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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Agnes Mary (Molly) Lions (1908–1992)

by Lucy Taksa

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Agnes Mary ‘Molly’ Lions (1908–1992), industrial nurse and union official, was born on 22 April 1908 at Subiaco, Perth, youngest of three children of Swedish-born John Maximilian Lions, engineer, and his Scottish-born wife Mary, née McDonald, whom he had met on the Western Australian goldfields. Molly’s brother Frank later became an organic chemist at the University of Sydney. In about 1910 the family moved to Sydney, where Molly attended school in Balmain and at Petersham Girls’ Intermediate High School. She later trained as a nurse at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, graduating with a general nursing certificate in 1931.

During the 1930s Lions was employed at the St Lawrence Private Hospital, Summer Hill, and by a physician at Western Suburbs Hospital, Dr Colin Lawson, who praised her ‘devotion to the interests of the patients . . . her keenness and tact . . . capacity for hard work, sound common sense and . . . thorough knowledge of nursing’ (Lawson 1941). These qualities stood her in good stead for a nursing career in industry, which she commenced in February 1942 at Vicars Woollen Mills, Marrickville. From March 1943 to May 1946 she was sister-in-charge of the medical aid post of the Captain Cook Graving Dock, where the resident engineer acknowledged her ‘diligence and commendable ability’ (Muir 1946). Following World War II she worked briefly for Qantas Empire Airways Ltd at Mascot, before joining the New South Wales Department of Railways in 1947. She was a senior industrial nursing sister at the Eveleigh railway workshops until her retirement in 1968.

Lions was active in the New South Wales Nurses’ Association, serving as a member of its council (1947–51), and as a founding member (1946–51) and president (1948–51) of the industrial nurses’ branch. She collected data on the employment of nurses in factories for a log of claims to the New South Wales Industrial Commission, which in 1948 inaugurated the first award for nurses employed in commercial and industrial enterprises.

Becoming increasingly aware of the need for post-graduate nursing studies, Lions helped to establish the New South Wales College of Nursing in January 1949, and was one of its foundation fellows. She served two terms as president between 1950 and 1954 and later chaired the education committee. She was elected honorary president of the New South Wales Nurses’ Memorial Fund in 1952. In 1954 she was appointed a member of the advisory committee on nursing attached to the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Throughout her long career, Lions made a major contribution to improving the working conditions, education, and professional standing of industrial nurses. In 1948 she told an interviewer that the characteristic most essential for working in the field was an interest in humanity, an attribute she consistently demonstrated in her many articles on workers’ health and well-being, and her work with the railways. She was appointed MBE in 1960. Unmarried, she moved in 1979 with her brother Jack to Alice Springs, Northern Territory, where for many years she worked with Aboriginal women and children. Suffering from Alzheimer’s disease late in life, she died on 22 December 1992 at Normanhurst, Sydney, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Hospital (Sydney, NSW). ‘The Doctor and Nurse in Industry.’ December 1948, 7-8, 12
  • Australian Women's Weekly. ‘Nursing Sisters in Industry.’ 21 May 1949, 24
  • Hawkins, Jenny. Personal communication
  • Lawson, Colin. Reference for Miss M. Lions, 6 December 1941. Lions Papers. Private collection
  • Muir, James. Reference for Miss M. Lions, 28 March 1946. Lions Papers. Private collection
  • New South Wales College of Nursing Archives. Series 75, Agnes Mary Lions, Personal Records

Citation details

Lucy Taksa, 'Lions, Agnes Mary (Molly) (1908–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 April 2024.

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