Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Olive Dorothy Rowe (1888–1979)

by Patricia Hale

This article was published:

Olive Dorothy Rowe (1888-1979), ballroom dancer, was born on 22 April 1888 at Darlinghurst, Sydney, third child of Hogarth Crawford, a shorthand writer from Scotland, and his Victorian-born wife Rhoda Louisa, née Hummerston. By 1890 the family had moved to Melbourne. Olive's schooling was brief, offering little opportunity for dancing or to indulge her love of music (she played the mandolin). A pattern of family duty was set early in life when she was given responsibility for the care of her invalid mother. She worked in a tobacco factory, rolling cigarettes, and then at the MacRobertson chocolate factory, Fitzroy, where another employee David James Rowe (d.1949) wooed her by 'tossing ''Milk Kisses" in her direction'. They were married with Congregational forms on 4 August 1911 at Fitzroy. Three of their children were born in Melbourne. Olive looked after her family while David worked at night as a taxi-driver.

In the early 1920s Mrs Rowe's commitment to her home was challenged by the dance boom of the jazz age and by the public dances held six days a week, afternoons and evenings. Although she later stressed that she 'had never set foot inside a ballroom' until she was in her sixties, according to family accounts she sometimes 'slipped off to the local dance' after the children were asleep, only to be returned home by her 'rather irate' husband in his taxi. At this stage she stopped dancing. In 1927 David secured a better job at W. E. Bramble & Sons Ltd, and the family moved to Newcastle, New South Wales. After the birth of her fourth child in 1929, Olive established a successful pie-making business before being employed by a catering firm.

Aged 62, Olive was 'lonely and depressed' following the death of her husband. She began lessons in modern ballroom dancing at Mr and Mrs J. Lambert's studio, Hamilton. Within two years she had won the bronze, silver and gold medals of the International Dancing Masters' Association (its ballroom branch headquarters were at Blackpool, England). She subsequently added three gold bars to the gold medal, and in 1955, at the age of 67, won the association's gold statuette. Claiming that she was 'not much good at old-time', she embarked on Latin American dancing, adding the cha-cha to her favourite tango.

Despite having battled tuberculosis in her twenties, and health problems in her fifties, Olive Rowe was dancing four times a week in her sixties. Her trim 24-inch (61 cm) waist and slender figure were set off by ballerina-length frocks made by her daughter Dorothy. At the age of 75 she won the I.D.M.A.'s 'highest award for modern ballroom dancing'. She then concentrated on teaching and dancing exhibitions at local clubs and dance halls. A 'woman of great character who was never tired or bored', she 'was known throughout Newcastle for her love of life and her ballroom dancing'. Olive Rowe was still dancing on her ninety-first birthday. On 22 April 1979 she left a dance studio and was struck by a motorcar; she died that day in the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Waratah, and was cremated. Her two daughters and one of her two sons survived her. While serving in the Royal Australian Air Force her elder son was presumed to have died when his Catalina flying-boat was lost off Formosa (Taiwan) in 1945.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Lake and F. Kelly (eds), Double Time (Melb, 1985)
  • B. Caine and R. Pringle (eds), Transitions (Syd, 1995)
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 8 Sept 1955, 23, 24, 26 Apr 1979.

Citation details

Patricia Hale, 'Rowe, Olive Dorothy (1888–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


22 April, 1888
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


22 April, 1979 (aged 91)
Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

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