Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Clara Padbury Rutherford (1878–1975)

by Andrea Gaynor

This article was published:

Clara Padbury Rutherford (1878-1975), women's activist, was born on 6 July 1878 in Perth, fourth of eight children of Edward Roberts, farmer, and his wife Charlotte, née Nairn, both Western Australian born. Educated privately and at Pyrmont Girls' School, Albany, Clara trained as a nurse for two years at Perth Public Hospital before returning to the family home, Yathroo station, Dandaragan. There, on 6 April 1910, she married with Anglican rites Douglas Rutherford (d.1961), a surveyor; they were to have three children. After several months in survey camps, the couple moved to Moora. Clara started a club for local women. From 1917 they lived at Belmont, near Perth, where they ran a poultry farm to supplement their income, before settling at Subiaco in 1919.

In 1918 Mrs Rutherford had joined the Western Australian National Council of Women. Prominent in the establishment of the West Australian Housewives' League, she was elected its inaugural president in 1920 and later made a life member of the Western Australian Housewives' Association. She chaired Edith Cowan's election campaign committees in 1921 and 1924, and presided over the Women's Electoral League. In February 1922 she was appointed a justice of the peace; she became one of the first two women to sit on the Perth police court bench. Between 1930 and 1953 she held various offices in the Western Australian Women Justices' Association.

A founder of the Country Women's Association of Western Australia, Rutherford had been elected a vice-president at the initial conference in 1925. She chaired a C.W.A. committee which endeavoured to provide a seaside home where women and children from the inland could spend holidays: following a successful fund-raising campaign, Sunshine (Lodge) was opened at Cottesloe in August 1929. A regular office-holder in the C.W.A., she was to be given honorary life membership in 1957.

Rutherford had become a member of the executive of the W.A.N.C.W. in 1927. Two years later she represented the council on an international standing committee for suffrage and citizenship rights. Active in affiliated bodies, she was a delegate to the Good Films League and a founding member of the Women's Immigration Auxiliary Council of Western Australia. She served on the W.A.N.C.W. executive for more than forty years and had three terms as president; by 1935 she had been made honorary life vice-president in recognition of her services. In addition, she was a council-member of the State branch of the Girl Guides' Association, a member of the Western Australian Women's Parliament (founded in 1946), a local committee-member of the 'Call to the People of Australia' campaign and president (1953) of the women's auxiliary of the Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association.

A bespectacled, amiable woman, Rutherford was motivated by a genuine desire for public service and a firm belief that married women should have interests beyond the home. 'Go out and broaden your vision', she urged them. She died on 11 June 1975 at Armadale and was cremated; her daughter and two sons survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Erickson et al (eds), Her Name is Woman (Perth, 1974)
  • National Council of Women of Western Australia, Centenary Year Report, 1929
  • Daily News (Perth), 17 Feb 1954
  • Western Australian Housewives' Association records (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Andrea Gaynor, 'Rutherford, Clara Padbury (1878–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 18 July 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]

Alternative Names
  • Roberts, Clara Padbury

6 July, 1878
Perth, Western Australia, Australia


11 June, 1975 (aged 96)
Armadale, Western Australia, Australia