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Our founders

"I hope these brief sketches of eight important founders of the AASW will inspire social workers to carry out the research needed for a full biography of each of them set in their time." - Jane Miller AM

The women who formed the AASW's founding executive were indeed remarkable. That they were recognised well beyond social work circles is evidenced by their receipt of Imperial Honours (which preceded Australian Honours created by the Whitlam Government in 1975), their life memberships of the AASW, their biographies in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Encyclopaedia of Women and Leadership in the Twentieth Century and obituaries in the Australian Social Work journal and entries in Wikipedia. Added to these seven biographies is that of Alison Player (Mathew) who became the second president of the AASW.

Norma Parker CBE (1906–2004)

The name of Norma ParkerLife Member AASW (Lawrence, 1969), is well known to Australian social workers if only for the Norma Parker Lecture which is given by the President at each national AASW conference.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Western Australia, Norma qualified as a social worker at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC in 1930. Her Australian career encompassed starting social work departments at St Vincent's hospitals in Melbourne and Sydney, a psychiatric social work department at Callan Park in Sydney, as well as a long career teaching at both the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales (Lawrence, 1969).

However, Norma is best remembered for her lifetime of commitment to the AASW and development of social work standards and knowledge. She is sometimes referred to as Norma Brown as she married Clarence ‘Mont’ Brown, a survivor of the notorious Burma Railway in 1957, but sadly he died in 1964. More information can be obtained from Norma Parker's Record of Service (Lawrence, 1969), the Australian Women's Register (Lee, 2014a), and the National Library of Australia (Trove, n. d.).

Photo: Norma Parker aged 25, in 1931, after gaining her American social work qualification and before moving East to find work. (The West Australian July 1, 1931:16, National Library of Australia.

Lyra Taylor OBE (1894–1979)

Lyra Taylor was a New Zealand educated lawyer and the first woman to be admitted to the Bar there. She obtained an Masters in social work at Johns Hopkins University in 1927 and worked as a social worker in the USA, later teaching social work in both North America and Australia (Bundock, 2002).

Lyra is remembered for being a superb advocate for the profession, for establishing the social work section in the Commonwealth Department of Social Services in 1944 and spearheading employment of social workers in the public service. In a tribute after her death, Len Tierney noted that as her job took her all over Australia , Lyra acted as a ‘roving ambassador’ for the AASW. He also described her as a ‘persuasive, charming and purposive person’ (1979, p. 49).

Google reveals several references to Taylor including the Australian Dictionary of Biography and Wikipedia as well as an informative obituary in Australian Social Work (K. & J. C., 1979).

Kate Ogilvie MBE (1902–1983)

Kate Ogilvie, an early NSW social work pioneer, held a Bachelor of Arts honours degree in history from the University of Sydney (1924). In 1926 she was appointed secretary (today's equivalent of CEO) of the Rachel Forster Hospital for Women and Children. She later qualified as an almoner (medical social worker) in England. On returning to Sydney, she worked as an almoner in several hospitals and became director of training at the New South Wales Institute of Hospital Almoners.

Lawrence (2012) describes Kate as a forceful woman who was a "formidable champion of the many causes she espoused" while also being patient, perceptive and caring with clients. He also says, 'She made lasting friendships and her many serious endeavours were leavened by a great sense of humour'.

Photo: Kate Ogilivie in approximately 1960 (University of Sydney Archives)

Dorothy Sumner

Dorothy Sumner was an American colleague and friend of Norma Parker who joined the staff of the University of Sydney on Parker's return from her second period of study in the USA. Originally graduating from the University of Syracuse, Dorothy then qualified as a social worker at the New York School of Social Work (Columbia University).

She had been a supervisor in the family casework division of the United Charities of Chicago and had worked at the School of Social Services Administration of Chicago University where Parker had studied in 1944. At that time developing expertise in social casework was a high priority for Australian social workers, making Dorothy a very valuable addition to the field. While in Australia, she also travelled interstate to teach social casework (Miller, 2015).

Amy Wheaton MBE, Honorary Life Member of the AASW (1898–1988)

Amy Wheaton was the founder of the first social work course in South Australia, highly regarded for her intellect and much loved by the local social work profession. She gained her Masters from the University of Adelaide in 1923 and Bachelor of Science (Economics) from the London School of Economics and Politics in 1931.

On invitation, in 1936 she became (honorary) director of the South Australian Board of Social Study and Training, the state’s first social work educational body,. She had a long and active professional career which is summarised in the Australian Dictionary of Biography (Bates, 2012) and also discussed in Elaine Martin's (1990) PhD thesis. Among her achievements she was the only woman invited to the World Congress of Sociology in Zurich, the first congress of the newly formed International Sociological Association.

Amy was also involved with a wide range of organisations, local and international, including working for the welfare secretariat of the United Nations between 1948 and 1962. Nancy Bates, Amy Wheaton’s Australian Dictionary of Biography biographer, concludes ‘She had a quirky sense of humour and delighted in debate and exchange of ideas, while the ash from her cigarette fell unheeded’ (2012).

Photo: Amy Wheaton, undated (Courtesy Archives, University of Adelaide).

Margaret Grutzner, Honorary Life Member AASW (1917–1982)

Margaret Grutzner was the youngest of the founding AASW executive members. She held a Bachelor of Arts and Diploma of Social Studies from the University of Melbourne and a Certificate (then taken as a third year after the Diploma of Social Studies) from the Victorian Institute of Hospital Almoners.

