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Aileen Fitzpatrick (1897–1974)

by Kerry Regan

This article was published:

Aileen Fitzpatrick (1897-1974), community worker, teacher and social work educator, was born on 17 August 1897 at Warialda, New South Wales, daughter of native-born parents Stephen Thomas Fitzpatrick, schoolteacher, and his wife Julia, née Hamilton. Educated at public schools in the country and at Sydney Girls' High School, Aileen passed the Leaving certificate in 1915. She studied classics at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1919) and was employed by the Department of Education.

After teaching classics at Parramatta, Albury, Sydney Girls' and Fort Street Girls' high schools, Fitzpatrick resigned in 1927 to become organizing secretary in Sydney for the Country Women's Association of New South Wales. She developed an interest in community services and was a member of the National Council of Women's standing committee for education which reported that year on the need to establish training for social workers in New South Wales. Following the establishment (1929) of the Board of Social Study and Training, she was initially associated with it in an honorary capacity before being appointed to a salaried position (director) in 1932. Fitzpatrick taught industrial history and casework. Over the next eight years, fifty-three women and one man received the board's certificate in social work.

A large, effusive person with an ability to win over those who mattered, Fitzpatrick gained the approval of professors Tasman Lovell and Harvey Sutton, influential members of the board. Aided by grants from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, she went abroad in 1933 to investigate social work in Europe and the United States of America. She again returned to the United States in 1935 with fifteen students to extend her examination of methods of training. Fitzpatrick developed close ties with the American schools and that year became a member of the American Association of Social Workers; she invited Porter R. Lee, director of the New York School of Social Work, to visit Sydney in 1937. Back home, she helped to establish the Council of Social Service in 1935 and the Australian Council of Schools of Social Work in 1938.

Fitzpatrick's achievements as director were overshadowed by the discord that arose with Katharine Ogilvie and Helen Rees, two leading social workers who were responsible for setting up the New South Wales Institute of Hospital Almoners in 1937. They had gained professional qualifications outside Australia, and criticized the board for the standards of its course and the calibre of its teaching staff. Encountering a want of confidence among her colleagues and the withdrawal of some board-members' support, Fitzpatrick resigned in 1940 when the board's training course was taken over by the university.

She operated out of 5 Hamilton Street (the board's previous address) and turned her attention to the growing refugee problem. Backed by Sir Benjamin Fuller, Julia Corless and Russell Henderson, from 1940 she ran a service for refugees as a subsidiary of the Australian United Nations Assembly. The agency was eventually incorporated in 1949 as the Australian Council for International Social Service. Fitzpatrick was director and presided over services involving family reunion, a foreign language library and an integration programme for the intelligentsia. The work of the organization flourished, but, with increased migration to Australia in the 1950s, A.C.I.S.S. needed the support of overseas affiliates and additional funds to function effectively. When William T. Kirk, president of International Social Service, visited Sydney in 1954, Fitzpatrick sought to have A.C.I.S.S. formerly recognized as a branch of I.S.S. The report of Florence Boester, an I.S.S. representative, favoured affiliation on the whole, while pointing out that casework and management standards had to improve. The lack of formal qualifications of the director and her staff were seen as a disadvantage. A.C.I.S.S. was affiliated in 1955; Fitzpatrick again bowed to pressure from her colleagues and resigned.

A pioneer of social work, she achieved much by her energy and charm, but met her match in other forceful women intent on directing the way in which the profession should develop. Fitzpatrick continued her refugee-work from the Sir Benjamin Fuller Foreign Language Memorial Library. She died on 23 June 1974 at her Eastwood home and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • R. J. Lawrence, Professional Social Work in Australia (Canb, 1965)
  • Board of Social Study and Training of New South Wales, Annual Report, 1930-40
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Mar, 2 Apr 1935, 6 May 1950, 19 Mar 1953, 27 June 1974
  • F. Boester, Review of the Structure, Administration and Programme of the Australian Council for International Social Service (manuscript, 1954, International Social Service Library, Sydney)
  • files of Department of Social Work, University of Sydney (University of Sydney Archives)
  • private information.

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Citation details

Kerry Regan, 'Fitzpatrick, Aileen (1897–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 21 May 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

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