Woman Pavy, Emily Dorothea

Activist, Lawyer and Social Theorist

Written by Alison Mackinnon, The University of South Australia

Emily Dorothea Proud, born 1885, chose her parents well. Her mother Emily Proud, nee Good, had been a non-graduating student at the University of Adelaide before women were admitted to degrees. Her father Cornelius was typical of those liberal minded non-conformists who advocated higher education for women. Politically active in the area of women's suffrage and social purity, his passion for social reform strongly influenced his three daughters. her parents were excellent role models.

Dorothea, as she was known, attended the Misses Burden's school, then North Adelaide Primary School and, for her secondary education, the pioneering state-funded Advanced School for Girls. Teachers there, amongst the earliest graduates of the University of Adelaide, provided models of an active independent life for women. In 1906 she graduated with a BA from the University of Adelaide. Her prowess as a hockey player was also considerable. That energy was useful in her first career - five years as a teacher at Kyre College, a boys' school, and the predecessor of Scotch College, Adelaide. Always interested in factory work and factory 'girls', Dorothea travelled to New Zealand to gain experience in this field. Like Barbara Ehrenreich, decades later, she used an assumed name and worked as an unskilled worker standing from 8am to 4pm each day for twelve shillings and sixpence.

In 1912 Proud became the first Catherine Helen Spence Scholar, winning a scholarship endowed to promote the study of sociology among the women of South Australia. She undertook research on welfare work at London School of Economics, earning a doctorate of science (1916). That work was published as Welfare Work: Employers Experiments for Improving Working Conditions in Factories, a book which went into three editions. It had a rousing endorsement from Lloyd George, then Minister for Munitions, who wrote a preface and it became the standard work on the subject. When in 1915 Seebohm Rowntree was asked by Lloyd George to organize the welfare section of the Ministry of Munitions the first person he asked to assist him was Dr Dorothea Proud. Her work was seen by contemporary Marion Phillips as shifting the focus of welfare from philanthropy to social economics, and of pioneering the study of work humanization.

Dorothea Proud married Lieutenant Gordon Pavy in 1917, the year she was awarded a CBE for her work. Hardly a typical bride with a DSc and a CBE, she was 32 years old with a well established career and reputation before marriage. The Pavys returned to Australia and a son Ian was born in 1920, a daughter Rosemary in 1926. Dorothea Pavy was appointed as an Assistant Lecturer in Economics in 1922 for that one year. During this time she began legal studies at the University of Adelaide, and was articled to her husband, a lawyer, from 1924. She was admitted to the Bar in 1928, practised law with her husband. She studied for the degree while her children were babies and then worked full time while a series of housekeepers held the fort. Pavy also lectured at the University of Adelaide to social science students.

Although she received recognition and honours in the United Kingdom, she was not given the recognition one might expect in her home town, Adelaide. Pavy was very direct and tenacious: she liked to be ahead of the time and her views often ruffled the establishment. On her return the Adelaide Mail wrote: 'the results of her wonderfully successful training of the welfare staff, combined with her exceptional capability in the realm of sociology and economics indicate that she may be trusted to undertake questions effecting the welfare of women in South Australia, What are we going to do about it?' (The Mail, 6 March 1920.)

South Australia did very little. As a highly qualified, energetic and capable woman in South Australia Pavy's talents were underused, a typical fate for a woman at that time. It is hard to imagine that a man as well qualified would have been ignored for a senior position on his return. Dorothea Pavy pursued women's issues through the law, community service and research . Aware of women's disabilities, she wrote insightfully about women factory workers. When she set up her department in the Ministry of Munitions in England, Proud (as she was then) gathered her staff from women graduates - who inspected factories and worked for better conditions for women. Later she worked for better recreation and crèches for factory women. Her analysis of young women in factories sadly remains apt. 'There is a tendency for women to feed the machines that men control', she wrote. Back in SA Dorothea Pavy was a Member of the National Council of Women and in 1940 served on committee of inquiry on delinquent [sic] children. In 1933 she addressed the 15th Triennial Women's Christian Temperance Union on 'Laws as they affect women and children'. Late in life she was working on a research grant looking at the children of divorcees. Pavy retired in 1953, and died in 1967.

Published Resources


  • Mackinnon, Alison, The New Women: Adelaide's Early Women Graduates, Wakefield Press, Netley, South Australia, 1986. Details

Newspaper Articles

Online Resources

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