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Rouse, Marjorie

Marjorie Gwenneth Rouse BSC, DIP ED (1914-2013) was born in Waratah (now a suburb of Newcastle) to Stanley Rouse (chief cashier for the Hunter District Water & Sewerage Board) and his wife Annie (nee Wright). She was the eldest of their three daughters. The Rouse family had arrived in Newcastle in 1817. Her mother had been a nurse but was required to relinquish her role upon marriage. Rouse attended Newcastle Girls High and graduated School Captain and Dux in 1932 – coming 4th in the State in history. As a child she was a regular contributor to the ‘Sunbeams Page’ in the Newcastle Sun [1].

She won scholarships to Sydney University, and Women’s College, where she graduated in Science as the only woman in her year. She was lonely at College with most of the other girls coming from wealthy families and none of her lecturers were women. After graduating she taught for two years at Wollongong High School. While there she had a growing curiosity in nutrition and so took a years leave of absence to study dietetics at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. She then commenced the area of work to which she devoted the rest of her life: taking appointments at Gloucester House (within the Royal Price Alfred Hospital) and Prince Henry Hospital. At this time she remembered that there were only twenty people comprising the entire membership of the association for dietetics. Unbeknowns to Rouse, until many years later, her father paid off over many years her teaching scholarship because she had not taught for the requisite period of time. He did eventually write to the Department asking for the balance to be waived on the basis of the importance of the work that she was doing. No evidence has been found that this request was successful.

Between 1942 and 1943 she was the dietician for the Industrial Welfare Division of the Commonwealth Department of Labour National Services. Between 1944 and 1946 she studied in Oxford University under a British Council Scholarship for Nutrition. She received a Newcastle Mayoral Minute for this award [2]. One of her tasks was to supervise the diet of Dutch children brought to England following the end of World War 2. Of the some 6000 children who arrived in England the majority had lived on black bread and vegetables for over a year. Surprisingly few were malnourished. Contrary to medical advice she insisted that they should not be fed a Dutch diet as she considered that at least for the immediate few days their intake of fat should be well controlled. The children received 3000 calories a day in comparison to the 700 per day they had been receiving in Holland or the average intake of a child in Newcastle (NSW) at that time of 2500 per day [3]. Her long term memory was of tales told by the children of eating tulip bulbs to survive.

Also while in Oxford, she sought to promote Oxford University as a centre for nutrition and published a book and a number of articles in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition [4]. Unfortunately, the main person who she had hoped to study under had enlisted and so was no longer at the university. She sailed on 18 October 1946 aboard the Orbita to bring her home.

Upon return she took the position of State Nutrition Officer for the Department of Health, Tasmania before commencing in 1949 as the head of home science for the NSW Department of Technical and Further Education – a role she continued to hold for 21 years. During this time she developed a science diploma in food nutrition and lobbied for a university qualification in home science. In 1949 she wrote: “There is no reason why the housewife should be limited to her household chores – she can be shown how to take an intelligent interest in current affairs, the way to make the most of her home in its colour scheme and arrangement of furniture and perhaps most important of all, helped to deal with the biggest problem that of human relationships” [5].

In 1950 she gave a talk to the Business and Professional Women’s Association on “World Food and Health Problems – a challenge to women.” In 1969 she presented to the Country Women’s Association and argued against the proposal of that organisation to have a degree in home science restricted to women – on the basis that it should be open to all and to restrict to women would be to devalue the content of the study. She declined the offer of a professorship in home science from the University of Otago (as her mother had just died) but did accept a Carnegie Scholarship in the same year to study the higher education of women in Canada and the United States. An offer to work in New York was declined because this time it coincided with her father dying [6].

In 1961 she bought a home at 70 Castle Howard Road Beecroft. She was close with her immediate family and purchased a double base for her nephew Winston – he went on to play for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. She said that she would have liked to have married as she loved children and they got on well with her however “the men I would have married did not notice me and the ones who proposed marriage I did not fancy.” By 2011 she was no longer able to live by herself in this home, which was described by her nephew and nieces as ‘ramshackle’ and ‘like Miss Haversham.’ She moved to the Montefiore Home in Hunters Hill where she spent her time composing memoranda to the Australian Broadcasting Commission on its radio programming. She died there on 25 August 2013 aged 99 years [7].

[1]      for examples see: Newcastle Sun, 26 March 1927 p.3, 30 March 1927 p. 8, 13 April 1927 p12.

[2]      Newcastle Morning Herald 13 January 1944 p.2.

[3]      Newcastle Morning Herald 16 February 1946 p.5.

[4]      For example “National Nutrition and the Dietician” (1947) Vol 1 (3) 118-121; “Nutrition in Industry” (1947) Vol 1 (2) 76-79.

[5]      Sydney Morning Herald 14 January 1949 p.11.

[6]      For example: Sydney Morning Herald 24 February 1950 p.11, 16 September 1954.

[7]      “Marjorie Rouse: Advocate for better nutrition and women’s education” Sydney Morning Herald, 5 February 2014. Also see interview by Catherine Bartho of Miss Marjorie Rouse undated, but pre 2011, Beecroft Cheltenham History Group.