Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Clara Winifred Howie (1881–1960)

by Carol F. Gaston

This article was published:

Clara Winifred Howie (1881-1960), nurse and administrator, was born on 27 June 1881 at Glenelg, Adelaide, fourth of five children of George Cullen Howie, ironmonger, and his wife Clara Jane, née Hotham, both from Scotland. Laurence Hotham Howie was her eldest brother. Winifred's father died in 1883. Two years later Clara took the children to live with her father Rev. John Hotham, a Congregationalist minister, at Port Elliot where she ran the home as a boarding house in summer and as a small private school in winter. Winifred trained (1906-09) as a nurse at the Adelaide Children's Hospital and completed a midwifery course at the Queen's Home in 1910. Next year she began work with the District Trained Nursing Society (later District and Bush Nursing Society).

In 1912 Howie was the first nurse sent by the society to Hergott Springs (Marree), 360 miles (579 km) north of Adelaide and 150 miles (241 km) from the nearest doctor. The town was home to a thriving community of Indian and Afghan cameleers, and a photograph shows Sister Howie in her starched nursing uniform, riding a camel. She was obliged to 'live at the public house and . . . interview her patients there'. In 1918 she moved to Goolwa where she opened a branch of the D.T.N.S. In the following year she was appointed assistant-superintendent of nurses at the society's Adelaide headquarters; she was its general secretary and superintendent of nurses in 1926-49; Edith Maude Bottrill (d. 12 August 1960) was her deputy (from 1926). Their work involved frequent tours of the country branches. A plump woman, with large, mild eyes and a calm expression, Howie showed unfailing sympathy for the sick poor and handled their problems tactfully.

She was a member (from 1924) of the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association, acting-president (1937) and president (1937-41) of the South Australian branch and its representative on the State Registration Board. In 1936 she joined the centenary committee which published Nursing in South Australia (1938): the book included a tribute to her and to the A.T.N.A. written by Rev. John Flynn. During World War II the work of the D.T.N.S. was often heavy, monotonous and trying, due to the lack of domestic help in homes and hospitals.

Sister Howie required her outback staff to attend Aborigines living in bush camps and to encourage them to come to the nursing hostels for treatment. She developed a special relationship with Daisy Bates and corresponded with her for many years. The D.T.N.S. central office acted as a post office for Bates. By 1947 Howie was supervising about thirty sub-branches, and her nurses made 103,000 visits. In 1948 she was appointed M.B.E. Although she resigned in 1949, she continued her care for the sick through the auxiliary of the Royal Adelaide Hospital. Distressed by the news of the death of Miss Bottrill, she died on 13 August 1960 at her Forestville home and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Durdin, They Became Nurses (Syd, 1991)
  • Port Augusta Despatch, 7 Nov 1913
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 16 June 1937, 19 Oct 1949, 15 Feb 1960
  • Royal District Nursing Society of South Australia, Minutes of Board Meetings, 1912-49 (held by District Nursing Society, Adelaide)
  • private information.

Citation details

Carol F. Gaston, 'Howie, Clara Winifred (1881–1960)', 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]


27 June, 1881
Glenelg, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


13 August, 1960 (aged 79)
Forestville, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.