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Kathleen Stirling Scrymgour (1895–1982)

by Joan Durdin

This article was published:

Kathleen Stirling Scrymgour (1895-1982), hospital matron, was born on 2 May 1895 at Malvern, Adelaide, second of five children of Bernard Vincent Scrymgour, a South Australian-born printer, and his wife Amelia, née Trigg.  After secondary schooling at Walford School, Malvern, Scrymgour spent three years at home before becoming a probationer nurse at (Royal) Adelaide Hospital in 1917.  Hard-working, conscientious and studious, she completed three years of training in May 1920; she was appointed a charge nurse in November.  For fifteen years she was responsible for several wards and deputised for nursing administrators.

In 1935 Scrymgour was the first South Australian nurse to be awarded a Florence Nightingale scholarship.  She completed a one-year course in nursing education and administration at Bedford College, University of London, and returned to Adelaide Hospital in late 1936.  The following year she was appointed assistant tutor sister, the first at the hospital to hold formal qualifications.  She was appointed assistant-matron in 1943 and matron in 1946.  Keen to make changes, especially in nursing education, she initially experienced rebuffs and delays from the board of management.  She strongly advocated the introduction of a preliminary training school; the board at first resisted on economic grounds but eventually approved the proposal in 1950.  Gradually she introduced further reforms, both in curricula and in work conditions, thus enhancing the formal education of nurses.  A member of the Nurses Board of South Australia, she brought her knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, advances in nursing education to a wider audience.

Active in the development of postgraduate education for nurses, in 1949 Scrymgour was one of three South Australian nurses appointed to a national committee, which established the College of Nursing, Australia.  At the inaugural meeting held in Melbourne in 1950, the three were appointed foundation fellows.  On the federal council of the college until 1955, she served (1953-54) as president.  She promoted the college and encouraged South Australian nurses to undertake further education.

Scrymgour was a member of other nursing organisations, including the South Australian branches of the College of Nursing and the Australasian Trained Nurses’ Association, and the Florence Nightingale Committee.  She was an inaugural member (1946) of the National Florence Nightingale Memorial Committee of Australia.  Retiring in May 1955, she was appointed OBE that year.  In 1966 the College of Nursing conferred on her an honorary fellowship.  For twenty-two years after retiring Scrymgour self-effacingly cared for her invalid sisters.  Her correspondence with nursing associates revealed that she continued to maintain a lively interest in contemporary nursing affairs until the mid-1970s.  Having suffered a stroke in 1981, she died on 4 February 1982 at the Hampstead Centre, Northfield, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Nursing in South Australia (1939)
  • Scrymgour 1875–1975 (1975)
  • J. Durdin, They Became Nurses (1991) and Eleven Thousand Nurses (1999)
  • R. G. Smith, In Pursuit of Nursing Excellence (1999)
  • M. E. Parkes, A Professional Pilgrimage (2002)
  • Australasian Nurses Journal, May 1982, p 16
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

Joan Durdin, 'Scrymgour, Kathleen Stirling (1895–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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