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Margaret Frances Looker (1910–1988)

by Sue Forsyth

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Margaret Frances Looker  (1910-1988), hospital matron, was born on 14 October 1910 in Hobart, fifth of seven children of Edward William Looker, a pastry-cook from England, and his New Zealand-born wife Martha Fanny, née Smith.  Also named Martha Fanny, she changed her names by deed poll in July 1944 to Margaret Frances.  (Sir) Cecil Looker was her brother.  The family moved to Sydney when she was a young girl.  Educated at Sydney Girls’ High School, she began to study (1930-32) medicine at the University of Sydney but, instead, trained as a nurse at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, finishing in 1936 with top marks in the final State examinations.  In 1939 she completed midwifery at Crown Street Women’s Hospital.  Five feet 5 ins (165 cm) tall, she had blue eyes and fair hair.

Joining the Australian Army Nursing Service, Australian Imperial Force, on 2 January 1940, Looker served in the Middle East with the 2/1st Australian General Hospital and the 2/2nd Field Ambulance, earning praise from Sir William Refshauge for her work.  She was also with the 2/1st AGH in Papua (1943-44) and on Bougainville (1945), before being demobilised as a captain in December 1945.  As a foundation Florence Nightingale (International) scholar she gained the sister-tutor diploma organised by the Royal College of Nursing, London, in conjunction with the University of London.

In 1948 Looker returned to RPAH as matron.  She was challenged by poor working conditions and accommodation, and severe staff shortages.  One of the founders of the New South Wales College of Nursing in 1949, she served as vice-president (1949-50) and president (1952-53) and was elected a fellow (1952).  She established a sister-tutor course, modelled on similar English courses, and an administration course; they were the first programs of their kind in Australia.  Supported by a Fulbright scholarship and a Rotary Club grant, she obtained a diploma of nursing administration (1954) at the University of Chicago, United States of America.

After resigning (1954) as matron of RPAH, Looker went to England where she worked as a tutor sister at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital, Winchester.  On 17 December 1955 at the Hospital of St Cross chapel, in the parish of St Faith, Winchester, she married John William Guy, a sign-writer; they had no children.  She returned to Australia in 1956 to become the matron of Canberra Community Hospital (later Royal Canberra Hospital).  Passionate throughout her career about improving nurses’ education, Guy was an early advocate of a university preparation.

Nurses thought Matron Guy was strict ('Sunburn is a self-inflicted wound'), but compassionate towards individuals in difficulty.  In 1961 she was appointed OBE and in 1966 was awarded a Churchill fellowship to study abroad.  Ill health forced her retirement in 1972.  Survived by her husband, she died on 25 August 1988 at Narrabundah, Canberra, and was cremated.  She was remembered as a 'woman of vision' who, realising the importance of complete patient care, fought to obtain professional status and better education for nurses.  Royal Canberra Hospital named the school of nursing in her honour.  Her portrait (1963) by Geoffrey Davis is in the National Library of Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Newman and J. Warren, Royal Canberra Hospital, 1993
  • R. Pratt and R. L. Russell, A Voice to be Heard, 2002
  • Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Annual Report, 1946-54
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 August 1947, p 9
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 September 1954, p 13
  • B883, item NX291 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Matron’s reports to the house committee, 1947-54 (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Archives, Sydney)
  • Council minute books, 1950-52 (College of Nursing archives, Sydney)
  • M. K. Doherty papers (State Library of New South Wales)

Citation details

Sue Forsyth, 'Looker, Margaret Frances (1910–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Margaret Looker, 1963

Margaret Looker, 1963

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an3291269

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Looker, Martha Fanny
  • Guy, Margaret Frances

14 October, 1910
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia


25 August, 1988 (aged 77)
Narrabundah, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Cause of Death


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.