club and helped to create schemes to raise funds. Her work in promoting a soup kitchen heightened her awareness of social injustice. As secretary of the West Norwood sub-branch of the Australian Labor Party, she was credited with persuading Donald Dunstan to join the party and to seek pre-selection for the House of Assembly seat of Norwood in 1952. She successfully managed his first election campaign. In the early 1950s she also acted as public relations officer for the South Australian division of the Australian Pensioners' League and helped to reorganize the Authorised Newsagents' Association of South Australia Ltd.

About this time Taylor began to campaign for improvements to social services for the aged, the infirm, the underprivileged and those most vulnerable in the community. She saw that political action was essential and thought that 'good legislation could ensure security and protection for everybody'. While conscious that the elderly required greater levels of help, she clearly understood their need for independence and their wish to be looked after in their own homes.

In 1953 Taylor founded Meals on Wheels. The first kitchen opened at Port Adelaide in August 1954; others soon followed in different Adelaide suburbs. Operated by volunteers, Meals on Wheels delivered five hot meals each week to those who were unable to cook for themselves. For many recipients, the daily visits also provided an important social contact with the outside world. The organization grew into a State-wide body and served as a model for other States and countries to follow. Meals on Wheels began operating in Tasmania in 1955, Queensland in 1956 and New South Wales in 1957. Taylor's vision embraced supplementary activities: home help, hair care, laundry, library and chiropody services, the supply of frozen meals, and a hospital-based meal service. In 1965 an adviser in geriatrics for the World Health Organization commented that Taylor had built up 'the best, most complete and most effectively integrated system of preventive medicine for old folk operating anywhere in the world'.

Described as courageous, determined and indefatigable, Taylor believed that each individual had the right to be treated with dignity. From its inception, she was the inspiration and driving force behind Meals on Wheels: she travelled extensively in South Australia and other States, urged governments and local authorities to provide support, and took the lead in negotiating expansion of the service. From 1958 to 1968 Meals on Wheels in South Australia employed her as its paid organizer. In 1967 twenty-one kitchens in the State supplied a total of 336,581 meals; by that year more than two million meals had been delivered.

In 1959 Taylor had been appointed M.B.E. Fond of A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh, she entertained her nieces and nephews with stories, and pictures and poems about animals in clothes. She died of bronchopneumonia on 23 May 1968 in Royal Adelaide Hospital and was cremated with Methodist forms.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Dunstan, Felicia (Melb, 1981)
  • S. Baldwin (ed), Unsung Heroes & Heroines of Australia (Melb, 1988)
  • M. Cudmore, A Meal a Day (Adel, 1996)
  • Meals on Wheels (South Australia), Annual Report, 1968
  • private information.

Citation details

Greg Crafter, 'Taylor, Doris Irene (1901–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/taylor-doris-irene-11825/text21159, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 30 July 2014.

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

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