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Theodora Maude (Dora) Sweetapple (1872–1972)

by Joan Durdin

This article was published:

Theodora Maude (Dora) Sweetapple (1872-1972), nurse, was born on 25 May 1872 at Port Adelaide, tenth child and fifth daughter of English-born parents William Deane Sweetapple, shipping agent, and his wife Anna Mapleson, née Mitchell. After the death of Dora's father in 1875 her mother conducted a school where Dora received her early education.

In November 1891 Sweetapple became a trainee nurse at the Adelaide Children's Hospital. On completing the course late in 1893 she returned to Port Adelaide where, at the suggestion of the local Church of England rector, she began nursing the sick poor in their own homes. In November 1894 she was the second nurse appointed to the staff of the newly established District Trained Nursing Society. Sweetapple often travelled on foot to her patients' homes, but in the widely scattered Port Adelaide district she appreciated free use of the local horse tram. Later a bicycle offered more independent transport. To visit patients on the further side of the Port River, a boatman rowed her over. In 1896 she made 1612 visits to 157 patients for which she received an annual salary of £30 and a further £55 for board.

After a strenuous five years Sweetapple resigned to take up a new challenge in community health nursing. In 1899 the medical officer for the Adelaide City Council, Thomas Borthwick, obtained the council's approval to appoint a nurse to work among families in the narrow back streets of the city. Theodora Sweetapple was appointed as 'city trained nurse'. Her first concern was with families in which cases of infectious disease, including tuberculosis and typhoid fever, had been reported. In addition to visiting and supervising disinfection in the home, she gave talks on elementary hygiene to meetings of women in the city. In his reports the medical officer commended Sweetapple for her quiet, tactful, methodical approach to her work. Studies in disinfection led to the award to her in 1900 of the certificate of the Institute of Hygiene and Bacteriology, Adelaide. In 1907 she gained a qualification from the Royal Sanitary Institute, London, as inspector of nuisances.

When a South Australian branch of the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association was formed in 1905, Sweetapple was one of the founding members. Upon retirement as city trained nurse in 1906 she became co-proprietor of a private hospital at Victor Harbor with her close friend Mabel Gill, with whom she had trained at the Adelaide Children's Hospital. In 1913 the two women went to Britain where they remained during World War I and had nursing appointments with the Queen's Institute of District Nursing and the Order of St John of Jerusalem.

Returning to Adelaide in 1919, Sweetapple and Gill ran a nursing home at Henley Beach for three years, then moved to Stirling, in the Adelaide Hills, and for the next twelve years conducted a boarding house. Ten years later they moved back to Adelaide. After the death of her friend in 1965 Sweetapple was admitted to Resthaven infirmary, Leabrook. She died on 9 October 1972 and was cremated. Her estate was sworn for probate at $32,882.

Select Bibliography

  • Nursing in South Australia (Adel, 1939), p 370
  • J. Durdin, They Became Nurses (Syd, 1991)
  • P. Morton, After Light (Adel, 1996)
  • Mayor’s Report, 1898-1899, 1902 (Adelaide City Council Archives)
  • District Trained Nursing Society, Annual Report, 1896-97
  • (Royal District Nursing Society, Glenunga, Adelaide)
  • District Trained Nursing Society, Minutes of General Meeting, 19 Oct 1894 (Royal District Nursing Society, Glenunga, Adelaide)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Joan Durdin, 'Sweetapple, Theodora Maude (Dora) (1872–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 15 April 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]


25 May, 1872
Port Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


9 October, 1972 (aged 100)

Cultural Heritage

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