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Dorothy May Marshall (1902–1961)

by Helen Jones

This article was published:

Dorothy May Marshall (1902-1961), schoolteacher, war- and welfare-worker, and public servant, was born on 15 May 1902 in Adelaide, daughter of Charles Henry Marshall, a coachman who became a pioneer radiographer, and his wife Helen Cameron, née Grant (d.1906). Like her father, Dorothy was determined, efficient and warm-hearted. Dark eyed, short and sturdy, she excelled at Adelaide High School and Adelaide Teachers' College. She taught at Gawler (1923-24) and Woodville (1924-34) primary schools, then won an exchange position to Bishop Goodwin Girls' and Margaret Sewell Central schools at Carlisle, England. In 1936 she returned to Adelaide and joined the staff of the girls' department at Croydon Central School. Three years later she was elected to the advisory council of the South Australian Women Teachers' Guild.

In 1941 Miss Marshall was appointed adviser for vocational training to the Education Department, but was soon seconded to assist Adelaide Miethke with the Schools Patriotic Fund of South Australia. On loan to the Department of Labour and National Service in June, she became foundation secretary of the Women's War Service Council which co-ordinated and managed the war service and training of South Australian women, including their allocation to seasonal work outdoors. She immediately advocated the establishment of a women's land army. In July 1942 the Commonwealth government appointed her State superintendent of the Australian Women's Land Army. Marshall controlled major policy implementation and everyday detail; she selected and managed headquarters staff, appointed field staff, and supervised women volunteers on the land; and she travelled extensively, determining the labour needs of primary producers, recruiting country girls, and inspecting their working and living conditions.

Recruited herself in 1945 as a camp welfare officer by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, Marshall helped displaced persons in the British zone in Germany. By November she had been promoted to divisional welfare liaison officer at U.N.R.R.A.'s headquarters at Menden, Westphalia, which controlled fourteen camps in the area. Within two months she was selected—over four male applicants—as chief welfare officer of the 1st U.N.R.R.A. Corps. She had charge of seventy-four welfare officers who took care of some 102,000 displaced Poles in forty camps. Responsible for securing supplies of basic food and clothing, she also raised the inmates' morale by organizing schools for children, vocational and craft centres for adults, and films and concerts in the camp halls. Occasionally she enjoyed a break and went to dances in the British officers' mess. Appointed director-general of welfare in June 1946, she capably took charge of every camp in the zone.

When U.N.R.R.A. was dissolved in mid-1947, Marshall joined the International Refugee Organization as a welfare officer in the British zone of Germany. In November 1948 she became a child welfare officer and later chief of the child-welfare division which arranged for the 'final establishment' of unaccompanied displaced children. She was responsible for planning and organizing the child programme within the zone, and for supervising the field-officers. On leave in Australia in February 1949, she met A. A. Calwell, the minister for immigration, to discuss the resettlement of five hundred homeless children aged between 16 and 18. He agreed to accept youths as immigrants. To publicize the new policy in Europe, she gave lectures in Austria and Italy. Her work ended with the completion of I.R.O. operations in the British zone in December 1951. She was appointed M.B.E. in 1952.

Returning to Adelaide, Marshall began the fourth phase of her working life. In 1953 the State government appointed her to the Department of Agriculture as organizer of the Women's Agricultural Bureau of South Australia. With her breadth of experience, charm and personality, she revitalized the far-flung organization. She initiated a bi-monthly bulletin, W.A.B. News, introduced a long-awaited constitution (1958) and inaugurated agricultural schools for women. She visited rural districts, even places as remote as Pinkawillie on Eyre Peninsula. Meanwhile, she enjoyed her many friendships, membership of the Lyceum Club and playing golf. In the W.A.B. News in June 1961 she reflected on 'the spirit of service'. Her own life symbolized that ideal. She died of cancer on 12 July 1961 in hospital at Henley Beach and was cremated. From her estate, sworn for probate at £15,677, she bequeathed money to establish a scholarship for Adelaide Girls' High School students to study at the University of Adelaide.

Select Bibliography

  • Education Gazette (South Australia), 1923-41
  • WAB News, no 1, Dec 1954, p 3, no 36, Oct 1961, p 3
  • Agricultural Bureau of South Australia, Women's Agricultural Bureau Congress, 1958, p 21
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 19 Aug 1942, 9 Jan 1953
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 June 1946, 5 June 1952
  • Ex-Australian Women's Land Army Club records, SRG266 (State Library of South Australia)
  • ABC Women's Talks, AP1003/10/1, AP1003/10/5 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Agricultural Bureau of South Australia, Women's branches, executive minutes, GRG10/130 (State Records of South Australia)
  • Frances Taylor papers PRG596 (State Library of South Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Helen Jones, 'Marshall, Dorothy May (1902–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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