Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Malvina Evalyn Wood (1893–1976)

by M. Medcalf

This article was published:

Malvina Evalyn Wood (1893-1976), librarian and college warden, was born on 1 August 1893 at Guildford, Western Australia, eldest child and only daughter of John Wood, soldier and railway porter, and his wife Sarah Josephine, née Cross. Malvina was educated at various schools and the University of Western Australia (B.A., 1927; M.A., 1943), and took a correspondence library course from the University of London. She became an associate of the Library Association of the United Kingdom in 1933.

Having joined the staff of the Museum and Art Gallery of Western Australia as a typist and librarian in 1910, by 1919 Wood had become an administrative assistant to J. S. Battye in the public library, which had amalgamated with the museum and art gallery in 1911. She was appointed the first full-time librarian of the University of Western Australia in 1927. Hampered by low status, poor funding and inadequate accommodation, which she consistently strove to upgrade, it was not until 1956 that she was granted status equivalent to a senior lecturer. Nevertheless, supported by competent staff she developed the library from its rudimentary beginnings into a collection and services that were capable of supporting a fast-growing university.

Under a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Wood visited American and European libraries in 1935; in 1954 she spent a year on study leave in Britain. She was an ex officio member of the university's Adult Education Board, publications committee, library committee and medical library committee and the board of management of the University Press. One of the six people who initiated the Western Australian branch of the Australian Institute of Librarians (a forerunner of the Australian Library and Information Association), she was its founding president and general councillor in 1937-58. From 1944 the branch actively supported, among other things, the Free Library Movement and promoted the establishment in 1952 of the Library Board of Western Australia, on which she served as a member in 1952-54 and 1955-59; she acted as honorary secretary until 1 April 1953. In her capacity as university librarian she promoted co-operation between the two organizations. Joining the Women Graduates Association of Western Australia (Australian Federation of University Women) in 1927, she was an executive-member (1938-39), vice-president (1939-40), president (1940-41), past-president (1941-42) and its representative on the Western Australian Joint Equal Pay Committee (1941-43).

In 1928 the association had formed a university women's college fund committee, of which Wood was founding honorary secretary (1928-37), trustee (1931-58) and honorary treasurer (1937-58). From the commencement of the Women's (later St Catherine's) College in 1946 until 1959 she held the positions of senior resident, then acting-warden and later honorary warden, with free accommodation and meals but no remuneration. She was a council-member of the Women's College in 1946-60 and a fellow of St Catherine's College from 1970.

Thickset, meticulous and earnest, Miss Wood was caring towards her staff and students and highly respected. She did not marry, but had a long liaison with a male friend; he died in 1947. She died on 17 September 1976 in a nursing home at Mosman Park and was cremated with Anglican rites. She had invested in the stock market and left an estate of some $250,000, of which St Catherine's College was the main beneficiary. This has been used for scholarships, building extensions and amenities commemorating her name. Her portrait by Romola Morrow hangs in the (Sir Alexander) Reid Library, University of Western Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Alexander, Campus at Crawley (Melb, 1963)
  • N. Stewart, St Catherine’s College (Perth, 1978)
  • Gazette of the University of Western Australia, Mar 1960, p 9
  • University of Western Australia, University News, Oct 1976, p 11
  • Australian Institute of Librarians (Western Australia) records (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Western Australian Association of University Women, minutes, 1923-59 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Women’s College Fund Committee, minutes, 1928-56 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • University Women’s College Auxiliary, minutes, 1956-59 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

M. Medcalf, 'Wood, Malvina Evalyn (1893–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 22 May 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]


1 August, 1893
Guildford, Perth, Western Australia, Australia


17 September, 1976 (aged 83)
Mosman Park, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.