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Connor, Marjorie (1906–1991)

by Richard Trembath

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Marjorie Connor (1906-1991), nursing administrator and educator, was born on 25 August 1906 at Cororooke, Victoria, elder of two children of Victorian-born parents William Connor, grazier, and his wife Hilda Row, née Thomas. Educated at home by a governess and then at Lauriston Girls’ School (1919-22), Marjorie trained (1925-28) as a nurse at the Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, and was registered as a general nurse in July 1928. She disliked most aspects of her apprenticeship and never wished to work in a hospital again. Working as a private nurse, in about 1929 her son Bruce James Connor was born. Between 1930 and 1945 she worked for a dermatologist in Collins Street, Melbourne. Here she sustained radium burns to her hands, a not infrequent injury in such clinics at the time.

In 1945 Connor became executive secretary of the Royal Victorian College of Nursing (RVCN). She was to hold this position, which also involved editing the Victorian nursing journal, UNA, until her retirement in December 1972. The position called on her formidable administrative skills, which included mastery of detail and the ability to sustain long campaigns. The Victorian nurses’ organisation was proudly independent from branches of the Australian Nursing Federation in other states, a precedent Connor was happy to follow. She was a foundation member of the Nurses Memorial Centre in Melbourne and was the recipient in 1958 of both the Jane Bell scholarship and the RVCN Jubilee scholarship, which she used to study professional nursing and organisations overseas.

A fixed point in the complex world of Australian nursing politics, Connor played a major role in several of the key changes in nursing practice and education. One of the most significant was the introduction of a 1,600-hour curriculum, which was gazetted just before her retirement and after seven years of hard work from the RVCN. This meant that a minimum of 1,600 hours in a nurse’s three-year training had to be devoted to lectures, testing, and formal instruction. Connor saw this achievement as one of the highlights of her career and a decisive step away from the old hospital apprenticeship system. Eventually it helped to propel nurse training into the university sphere.

Connor was dedicated to establishing—or confirming—the professional status of nursing. She distrusted the idea of the RVCN becoming solely an industrial organisation, which she felt would be detrimental to the professional ideal. Nevertheless, she assumed several employee advocacy positions as the college fought off interlopers such as the Hospital Employees Federation, which sought coverage of nurses in public institutions. She was secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation, Employees Section, Victorian Branch, the industrial wing of the nursing movement. Between 1945 and 1963 she was a member of the Hospital Nurses Wages Board in Victoria. Towards the end of her career she was out of step with the forces that saw the RVCN become a more purely industrial body. In 1975 the RVCN merged with the Victorian branch of the ANF, a change she lamented.

In January 1973 Connor was appointed MBE, which later gave her great satisfaction as she valued imperial honours more than the Australian system introduced in 1975. In retirement she was honorary secretary and treasurer (1973-88) of the Florence Nightingale Committee of Australia, Victorian branch. She promoted the completion of a history of the nursing profession in Victoria, the first volume of which was published in 1987. The second volume appeared shortly after Connor’s death and brought the story up to the great Victorian nursing strikes of 1985-86.

Connor lived a disciplined life with regular, often unvarying, domestic routines. Survived by her son, she died of cardiac arrest on 7 May 1991 at North Balwyn, Melbourne, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Bennett, Margaret. ‘A Tribute to Marjorie Connor.’ Australian Nurses’ Journal 21, no. 1 (July 1991): 37
  • Bessant, Judith, and Bob Bessant. The Growth of a Profession: Nursing in Victoria: 1930s-1980s. Bundoora, Vic.: La Trobe University Press, 1991
  • Connor, Marjorie. Papers (1920-1990). University of Melbourne Archives
  • Moore, Gloria. I Was a Stranger. Burwood, Vic.: Chandos Publishing, 1994
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • Trembath, Richard, and Donna Hellier. All Care and Responsibility: A History of Nursing in Victoria 1850-1934. Melbourne: Florence Nightingale Committee, Australia, Victorian Branch, 1987
  • UNA: Nursing Journal (Melbourne). ‘New Year Honours for Nurses.’ January-February 1973, 11.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Richard Trembath, 'Connor, Marjorie (1906–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/connor-marjorie-14852/text26037, accessed 23 November 2017.

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