Woman Lyons, Elvira

Businesswoman and Social worker

Written by Ruth Lee, Australian Catholic University

Elvira Marie Lyons, Business Woman and Social Worker, was born in 1889 in Brisbane; her father was a teacher. She attended Brisbane Grammar School and then entered a career in business. Employed by the Nestle company until 1928, she developed excellent organisational skills. In 1934 she moved with her sister to Sydney where she completed a Certificate in Social Studies at Sydney University. With a study group of other social work trainees she visited Canada and America, and studied at the Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Minneapolis, and other social service centres (Sydney Morning Herald, 30 November 1934).

In 1935 she was appointed secretary of the Royal Society for Mothers and Babies, later known as the Tresillian Society, which trained the Baby Health Centre nurses in New South Wales. Lyons took the lead in advocating for social workers to be employed both in the private and public sectors, describing Tresillian as 'a very good example of co-operation between the Government and a voluntary agency' (The Advertiser (Adelaide) 11 September 1946).

In 1936 she served as the second president of the New South Wales Social Workers' Association. Throughout the 1940s she served as its treasurer, secretary and president. She also worked closely with mentors Constance Moffit, Norma Parker and Eileen Davidson to establish the Catholic Trained Social Workers' Association in 1940. Seven years later she presided over the historic meeting where the Australian Association of Social Workers was formed with Norma Parker elected as the first president.

Although she continued to serve the Tresilian Society until 1955 (Parker, 1958), Lyons co-operated with other Catholic social workers to reform the church's welfare organisations and was a co-researcher with Moffit, Parker and Davidson, of the study 'Needs in the Catholic Social Work Field' which was crucial for establishing the Sydney Catholic Welfare Bureau in 1941 (Gleeson, 2006, p. 168). Her leadership skills were highly regarded within and beyond the Catholic welfare sector. In 1943, she helped inaugurate a House Keeper's Emergency service through the National Council of Women and was its honorary treasurer for many years. A response to the difficulties created by the war, the service provided assistance to assist other women in cases of illness, childbirth and other emergencies (The Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 3 Nov 1943). After the war, Lyons and her sister Kathleen worked to assist the settlement of migrants, organising housing and employment in Sydney.

Parker described Lyons as always willing to take on daunting tasks and motivated others with her cheerfulness and zest for living (Parker, 1958). She took a leading role in the co-ordination of state social work associations, improving training and obtaining effective representation of Australian social workers internationally (The Advertiser (Adelaide) 11 September 1946). She died in 1957.

Published Resources

Journal Articles

  • Parker, Norma, 'A Tribute to Elvira Lyons', Australian Journal of Social Work, vol. 11, no. 1, 1958, pp. 17 - 18. Details

Newspaper Articles


Online Resources