Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Dorothy Mary Kell (Mollie) Finnis (1903–1970)

by Joyce Gibberd

This article was published:

Dorothy Mary Kell (Mollie) Finnis (1903-1970), physiotherapist, was born on 10 March 1903 at Unley Park, Adelaide, daughter of Alfred Edward Simpson, a draughtsman in the civil service, and his South Australian-born wife Frances Isabella, née Kell. Educated at Walford House School, Mollie edited the school magazine and was head prefect in 1920. After two years study, in 1924 she obtained the diploma of the South Australian branch of the Australasian Massage Association. She worked part time at the Adelaide Children's Hospital for twenty years while also practising privately. At the hospital, cases of anterior poliomyelitis had been treated with rest, splinting and passive movements, but she was among those who developed a new treatment by adding the active re-education of individual muscles. She made a major contribution during the 1937-38 and subsequent polio epidemics.

Her well-informed interest in music combined with a deep religious faith to provide a background to her happy marriage. On 6 January 1945 in St Peter's Anglican Cathedral, Adelaide, she married a widower, Rev. (later Canon) Horace Percy Finnis (d.1960), the organist and the bishop's vicar. In 1944-64 Mrs Finnis was a part-time lecturer in physiotherapy at the University of Adelaide and a part-time supervisor of students' practical work in paediatrics at the Adelaide Children's Hospital. A member (1948-58) of the hospital's house-committee, she was to be granted life membership in 1965. She made a special contribution to the treatment of spastic children and in 1944-58 served on several committees of the Crippled Children's Association of South Australia. The sole president (1945-57) of the Spastic Children's Parents' Group and its successor the Crippled Children's Auxiliary (Spastic Group), she was appointed M.B.E. in 1953.

Professionally, Mary Finnis's most original contribution was in appreciating that some so-called idiopathic orthopaedic deformities could have a neurological cause resulting in abnormal tone. She helped undergraduates and senior graduates to understand her concept of the need to look at the whole person before planning treatment. A sweet-faced, plump, quietly spoken woman, she had a pretty wit, but was not a born teacher. Once she formulated an idea, Finnis was never sidetracked. Although her students did not always receive strong directives, they came to appreciate her innovative mind. In 1952-65 she was the university's representative on the Physiotherapists' Board of South Australia; she was also a foundation member (1958) of the Physiotherapy Society of South Australia.

An avid reader, from 1932 Finnis had belonged to the Tatlers Club, a literary society. She and her husband were foundation members (1932) of the Friends of St Peter's Cathedral and remained active in the group until 1954. In the following year they moved from the cathedral vicarage to Rose Park. Mrs Finnis continued to treat patients until shortly before her death. She died of myocardial infarction on 19 May 1970 in the Royal Adelaide Hospital and was buried in North Road cemetery, Rosebery; she had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • South Australian Branch Physiotherapy Newsletter, July 1970
  • Friends of St Peter's Cathedral minute books, 1932-55 (State Library of South Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Joyce Gibberd, 'Finnis, Dorothy Mary Kell (Mollie) (1903–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Simpson, Dorothy

10 March, 1903
Unley Park, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


19 May, 1970 (aged 67)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia