Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stella Marguerite Davies (1885–1965)

by Elspeth Browne

This article was published:

Stella Marguerite Davies (1885?-1965), hospital almoner, was born probably in 1885 at Ashfield, Sydney, eldest of three children of Henry Roberts Davies, post office clerk, and his first wife Annie Elizabeth (d.1889), née Walkley, both Sydneysiders. Stella was educated at Sydney Girls' High School. Her father had remarried in 1890; after his death in 1910, she lived with her half-sister Violet at Neutral Bay. By 1925 Stella was a social worker and two years later was secretary of the Sydney Day Nursery Association, which she represented in July 1928 at a meeting convened by the National Council of Women to establish a course in social work in Sydney.

Invited in 1930 by (Sir) Robert Wade to set up the almoners' department at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, next year Davies received the certificate of the Board of Social Study and Training of New South Wales (founded in 1929). In January 1932 she arrived in London to undertake further training at St Thomas's Hospital and on 8 February 1933 received the certificate of the Institute of Hospital Almoners. One of the first qualified medical social workers practising in Sydney, she belonged to the small, pioneering coterie of English-trained almoners who were to influence hospital social work for the next two decades. In the 1930s Davies and Katharine Ogilvie, who assisted in training students, criticized the quality of the course offered by the B.S.S.T. and agitated for local, specialist, medical training for almoners. Their objective was realized with the founding of the New South Wales Institute of Hospital Almoners in 1937; Davies was a member (1937-42) of its executive-committee.

Patients at R.A.H.C. had increased from 480 in Davies's first year to 2378 in 1940, but by 1947 its almoners' department had difficulty in attracting and retaining staff. Davies had a formidable reputation as 'the world's rudest and worst tempered woman'. Nonetheless, although she was suspicious of newer methods of 'non directive' social work imported from North America, she earned the respect and even the affection of her clients, and of many of her colleagues. Practising through the wretched years of the Depression and the family disruption of World War II, she identified systematic child-abuse well before it was acknowledged in research literature, and dealt with it in an authoritarian manner, having no compunction in notifying the police and placing vulnerable children in care. Nancy Keesing, a fledgling social worker, heard her snap: 'Almost any child is better off alive than dead. Almost any parent is better off free than serving a sentence for murder'. Keesing concluded that, 'First and last she was a realist'. Davies remained in charge at R.A.H.C. until she retired in 1950.

To Keesing, Stella Davies appeared 'little and frail and [generally] gently spoken', with faded, blue eyes; she wore her 'dusty-half-grey brown hair in a very sparse bun and wisps of it flew around her head. She had a sweet smile that was pathetic because so uncertain'. Familiar with the back streets of Sydney, Miss Davies drove from her Cremorne home in an old Morris, 'confidently, competently and slowly, yet dreadfully' because she ignored other road-users. She died on 16 October 1965 in hospital at Mosman and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • R. J. Lawrence, Professional Social Work in Australia (Canb, 1965)
  • D. G. Hamilton, Hand in Hand (Syd, 1979)
  • N. Keesing, Riding the Elephant (Canb, 1988)
  • Board of Social Study and Training, New South Wales, Annual Report, 1927-28
  • N. Parker, Address to New South Wales Branch of Australian Association of Social Workers, Fiftieth Annual General Meeting, Sydney, 1982 (manuscript held by author).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Elspeth Browne, 'Davies, Stella Marguerite (1885–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 23 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Ashfield, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


16 October, 1965 (aged ~ 80)
Mosman, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.