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Louise (Lucy) Morice (1859–1951)

by Helen Jones

This article was published:

Louise Morice (Lucy) (1859-1951), kindergarten worker and social reformer, was born on 1 March 1859 in Adelaide, daughter of John Brodie Spence, official assignee, and his wife Jessie, née Cumming. She was educated at private schools and was much influenced by her family's Unitarianism and political interests. Her aunt Catherine Helen Spence became her greatest friend. She married James Percy Morice (1858-1943) on 20 March 1886 in a Unitarian service at her father's home, Fenton, Glenelg; they had one son. Pretty, poised and sociable, Lucy read avidly and developed an idealistic vision of a just society; she frequently despaired of its realization.

She and 'Auntie Kate' founded the Woman's League in 1895, after female enfranchisement, 'to educate women politically and to work for the interests of women and children'. Its early failure, Lucy believed, was because of the absorption of women into party politics and men's conservatism and fear of their wives being exposed to 'disturbing ideas and suggestions'. In 1902 the all-female South Australian Co-operative Clothing Co. opened Adelaide's first electrically powered clothing factory, designed to protect women workers from 'sweating'. Lucy Morice was a foundation shareholder and Catherine Spence chaired it until she died in 1910, her hand in Lucy's. Although they had agreed that she would complete her aunt's unfinished autobiography, another niece forestalled these plans. Lucy chaired the co-operative until its liquidation in 1913, caused by economic competition and, she thought, the individualism and lack of co-operation of Australians. She and her husband helped to found an Adelaide Fabian group; in 1903 they had met the Shaws and other Fabians in England. She turned to the Anglican Church and theosophy, claimed to be a socialist and in 1905 she joined a United Trades and Labor Council committee to form a new trade union, the Women's Employment Mutual Association, of which she was an active honorary member.

Freed by domestic help, Lucy enjoyed music and in 1911-12 was on the board of the Adelaide Literary Theatre. She attended Government House balls and held 'salon' afternoons on Sundays for interesting and intellectual persons of varied persuasions. In 1905 she had helped to found the Kindergarten Union of South Australia which became her most passionate commitment. With Lillian de Lissa she battled to maintain the union's early independence and sought widely for funds. Initially minute secretary, in 1913-32 she was honorary organizing secretary, in 1912-31 on the executive, in 1922-51 on the education committee and vice-president from 1932 to 1951. She lectured in history of education to Kindergarten Training College students in 1908-25 and stimulated them to read widely. Her belief in kindergarten as a hope for society's future was allied with distaste for what she saw as the regimentation of the state school system. Her compassion for children caused her, with Dr Helen Mayo, to found the School for Mothers Institute in 1909; as its president she campaigned against high infant mortality rates.

That year, on Vida Goldstein's advice, she initiated the Women's (later Non-Party) Political Association, which took practical and successful steps to stimulate reform in numerous areas affecting women and children; political lobbying was continually employed. She succeeded her aunt as president. In 1916-17 she was a vice-president of the League of Loyal Women and was later a committee-member.

In 1935 the Lucy Morice Kindergarten, to which she had donated £500, was opened at lower North Adelaide. In 1936 she was appointed M.B.E. Her correspondence with Miles Franklin from the 1930s describes experiments with Christian Science and the trials of her husband's physical and mental decline. Lucy Morice died in a nursing home on 10 June 1951. She was cremated, having requested that 'no-one shall wear mourning for me … nor send any flowers'.

Her husband James Percy, parliamentary librarian and clerk, was born on 18 November 1858 at Brixton, London, son of James Morice, general merchant's clerk, and his wife Cecilia Margaret, née Swan. He was educated at Bedford Grammar school and migrated in 1877, becoming a clerk in the South Australian Survey and Crown Lands Department in 1878. In 1886 he was appointed librarian to the South Australian parliament. Though genial, he battled with members who were irresponsible with books, magazines and newspapers. He banned smoking from the reading-room from 1892 until 1915, when a members' vote reversed the decision. Morice supervised the library's move to the old Legislative Council chamber in 1909 and organized a card catalogue in 1916.

He was clerk assistant and sergeant-at-arms of the Legislative Council 1901-18 and of the House of Assembly in 1918-20. In 1918 he resigned as librarian and became clerk of the council in 1920, and clerk of parliaments in 1925-36, when he developed an unrivalled knowledge of parliamentary procedure. A member of the Adelaide Club, he was at the heart of political affairs through his work; these advantages helped his wife. He supported her as treasurer in 1913-20, general secretary in 1914-20 and trustee in 1922-37 of the Kindergarten Union. He retired in 1936, died at his North Adelaide home on 26 March 1943 and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Jones, ‘Lucy Spence Morice and Catherine Helen Spence: partners in South Australian social reform’, Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia, no 11 (1983)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 25 Feb 1902, 29 Mar 1943
  • Herald (Adelaide), 1 Mar 1902, 12 May 1906, 28 Apr 1908
  • Daily Herald (Adelaide), 28 June 1913
  • L. S. Morice, Auntie Kate (no date, typescript, State Records of South Australia)
  • South Australian Co-operative Clothing Co. records (State Records of South Australia)
  • League of Women Voters, executive and committee minutes (State Records of South Australia)
  • Kindergarten Union of South Australia, Annual Report, 1906-07 to 1952, and executive and organizing committees papers and minute books, 1905-52 (State Records of South Australia)
  • Woman's League records (State Records of South Australia)
  • A. Wainwright, A Tribute to Lucy Spence Morice (1962, typescript, University of South Australia Library)
  • South Australian Parliament, Joint Library Committee, minute book, 1881-1917 (Parliamentary Library, Adelaide)
  • Lucy Morice to Rose Scott, 12 Apr 1910 (Rose Scott correspondence, State Library of New South Wales)
  • Miles Franklin letters (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Helen Jones, 'Morice, Louise (Lucy) (1859–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 13 July 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

Lucy Morice, c.1886

Lucy Morice, c.1886

State Library of South Australia, b20805895

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Spence, Louise

1 March, 1859
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


10 June, 1951 (aged 92)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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