She had been one of the four young Australian social workers selected by the Australian Red Cross Society in 1944 to undertake the Mental Health Certificate at the London School of Economics, thus becoming one of Australia's first specialist psychiatric social workers. The four social workers were needed to work with returning service men and women, former prisoners of war, in the new rehabilitation hospitals being set up after World War II (Miller, 2015). The last part of Margaret Gruzner’s career was spent as a social work educator at the University of Sydney (Obituary, 1982; except where indicated this information about Margaret comes from her obituary).

Photo: Margaret Grutzner in her Australian Red Cross Uniform on return from study at the London School of Economics (The Argus, Melbourne Monday July 23, 1945)

Viva Murphy (1904–1997)

Viva Murphy graduated with an arts degree from the University of Melbourne in 1928 and, after a decade of school teaching, enrolled in the Victorian Institute of Almoners Course. She worked in the Catholic Social Service Bureau in Melbourne, St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney and in senior roles for the Australian Red Cross Society in Sydney and Brisbane. Viva was active in starting the Queensland branch of the AASW of which she was the first president.

Among other posts, she had several stints as an educator at the University of Sydney. Following a period of study in the USA, Viva was appointed to the Australian Legation in New York, eventually rising to the position of Vice Consul of the Australian Consulate General there in the 1950s. Viva Murphy’s activism continued in later years when she became a founding member of the Paddington Society, Australia's first resident activist organisation which worked to preserve the historic suburb of Paddington in Sydney (Lee, 2014b).

Photo: Viva Murphy ("Interesting People", The Australian Women's Weekly Saturday 15 August 1942:14, Trove)

Alison Player (Mathew), Second AASW National President 1953–1959

Alison Player's [LK1] intelligence is illustrated by the fact that she matriculated at just 14 years of age. She qualified as an almoner in Melbourne in the years when the almoner course and the general social work course were starting to merge. Her diverse career included working in several Melbourne hospitals, eventually becoming Chief Almoner at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and the last director of the Victorian Institute of Hospital Almoners. Alison oversaw the merging of the Melbourne almoner training with the University of Melbourne's social work course where she then lectured on health social work. She had two periods of study in the USA (1940 and 1947).

Alison was a pioneer of social work in Victoria who spanned almoner and general social work. In the 1950s she transferred her interests to family social work after being appointed to the position of Deputy Director of Turana Reception Centre (a state government children's institution). She later worked at both the Citizens Welfare Service and Kildonnan Children's Home. Alison Player was President of the Australian Association of Almoners from 1950 to 1952 and took over from Norma Parker as the national President of the AASW from 1953 to 1959 (Lawrence, 1965).

Alison Player helped develop the profession, and grew with it. As she said in 1979, ‘Reflecting back I see clearly the progression from each phase to the next, related to personal as well as professional development. I could not imagine any profession which could be as rewarding’ (Mathew, p. 22). Later in life she married fellow social worker Hamish Mathew. Like many of her colleagues who were pioneers and held in high esteem during their lifetime (Lawrence,1965) she is now almost entirely forgotten.

Photo: Alison Mathew (Alison Player) in 1961, on taking up the position of Senior Social Worker in Kildonan. (Quindulup, the Kildonan Newsheet, March 1961, 4, Author's archive)


Bates, N. P. (2012). Wheaton, Amy Grace (1898–1988). In Australian Dictionary of Biography (Accessed 12.1.15).

Bundock, A. (2002). Taylor, Lyra Veronica Esmeralda (1894–1979). In Australian Dictionary of Biography, (Accessed 14.1.2016).

K. & J. C. (1979). Obituary, Miss Lyra Taylor, O.B.E., M.A., LL.B, Australian Social Work, 32(3), p. 49.

Lawrence, J. (2012). Ogilvie, Florinda Katharine (1902–1983). In Australian Dictionary of Biography, (Accessed 12.1.15).

Lawrence, R. J. (1965). Professional Social Work in Australia, Australian National University Press, Canberra.Mathew, A. (1979). Recollections of professional practice. Alison Mathew (Player). In Australian Social Work, 32(4), pp. 21-29.

Lawrence, R. J. (1969). Norma Parker's Record of Service, AASW, University of New South Wales.

Lee, R. (2014a). Parker, Norma Alice. In the Encyclopedia of Women & Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia. (Accessed 14.1.2016).

Lee, R. (2014b). Murphy, Violet Matilda Myrtle. In the Encyclopedia of Women & Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia. (Accessed 12.1.15).

Martin, E. (1990). Gender demand and domain: The social work profession in South Australia 1935–1980. PhD Thesis, University of Melbourne.

Mathew (Player), A. Recollections of professional practice. Alison Mathew (Player). In Australian Social Work, 32(4), pp. 21-29.

Miller, C. J. (2015). The predominance of American influences on the establishment of social work education at the University of Melbourne, 1920–1980. PhD Thesis, University of Melbourne.

Obituary. 1982. Australian Social Work, 35(4), p. 2.

Tierney, L. (1979). Tribute to the late Lyra Taylor. Australian Social Work, 32(3), pp. 49-50.

Trove. (n. d.). Parker, Norma (1906-2004). National Library of Australia, (Accessed 14.1.2016).

AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers