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Nellie Grace Ibbott (1889–1970)

by Jean Baker

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Nellie Ibbott, n.d.

Nellie Ibbott, n.d.

Nellie Grace Ibbott (1889-1970), mayor, was born on 20 June 1889 at Leyton, Essex, England, daughter of John Charles Pugh, printing machine manager, and his wife Ellen Beatrice, née Smith. On 26 September 1914, at the local Congregational Church, Nellie married Alfred Thomas Ibbott, a piano-maker. They came to Australia in 1923.

When a by-election was held in April 1928 to fill a vacancy in the Ivanhoe Riding of the Heidelberg Shire Council, Nellie Ibbott narrowly defeated her male opponent and became the first woman on the council. The seat had to be recontested in the August elections; the same two candidates opposed each other, and Ibbott won by an increased margin. In 1933 she was nominated as shire president, but was beaten by a male councillor. Heidelberg became a city in 1934 and Ibbott served as mayor in 1943-44. Her election attracted considerable interest: while there had previously been a female shire president (at Gisborne), she was the first woman in Victoria to hold mayoral office.

Ibbott was a familiar figure to the residents as she strode along the streets—well-dressed, wearing flat-heeled tan shoes and carrying a tan leather handbag which contained her notebook. A strong debater in the council chamber, she insisted that she was 'no feminist' and that only co-operation between men and women could achieve anything. Tenacious in her attempts to improve conditions in her area, she initiated approaches to State ministers on such matters as unemployment, increased police protection, improved railway stations and better bus services. She was also responsible for establishing the Heidelberg Benevolent Society. During her time on the council, more emphasis was placed on community services than on the traditional roles of local government—rates, roads and rubbish. Seven baby-health centres were established and Heidelberg claimed to be the first municipality to have implemented widespread immunization against diphtheria. Councillor Ibbott also encouraged the arts in the City of Heidelberg. After twenty-two years service, she was defeated in the elections in 1950.

In 1948 Ibbott had been elected to chair the board of management of the Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital. She was at various stages president of the Austin Hospital Auxiliary, treasurer of the Victorian Association of Benevolent Societies and chair of Airlie Maternity Hospital. In addition, she served on the executive of the Victorian Baby Health Centres Association and of the Victorian Council of Social Service. A vice-president of the Liberal Party of Australia, Victorian division, she chaired (1946-48) the central committee of the women's section. In 1949 she was nominated as a candidate for Liberal Party pre-selection for the Senate, but was unsuccessful.

Nellie Ibbott was appointed M.B.E. in 1954. Following their retirement, she and Alfred moved to Mornington where she remained active in party politics. Predeceased by her husband, she died there on 25 June 1970 and was cremated with Anglican rites. She had no children. The City of Heidelberg was slow to honour her. A park in Ivanhoe was named after her in 1984, as was a room in the civic-centre precinct in 1991.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Women's Weekly, 25 Sept 1948
  • Heidelberger, 1 July 1970
  • Herald (Melbourne), 21 July 1927, 11 Dec 1942, 1 July 1948
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 16 Nov 1932, 1 July 1948, 29 Aug 1950
  • Age (Melbourne), 2 Sept 1943, 12 Aug 1944, 26 Feb 1949, 10 June 1954
  • Heidelberg City Council minute books, 1928-50.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Jean Baker, 'Ibbott, Nellie Grace (1889–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 15 July 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

Nellie Ibbott, n.d.

Nellie Ibbott, n.d.

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Pugh, Nellie

20 June, 1889
London, Middlesex, England


25 June, 1970 (aged 81)
Mornington, Victoria, 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.

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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.

Key Organisations
Political Activism