Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Isabella (Isabel) McCorkindale (1885–1971)

by Diane Langmore

This article was published:

Isabella (Isabel) McCorkindale (1885-1971), temperance worker, was born on 5 January 1885 at Rutherglen, Lanarkshire, Scotland, eldest daughter of Archibald McCorkindale, wholesale ironmonger, and his wife Barbara, née Brown. In 1886 the family migrated to Brisbane where Isabel was educated at Junction Park State School and at a business college.

Interested in temperance reform from youth, Isabel began in 1911 her sixty-year association with the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, serving in its Queensland branch as associate in the department of anti-gambling, then State organizer and in 1917 organizing secretary. In 1920-24 she was also director of the women's section of the Queensland Temperance Alliance. In 1924-27 she travelled overseas, lecturing with the British Women's Temperance Association in 1925 and with the Canadian Temperance Federation in 1926 as well as studying at the University of Edmonton and touring extensively through the United States of America.

On returning to Australia Miss McCorkindale was appointed national director of education and research for the W.C.T.U. (1927-56, 1959-69). Based in Adelaide and later returning to Brisbane, she travelled widely throughout Australia and in 1928-29 launched an extensive education campaign in New Zealand. Her programme in Australia was organized under the slogan: 'Enrol the babies, educate the children, enlist the youth, equip the members, enlighten the public'. Besides her lectures and study groups she prepared and presented radio programmes, trained temperance workers and organized campaigns against liquor licences and extension of drinking hours.

In 1934 Isabel McCorkindale and Ada Bromham attended as Australian delegates the world W.C.T.U. convention in Stockholm, also the British Commonwealth League Conference and the World Congress against Alcoholism. After visiting Switzerland, Austria and Russia—whose progressive social welfare policies impressed Miss McCorkindale—they returned via China and Japan to Australia where she resumed her work for the W.C.T.U. From 1948 she edited its monthly magazine, the White Ribbon Signal. Her publications include, besides temperance pamphlets and study books, The Frances Willard Centenary Book (1939), Pioneer Pathways (1948) and Torch-bearers (1949). In her later years she promoted the use of fruit juices as an alternative to alcohol, and campaigned for road safety, advocating use of the breathalyser. In 1958 she helped to establish an Australian committee of the International Commission for the Prevention of Alcoholism. She was national president of the W.C.T.U. in 1963-66.

A prominent figure in the international W.C.T.U., Isabel McCorkindale served as world vice-president in 1947-59 and president in 1959-62. She represented Australia at international conventions in England (1950), Canada (1953), West Germany (1956), Mexico (1959) and India (1962). In 1963 she was appointed M.B.E.

Slight, dark and bright-eyed, Isabel McCorkindale appears in photographs a rather elfin figure beside some of her strong-jawed, sturdy temperance colleagues, who appreciated her charm, leadership capacity, sense of humour and eloquence. In her speaking and writing she used scientific rather than emotive arguments against alcohol. Like that of many of her colleagues her commitment was part of a wider concern for the status of women. A member of the League of Women Voters, she served as a committee-member for the 1946 Australian Women's Charter conference, and defended the charter against attack from other women's organizations. In 1950 she was a member of the Australian delegation to the United Nations' Status of Women Commission in New York. A lifelong member of the Coorparoo Methodist Church, she felt challenged to 'make the world a better place'. She died unmarried at her home at Holland Park, Brisbane, on 24 February 1971 and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • A. G. Lather, A Glorious Heritage (Brisb, 1968)
  • Woman's Christian Temperance Union, Victoria, Forward in Faith (Melb, 1975)
  • White Ribbon Signal, 80, no 5, Apr-May 1971
  • Herald (Melbourne), 24 Sept 1927
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 May, 30 Aug 1927, 9 Jan, 11 Apr 1929, 30 Oct 1930, 11 Dec 1931, 8 Mar 1934, 1 May, 13 June 1935, 22 June 1946, 11 Oct 1951
  • private information.

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Citation details

Diane Langmore, 'McCorkindale, Isabella (Isabel) (1885–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 January, 1885
Rutherglen, Lanarkshire, Scotland


24 February, 1971 (aged 86)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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