Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Mabel Mary McCutcheon (1886–1942)

by Judith Raftery

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Arthur Donald McCutcheon

Arthur Donald McCutcheon (1890-1955), Methodist minister and social worker, and Mabel Mary McCutcheon (1886-1942), nurse, were husband and wife. Arthur was born on 2 June 1890 at New Seaham, County Durham, England, son of John McCutcheon, coalminer, and his wife Martha Louisa, née Snowdon. Orphaned at 14, he worked in the mines for eight years and became a lay preacher. He responded to an advertisement for men willing to undertake home mission work with the Methodist Church in South Australia, reached Adelaide in 1912, and was sent to Keith. On 11 September 1914 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force; he served at Gallipoli and on the Western Front as a stretcher-bearer with the 4th Field Ambulance. Taking leave in England, on 2 December 1916 at the Primitive Methodist Chapel, Seaham Harbour, he married Hilda Annie Robinson (d.1923). After he was discharged from the A.I.F. on 28 February 1919 in Adelaide, he was accepted as a probationary minister. While stationed at Berri, he ministered at soldier-settler camps along the Murray River. In 1920 he was transferred to Semaphore. On 22 February 1922 he was ordained. He served at Cowell (1922), Tailem Bend (1925), Magill (1929) and Broken Hill, New South Wales (1932).

Mabel was born on 13 April 1886 at Hangleton, Sussex, England, daughter of Alfred Woolgar, a journeyman blacksmith, and his wife Jemima Florence, née Coles. Having qualified as a hospital nurse, she worked in London, Dublin and New York. From 1914 she served with Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service in France, Greece and Egypt. At the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Melcombe Regis, Dorset, England, on 8 August 1917 she married Wilfred Henry Franks, a sapper in the A.I.F. Sailing as a war bride in the Megantic, she arrived in Adelaide with her infant daughter on 18 February 1920. She divorced her husband on 4 April 1922. Registered as a nurse on 29 March that year, she was matron at Clare hospital and then at Cowell where she met Arthur McCutcheon. They were married on 26 March 1925 at the Methodist Manse, Payneham, Adelaide; their son was born in December that year.

Appointed superintendent of Port Adelaide Central Methodist Mission in 1935, McCutcheon held the position until 1954. Under his leadership, the mission developed a men's hostel, employment agency, kindergarten and nursery school, gymnasium clubs, a children's 'cinema church', dressmaking and handicraft classes, a distribution point for second-hand clothing and footwear, a health clinic (founded by Mabel) and a home for the aged. McCutcheon's personal response to local need also included serving (1939-54) as a Royal Australian Naval Reserve chaplain to the naval depot at Port Adelaide and as a probation officer at the local court.

Mrs McCutcheon's innovative ideas about health earned the mission a distinguished reputation as an experimental social-service agency. Her interest in rheumatoid arthritis, prevalent among the elderly poor, and her knowledge of 'health-giving ray treatment' led her to establish a clinic at the mission. From modest beginnings in 1936, it became a major physiotherapy and chiropody service, equipped with modern electrical appliances and staffed by trained therapists. The clinic offered dietary advice and free apples to patients, and sold such 'exotic' foods as soya beans, 'unpearled' barley, unpolished rice, cracked wholewheat and vegetable juice.

Mabel also encouraged the mission to establish (1941) a health camp at Mount Barker for deprived families, especially 'poor tired mothers'. She was appointed M.B.E. in 1939. Survived by her husband and her two children, she died of cancer on 30 December 1942 in North Adelaide and was buried in North Brighton cemetery. By 1951 her clinic provided rehabilitation for injured waterside workers and a treatment centre for children suffering from poliomyelitis.

Arthur's boldness in making expansive plans for the mission attracted wide support. As much a pragmatist as a visionary, he ruffled Methodist feathers by accepting money from horse-racing interests. His earlier experiences in mining communities had turned him into a Christian Socialist and a militant supporter of trade-union causes. While standing firmly in the Evangelical mainstream, he was impatient with other-worldly complacency and conceived the mandate of the Church in the broadest terms. His humanity was evident in his regular radio talks and column in the News, selections from which were published as As I See Life (1943) and Sparks in the Darkness (1944). The Methodist Conference in South Australia elected him president in 1947. He gave a clear statement of his vision in his presidential address, 'Christian Responsibility for the Social Order'. McCutcheon died of coronary thrombosis on 24 June 1955 at Mount Barker and was buried beside his second wife; their son and the daughter of his first marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Hunt, This Side of Heaven (Adel, 1985)
  • Parliamentary Debates (South Australia), 1945, p 411 et passim
  • Port Adelaide Central Methodist Mission, Annual Report, 1935-55, and minutes of Quarterly Board Meetings, minute books, 1904-66 (Port Adelaide Central Mission)
  • News (Adelaide), 22 Mar 1938, 12 June 1941, 1 Apr 1954
  • South Australian Methodist, 8 Jan 1943, 1 July 1955
  • private information.

Citation details

Judith Raftery, 'McCutcheon, Mabel Mary (1886–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 14 July 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Woolgar, Mabel Mary
  • Franks, Mabel Mary

13 April, 1886
Hangleton, Sussex, England


30 December, 1942 (aged 56)
North Adelaide, 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.

Religious Influence

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.