• Entry type: Person
  • Entry ID: AWE6080

Norris, Thelma Jessie

(1921 – 1977)
  • Born 1 January, 1921
  • Died 31 December, 1977
  • Occupation Health scientist


Thelma Jessie Norris took her BSc in 1943 at the University of Melbourne and joined the Commonwealth Department of Health, then under the direction of Arthur John Metcalfe, who was succeeded in 1960 by William Refshauge, himself a notable University of Melbourne graduate. In 1936 she had won a Junior Scholarship, awarded by the Victorian Education Department, and in December the same year came dux of the Preston Girls’ School Intermediate Year. The school, founded in 1928 and renamed Preston Girls’ Secondary College, closed despite some student protest in 2013.[1] She later attended MacRobertson Girls’ High School.

After graduation she joined the Commonwealth Public Service and the Australian Women’s Weekly reported:

When Thelma J. Norris, B.Sc., of Melbourne, rang doorbells in house-to-house survey throughout Australia, her object as member of the staff of the Commonwealth Health Department was to gain knowledge of family budgeting and diet. She has now been appointed to the food and agricultural section of UNO to study diet of peoples of member nations, and has left for Washington. Appointment is for five years.[2]

The work submitted for the MSc which she was awarded in 1960 when she had returned to Australia gives an indication of her research before her departure as well as investigations undertaken for the Food and Agriculture Organization. It encompassed the technique and interpretation of dietary surveys, a nutrition survey of Tasmania covering food consumption and dietary levels in the spring of 1945 and Vitamin C nutritional status in the spring of 1945 and autumn of 1946, a nutrition survey in Uganda from 1955 to 1957 as well as a study of anaemia in childhood in a rural area of Uganda and a review of food and nutrition in the island of St Helena in February and March 1958.[3]

Thelma Norris’s most influential publication for the Food and Agriculture Organization, published as part of its nutritional studies series was issued in English, French and Spanish.[4] She worked in many countries, including Borneo and Kenya, where she was stationed during the Mau Mau uprising of 1952 to 1960. Her nephew recalled her amusement at being advised by her employer to take a gun with her. There is no record of her firing it. He also remembered her wonderful presents of tribal drums and spears – they did not always meet with parental approval.

[1] Henrietta Cook. ‘Girls’ School Set to Close as Enrolments Fall Away’. Age, 4 July 2013, http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/girls-school-set-to-close-as-enrolments-fall-away-20130703-2pd0s; Julia Irwin. ‘Students Vow to Fight to Keep Preston Girls Secondary College Open’. Northcote Leader. 9 July 2013, http://www.heraldsun.com.au/leader/north/students-vow-to-fight-to-keep-preston-girls-secondary-college-open/news-story/960e5a0a1d4720e40e5d8167cdba27ed

[2] ‘Interesting People’. Australian Women’s Weekly. 24 May 1947: 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article46464554

[3] Thelma J. Norris. Dietary Surveys: their technique and use in nutritional status studies. Thesis (MSc) University of Melbourne, Dept. of Science, 1960.

[4] T. Norris. Dietary Surveys: their technique and interpretation. Washington: FAO, 1949. F.A.O. nutritional studies no. 4.


Published resources

  • Book