Woman Cleggett, Ella

Welfare worker

Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Ella Cleggett was born in Mount Barker, South Australia in 1884, the fourth of six daughters of farmer John Cleggett and his wife Louisa. After a public school education she trained as a teacher, but a loss of hearing through scarlet fever forced her out of the classroom.

Cleggett's involvement in philanthropic work began during World War I when she was active in the Schools' Patriotic Fund, visiting patients in the Bedford Park Sanatorium. When the Fund closed in 1921, she became the honorary secretary of the new Tubercular Soldiers' Aid Association of South Australia. The Association became her life's work. As full-time paid secretary from 1924, she was its chief fund-raiser and publicist and was responsible for its hostel established initially in the Flinders Ranges, but later moved to Adelaide. Although there was a committee to whom she reported, the expertise increasingly lay with Cleggett who was occasionally accused of being too autocratic in her management style (Register, 7 February 1928). This issue arose in the context of a dispute over authority at the hostel, with professional nursing staff accusing the unqualified Cleggett of undue interference, but Cleggett retained the committee's support and the nursing staff were not reinstated (Register, 29 December 1927).

Under her leadership the Association established workshops where the men were trained in the making of furniture (Advertiser, 10 April 1934), the proceeds of which were returned to them as wages (Advertiser, 18 September 1937). It also provided assistance to their wives, children and later widows. In her appeal for funds to prevent the closure of the hostel in 1930, Cleggett emphasised the degree to which it was self-sufficient, arguing that the patients' 'health and spirits have improved so remarkably ... it will be a tragedy if we have to close down' (Register News-Pictorial, 5 July 1930). She kept the Association in the public mind, by encouraging visits from the increasing number of tourists coming to the Flinders Ranges although asking them politely to make arrangements in advance (Advertiser, 19 April 1938).

World War II doubled the number of families approaching the Association for support (Advertiser, 4 March 1948). Cleggett was awarded the MBE in 1951, the year that a committee was established to relieve her of her fund-raising responsibilities (Advertiser, 15 December 1951). However, she continued as the public face of the organisation. Cleggett died in 1960.

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