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Edith Mary Cuthbert (1891–1988)

by A. Rand

This article was published:

Edith Mary Cuthbert (1891-1988), community worker, was born on 12 December 1891 at Rochester, Victoria, sixth of ten children of Victorian-born parents James Robison Chapman, bank manager, and his wife Ada, née Valentine. In 1895 the family moved to Albury, New South Wales, where Edith went to school; they later transferred to Hobart. During World War I Edith served in the voluntary aid detachment of the Tasmanian division of the British (Australian) Red Cross Society. In 1925 she worked as a journalist for nine months on the Hobart News, and next year wrote for the women’s and children’s pages of the Melbourne Leader. On 21 October 1926 at All Saints’ Church of England, St Kilda, she married 47-year-old Charles D’Arcy Cuthbert, a barrister and solicitor, and returned to Hobart. The couple had two sons, whom she raised alone after her husband’s death in 1942.

Retaining her literary interests, Edith Cuthbert had several poems included in the 1935 publication of the Hobart Lyceum Club’s literary circle, of which she was secretary. She joined the local branch of the Victoria League in 1936; as its acting-secretary (1938-44) she helped to organise Empire Day celebrations and the collection of metals for munitions. At the league’s national conference in Canberra in 1939 she spoke on the ways in which the Hobart group assisted British migrants. Secretary of the Tasmanian Women’s Non-Party League for twenty-five years (1948-51, 1953-74), she wrote to State and Federal ministers, to the Hobart City Council and to the Mercury, with suggestions on aged care, social welfare, health, the environment, the promotion of tourism and the registration of rest homes. With a friend she ran a monthly British newcomers’ club in the 1950s and early 1960s, and helped migrants to find jobs and housing. She pleaded for a subsidised housekeeper service for persons in need and for more convenient transport amenities, and held monthly at-home days for lonely old people in her suburb. In 1967 she was made a life member of the WNPL.

After seeking advice from Doris Taylor, Cuthbert began a meals-on-wheels service in 1955, delivering hot midday meals from a commercial kitchen at a nominal cost. The Meals on Wheels Association of Tasmania was formed next year and in 1956-58 Cuthbert, as organising secretary, arranged car rosters. Honorary secretary in 1958-62 and vice-president in 1962-65, she was made a life member in 1971. That year she completed a social welfare course but was unable to find a position in a citizens’ advice bureau as she wanted.

Cuthbert spent her last twelve years, active physically and mentally, in the Queen Victoria Home for the Aged, Lindisfarne. Her friends and family considered her a `character’ for her forthright, down-to-earth attitude and many idiosyncrasies; a premier is reputed to have refused to consider her for an Imperial honour because she was `much too troublesome a person’. At 91 she arranged the manufacture of a prototype of an inflatable bedpan and promoted its use to the Commonwealth Department of Health. The `Cuthbert Comforter’ received serious consideration but was not taken up. Survived by her sons, Mrs Cuthbert died on 8 September 1988 at Lindisfarne and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • G. N. W. MacFarlane, The First Twenty Years (1989)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 16 Dec 1971, p 21, 2 May 1974, p 12, 14 May 1983, p 8
  • Victoria League (Tasmania), Minutes, 1936-44 (Hobart)
  • Tasmania Women’s Non-Party League, Minutes, 1948-74, and Meals on Wheels records (Tasmania State Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

A. Rand, 'Cuthbert, Edith Mary (1891–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 13 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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