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Evelyn Grace Ione Nowland (1887–1974)

by Mary Dickenson

This article was published:

Evelyn Grace Ione Nowland (1887-1974), nurse and trade unionist, was born on 10 November 1887 at Penrith, New South Wales, second of four children of Edward Joseph Byrnes Clare Nowland, a carriage-builder from Cape Town, South Africa, and his wife Marie Louisa, née Maguire, from Mudgee. Ione undertook training at the Sydney Hospital, passing her final examinations in September 1915 and registering with the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association in May next year. On 24 May 1917 she enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. She served in the Australian Army Nursing Service as a staff nurse in military hospitals at Salonika, Greece, from August 1917. In October next year Nowland was evacuated to Cairo with nervous debility and in December was invalided to Australia. She was discharged on 31 May 1919. On 27 March 1920 at St Philip's Church of England, Sydney, she married William Charles O'Toole, a surveyor. The childless marriage ended in divorce and Nowland resumed her maiden name.

In 1925 the State minister for health appointed her assistant to the registrar of the newly established Nurses' Registration Board, set up under the Nurses Registration Act (1924). With the assistance of a number of inspectors, Nowland was responsible for inspecting training schools. Appalled by the conditions under which nurses lived and worked in many hospitals, in 1931 she agreed to a request from Jessie Street to help to form a nurses' union in New South Wales.

The move was prompted, in part, by legislation of the Lang Labor government to make union membership a compulsory condition of employment. Fearful that they could be required to join a conglomerate union, nurses saw the formation of an exclusive union as a preferable alternative. On 27 March 1931 Nowland called the founding meeting and became the first president of the New South Wales Nurses' Association, with Georgina Johnstone as secretary.

Nowland demonstrated confidence and courage when she accepted this role while holding a senior government position. One of the first tasks was to obtain an award governing wages and conditions. She guided the union's case through the Industrial Commission. Her profession was by no means united in this endeavour. The A.T.N.A., which had been established in 1899 as a credentialling association, disapproved of legal regulation of nurses' conditions and opposed the N.S.W.N.A.'s case in the Industrial Commission. Nevertheless, the initial award was granted in 1936 and for the first time there was uniformity of pay and conditions for nurses in public and private hospitals in the State. Soon after, Nowland resigned as president and for some years apparently worked as a private nurse in Sydney's northern suburbs.

Described as 'a trim figure', 5 ft 5¾ ins (167 cm) tall with brown eyes and in her youth short brown hair, she was outspoken and always definite about her beliefs. Nowland died on 4 November 1974 in a convalescent home at Roseville and was cremated. The trade union she had helped to establish was still flourishing in 2005.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Dickenson, An Unsentimental Union (Syd, 1993)
  • H. Radi (ed), Jessie Street (Syd, 1990)
  • Australasian Nurses’ Journal, Apr 1920, p 124
  • file no TU696 (New South Wales Industrial Registry, Sydney)
  • Ione Nowland service record (National Archives of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Mary Dickenson, 'Nowland, Evelyn Grace Ione (1887–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 16 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • O'Toole, Evelyn

10 November, 1887
Penrith, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


4 November, 1974 (aged 86)
Roseville, Sydney, New South Wales, 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.