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Clare Grant Stevenson (1903–1988)

by Maxine Dahl

This article was published:

Clare Stevenson, 1944

Clare Stevenson, 1944

Australian War Memorial, VIC0825

Clare Grant Stevenson (1903-1988), air force officer, company executive and welfare worker, was born on 18 July 1903 at Wangaratta, Victoria, second youngest of six children of Robert Logan Grant Stevenson, finance and land agent, and his wife Ada Pollie, née Griffiths.  When Clare was 4, the family moved to Essendon, Melbourne, where she was educated at Winstow Girls Grammar and Essendon High schools.  After matriculating in 1922, she studied science at the University of Melbourne and in 1925 completed a Dip.Ed. (taken out in 1934).  Dark haired and of average height, Stevenson served on the Students’ Representative Council (vice-president 1923) and on the Committee of Melbourne University Women, and gained a Blue for hockey.

In 1926 Stevenson began work with the Young Women’s Christian Association, Sydney, and from 1929-31 served as general secretary of the YWCA, Rockhampton, Queensland.  Frederick Burley appointed her in 1932 a research and training officer at Berlei Ltd, Sydney.  She worked for Berlei (NZ) Ltd before becoming a senior executive with Berlei (UK) Ltd.  In 1939 she returned to the company’s head office in Sydney.

When the Royal Australian Air Force sought a director for the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force, Stevenson was approached by Lady Wakehurst, wife of the governor of New South Wales, as well as by the air member for personnel, air vice marshal H. N. Wrigley, and the minister for air, (Sir) John McEwen.  Despite her reluctance to accept the post, Stevenson was appointed on 9 June 1941 with the rank of squadron officer.  She was promoted to wing officer on 1 October and to group officer on 1 April 1942.

In charge of the overall management and expansion of the WAAAF, and responsible for establishing the standards and rights of WAAF servicewomen, Stevenson showed great leadership and determination.  She was later to say that 'it was a dreadful time, difficult and lonely' as she confronted discrimination both in the pay and the treatment of females.  Faced with the need to house, clothe and train the thousands of airwomen who joined the WAAAF, she warned them that conditions were often hard.  She stressed the importance of dignified and moral behaviour, instituted a vigorous officer training scheme and personally selected officers for her management team.

The issue of unequal pay for WAAAF officers continued after the formalisation of women’s conditions of service and legal status in 1943.  Health care was another concern on which Stevenson fought to achieve equality.  She perceived education as a way to a better future and encouraged WAAAF members to take advantage of the available RAAF educational service.  Demobilised from the WAAAF on health grounds on 22 March 1946, she was placed on the Retired List.

Stevenson returned to a senior management position in Berlei Ltd.  In 1947 she was appointed a trustee of the Services Canteens Trust Fund and next year graduated B.Ed. from the University of Melbourne.  After retiring in 1960, Stevenson became more actively involved with the social well-being of both veterans and civilians.  She served on many committees to assist the plight of civilian widows and their children, including one that issued a report, Widows in Australia, published by the Council of Social Service of New South Wales in 1962.  She organised a scholarship scheme for the children of civilian widows and in 1975 established the Kings Cross Community Aid and Information Service.  President for some years, she served on its management committee until 1987.

Stevenson worked with the New South Wales Council on the Ageing as an organiser and research officer and wrote Dedication, a report on a survey of caring for the aged.  She set up a carers' group which became the Carers Association of New South Wales, an independent body of which Stevenson became president.  Her lobbying resulted in the government’s taking the important step of introducing a carer’s pension in 1985.  From 1975 until 1988 she was patron of the Council of Ex-Servicewomen’s Association (New South Wales).

Appointed MBE in 1960 and AM in 1988, Stevenson, who had never married, died at Mona Vale, Sydney, on 22 October 1988, having donated her body to the University of Sydney.  Her portrait by Nora Heysen is held by the Australian War Memorial.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Lake, Double Time (1985)
  • J. Stone, A Brief History of the Founder of Carers NSW Clare Grant Stevenson (1988)
  • J. A. Thompson, The WAAAF in Wartime Australia (1992)
  • A9300, item Stevenson C G (National Archives of Australia)
  • PR 89/123 (Australian War Memorial).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Maxine Dahl, 'Stevenson, Clare Grant (1903–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 24 May 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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