Australian Women's Register

An initiative of The National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) in conjunction with The University of Melbourne

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Curtin, Elsie (1890 - 1975)

CBE

Born
4 October 1890
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia
Died
24 June 1975
Cottesloe, Western Australia, Australia
Occupation
Community worker
Alternative Names
  • Needham, Elsie (maiden name, 4 October 1890 - 21 April 1917)

Summary

Elsie Curtin was appointed Commander to the Order of the British Empire for services to the community on 1 January 1970. The youngest daughter of Abraham and Annie Needham, Curtin was educated at Miss Taplin's, MacKay's and Saint Mary's Church of England in South Africa, where her family lived between 1898 and 1910. At the age of 17 she joined the Social Democratic Federation in Cape Town. The family returned to Australia the following year, settling in Hobart. She met John Curtin (Prime Minister of Australia 1941-1945) when he was in Hobart working on Labor's State election campaign. They married in Perth on 21 April 1917 and had two children. Elsie Curtin always maintained her active membership of the Labor women's organisation. As soon as they moved to Perth in 1917, she had joined the Perth branch. She transferred to the Fremantle branch in 1925 when her husband made his first bid for the seat. After he was elected in the by-election in 1928, Elsie Curtin dealt with the stream of constituents calling at their Cottesloe house. During John Curtin's prime ministership, she spent time at the Lodge in Canberra as well as maintaining the family home in Cottesloe and assisting with the electorate work in her husband's absence. She supported her husband in all aspects of his prime ministership and together they set an example of war-time austerity for Australians to follow. For almost four years, Elsie Curtin managed her duties in Canberra and the States, electorate work in Fremantle, and two households on opposite sides of the continent, with the capable assistance of her daughter in Perth and Lodge housekeeper Mrs Pincombe in Canberra. Each year she lived for several months at The Lodge, scheduling as many official events as possible into these months. John Curtin died in office aged 60, on 5 July 1945. Elsie Curtin took part in public ceremonies in both Canberra and in Perth, aware of the widespread national mourning of the wartime leader. Elsie Curtin's official role did not end with her husband's death. In October 1949, she was a guest of the Chifleys at The Lodge when she was in Canberra for the ceremonial founding of the John Curtin School of Medical Research. She went to New Zealand as the guest of the government and, on her return to Canberra, was again a guest at The Lodge, but this time with Pattie and Robert Menzies in residence. Elsie Curtin's Labor Party work continued for some twenty years, including campaigning for HV Evatt, and serving as State president of the Labor Women's Organisation. In 1955 Elsie Curtin became a Justice of the Peace, and in 1970. Elsie Curtin died aged 84, at Cottesloe, on 24 June 1975.

Sources used to compile this entry: National Archives of Australia, 'John Curtin/Elsie Curtin', in Australia's, prime Ministers, National Archives of Australia, 2002, http://primeministers.naa.gov.au/meetpm.asp?pmId=14&pageName=wife accessed 2004-06-16 and John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, 'What's in the John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library on John Curtin, Elsie Curtin and Hazel Hawke?', in Australia's Prime Ministers, John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, http://john.curtin.edu.au/pmportal/index.html. Accessed 2004-06-16.

Archival resources

JS Battye Library of West Australian History, State Library of Western Australia

  • Sir Frederick Samson [videorecording] : personal film, E1100; JS Battye Library of West Australian History, State Library of Western Australia. Details
  • Women's Service Guild Silver Jubilee dinner, 1945, 007406D; JS Battye Library of West Australian History, State Library of Western Australia. Details

National Archives of Australia, National Office

  • [Personal Papers of Prime Minister Curtin] Correspondence 'G' [Mrs F R Gale - Gordon Branch Australian Labor Party, includes poem sent to Mrs Elsie Curtin by Dame Mary Gilmore], 30 September 1941 - 30 April 1942, 1516079; National Archives of Australia, National Office. Details
  • [Personal Papers of Prime Minister Curtin] Mrs Elsie Curtin's Personal File [includes letters sent and received, drafts of telegrams, list of callers at The Lodge, Dec 1941], 31 October 1941 - 24 September 1943, 530334; National Archives of Australia, National Office. Details
  • [Personal Papers of Prime Minister Gorton], 17 September 1969 - 1970, 4029449; National Archives of Australia, National Office. Details

National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection

  • Papers of Hector Harrison, 1915 - 1978, MS 6277; National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection. Details

National Library of Australia Newspaper Microcopy Reading Room

  • [Biographical cuttings on Elsie Curtin, wife of the former Prime Minister, Mr John Curtin]; National Library of Australia Newspaper Microcopy Reading Room. Details

Anne Heywood

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

National Foundation for Australian Women The University of Melbourne, eScholarship Research Centre

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