Woman Coppel, Marjorie Jean

Community Activist

Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Marjorie Coppel was born Marjorie Service in 1900. After graduating from the University of Melbourne with a BA in 1922 and LLB in 1925, she had established a reputation as an actress and public speaker, before marrying barrister Bill Coppel in 1925. The couple had three sons.

Active in student politics during her time at the University, Coppel was recruited by Brian Fitzpatrick as secretary for the Council of Civil Liberties. During World War II she was associated with the successful campaign to have anti-fascist refugees freed from internment and drafted to work in the national interest (Waghorne, p. 99). She also served as honorary secretary for the Council of Women in War Work, which used the wartime emergency to argue for the services needed to facilitate women's entry into the paid workforce (Bayne, p. 73). One of the achievements of the Council was the pioneering of new methods of delivering children's services, a project which brought these young radical women into an uneasy alliance with the more traditional women's organisations that controlled the kindergarten movement. When the war ended she led a campaign for the provision of child care services for the children of working mothers and served as president of the Victorian Association of Day Nurseries (Argus, 3 June 1949).

Despite, or perhaps because of her experiences during and after the war, Coppel was critical of old-style philanthropy. Too many of the people involved in voluntary work, she argued, 'did it less for the sake of helping others in need than to help themselves'. Where the interests of the individual conflicted with those of the organisation, a crisis would ensue (Swain, p. 24). Coppel tended to stay at one step removed from such conflicts. Her interest in philanthropy was political, and she preferred to use her intellect to produce the arguments that would facilitate change. An author of books on topics as diverse as food and nutrition, and modern history, she died in 1970.

Archival Resources

The University of Melbourne Archives

  • Records of Marjorie Coppel, 1945 - 1970, 1980.0033; The University of Melbourne Archives. Details

Published Resources

Book Sections

  • Waghorne, James, 'Tempering the Wind: Brian Fitzpatrick and the Australian Council of Civil Liberties under the Curtin Government', in Macintyre, Stuart and Fitzpatrick, Sheila (eds), Against the Grain: Brian Fitzpatrick and Manning Clark in Australian History and Politics, Melbourne University Publishing, Carlton, Victoria, 2007, pp. 97-118. Details

Edited Books

Journal Articles

  • Swain, S, 'In whose interest? Voluntarism and child care, 1880-1980', Australian Journal of Early Childhood, vol. 29, no. 4, December 2004, pp. 24-32. Details

Newspaper Articles

Online Resources