Woman Dougharty, Helen Elizabeth

Community Worker
Alternative Names
  • Dougharty, Nellie

Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Nellie Dougharty was born in Launceston in 1866, the daughter of manufacturer, Alexander Evans, and his wife Elizabeth. Educated at home by a governess she married bank officer, Frederick Dougharty in 1915. When he died in action in 1918, Dougharty became involved in services for returned soldiers, later extending her activity to include local charities, girls' education, the Mothers' Union, the Country Women's Association, the National Council of Women and the Australian Women's National League. She also played a leading role in the preservation of historical sites in northern Tasmania, and was described as the 'driving force' behind the emerging heritage movement, arguing that 'if this generation does not do something definite all these valuable links with the early days of Tasmania will be lost' (Examiner, 25 January 1935). At the outbreak of World War II she again became involved in patriotic causes, taking a leading role in the Launceston branch of the Red Cross, the Comforts Fund, the War Widows' Salvage Committee and was city council delegate on the State Evacuation Committee.

Dougharty was an efficient organiser and fund-raiser for her various causes. 'It is difficult to imagine she could be idle for even five minutes', the local newspaper observed. Faced with the task of organising dinner for 750 soldiers, she 'just rolls up her sleeves (metaphorically) and goes ahead with the work' (Examiner, 4 December 1940). She was also a confident public speaker and frequently addressed public meetings in support of conservative causes. Her central aim was to 'safeguard the interests of the home, women and children' (Advocate, 19 November 1929). In line with this aim she supported increasing payments to supporting mothers (Examiner, 16 July 1929), the sterilisation of the mentally unfit (Examiner, 26 October 1933) and central control of charity to prevent 'overlapping' (Examiner, 6 July 1933) and opposed the extension of sustenance payments, arguing that it was not 'solving the [unemployment] problem but is serving to cripple the taxpayer ... [recommending instead] that there should be a more determined effort to put willing men upon the land' (Examiner, 26 November 1931).

Awarded the Returned Services League Certificate of Merit in 1945, Dougharty acknowledged 'the help and co-operation of the many splendid women who had worked with her ... [adding] that all we can do for the returned men and their dependents is not enough' (Mercury, 11 April 1945). Without substantial assets of her own, she urged the organisations of which she was a member to keep fees low 'so that every woman thought she could join (Examiner, 7 December 1938). She never remarried, but had, in 1925, adopted a daughter with whom she was living in retirement in Brisbane when she died in 1968.

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