Labour Australia

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

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

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Dorothy Vaughan (1881–1974)

by Helen Jones

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Dorothy Vaughan (1881-1974), by unknown photographer, c1932

Dorothy Vaughan (1881-1974), by unknown photographer, c1932

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B56413

Dorothy Vaughan (1881-1974), social reformer, was born on 22 October 1881 at Norwood, Adelaide, daughter of Alfred Vaughan, civil servant, and his wife Louisa, née Williams. Proud of her Chartist forbears, she took part in her family's wide-ranging political and social discussions; like her brothers Crawford and John Howard, she advocated social justice and equality of the sexes. Her calm expression, sturdy build and serious nature did not inhibit her 'sparkle of fun'.

Despite never earning her living, Dorothy joined the United Labor Party and in 1910 organized a women's branch at Norwood; she became secretary of an 'All Nations' fair which raised funds for Labor's Daily Herald and 'gave the impetus' for country Labor women's committees. In 1913, under Howard Vaughan's presidency, she was among three women elected to the U.L.P. executive and initiated improved women's organization. As Unitarian representative on the British Girls' Welfare League in 1912-14, she assisted immigrant 'domestic helpers'; she had participated in the Unitarian Women's League from its foundation (1912). Appointed a justice of the peace in 1917, she later presided over the Women Justices' Association. In 1927-29 she was one of three female directors of the Adelaide Co-operative Society Ltd and demonstrated her concern for poor families.

Dorothy helped to redraft the Women's Non-Party Political Association's platform in 1912. President in 1932-35, she envisaged a new social order: she guided campaigns for equal parental guardianship, improved children's courts, the appointment of women to public boards, and—with Jeanne Young—for proportional representation. In the Woman's Christian Temperance Union from 1936 to 1954 she was at different times State superintendent of 'equal citizenship', 'petitions and legislative', and 'prison work'. President of the Henley Beach Union in 1949-54, she also supported single-tax leagues.

In 1916 the Crawford Vaughan government had appointed her to the State Children's Council. It was responsible for wards of the state: their detention or placement in private homes, their release, and the supervision of foster-mothers and illegitimate children. Miss Vaughan was the visitor for Rose Park and an active council-member. Lacking the expertise and resources to meet the children's needs, the councillors were derided by A. A. Edwards for their ineffectual gentility. In 1927 Miss Vaughan was an assiduous foundation member of the Children's Welfare and Public Relief Board which replaced the council. Her concern for 'wayward' girls contributed to the closure of Barton Vale Reformatory which was reopened as Vaughan House Training School for Girls in 1947. Its inmates often stayed overnight with her and visited her after their release. Appointed M.B.E. in 1954, she retired from the board in 1962, a bespectacled, benign old lady.

She was devoted to her brother Howard and her decades of unpaid public work epitomized the social idealism of their time. Dorothy Vaughan died on 14 July 1974 at the Methodist Aldersgate Village, Felixstow, Adelaide, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Harry, A Century of Service (Adel, 1986)
  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1928 (23), 1948 (23), 1963 (23)
  • Weekly Herald (Adelaide), 3 May 1913
  • Register (Adelaide), 2 Jan 1915
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 1 Jan 1954, 22 Dec 1962
  • Children's Welfare and Public Relief Board minutes, 1927-28, and State Children's Council, minutes, 1916-27 (State Records of South Australia)
  • League of Women Voters minutes (misc), 1909-15, 1927-36, and Minutes of Executive and Committee Meetings, 28 Feb 1912, July 1932-35 (State Library of South Australia)
  • League of Unitarian and Other Christian Women minutes, 1914-26 (State Library of South Australia)
  • Woman's Christian Temperance Union, Annual Report, 1936-54 (State Library of South Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Helen Jones, 'Vaughan, Dorothy (1881–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 15 July 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Dorothy Vaughan (1881-1974), by unknown photographer, c1932

Dorothy Vaughan (1881-1974), by unknown photographer, c1932

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B56413

Life Summary [details]


22 October, 1881
Norwood, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


14 July, 1974 (aged 92)
Felixstow, Adelaide, South 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.