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Wilhelmina Mary Lowson (1895–1987)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

Wilhelmina Mary Lowson (known as Mary) (1895-1987) teacher, nurse with International Brigade in Spain

Birth: 11 April 1895 at Bathurst Street, Hobart, Tasmania, daughter of Alexander Stuart Milne Lowson (1866-1950), a house painter, born at Forfar, Angus, Scotland, and Wilhelmina, née Herd (1868-1934). Marriage: no details known. Death: 16 March 1987 at Royal Perth Rehabilitation Hospital, Shenton Park, Western Australia; usual residence Braille Nursing Home, Kitchener Avenue, Victoria Park, WA. 

  • Her father abandoned his wife, two sons and two daughters, and travelled to South Africa, where he remained for the rest of his life.
  • Mary became a teacher then joined the nursing profession in Hobart. A few years later she moved to Sydney and worked at Lidcombe Hospital, with May Macfarlane and Una Wilson. She then worked at the Waterfall Sanatorium.
  • In 1936 Lowson helped to establish Sydney’s Spanish Relief Committee. She then led the unit of four nurses – she, Macfarlane, Wilson and Agnes Hodgson — attached to the Australian contingent of the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. They sailed aboard the Oronsay in September.
  • She served with the British Medical Unit in Spain, attached to the Government forces. Her relationship with Hodgson was strained. As the latter spoke Italian and was not a committed Communist, Lowson was suspicious of her.
  • Upon her return in 1937 Lowson addressed large public meetings throughout Australia recounting about her experiences.
  • She later settled in Western Australia, where in May 1939 she was elected organising secretary of the reconstituted West Australia Spanish Relief Committee.
  • She was a nurse at the Sanatorium, Wooroloo, WA, in 1943. After the war she ran a children’s day nursery in Perth and was secretary of the Children’s Protection Society. From about 1958 she lived for many years at Claremont, Perth.
  • About 1970 she visited Scotland.
  • Cause of death: acute mesenteric artery occlusion (1 day) and (contributory cause) pseudomonas wound infection.
  • In 1988, in accordance with instructions in her will, a commemorative plaque in Mary’s memory was presented to the town of Forfar, in Scotland, by the Australian Pensioners’ League of WA (Inc) and placed on a bench at Balmashanner.

Jim Moss, Sound of Trumpets: history of the labour movement in South Australia (Adelaide, 1985); Diane Menghetti, The Red North: The Popular Front in North Queensland, James Cook University History Department 1981; Amirah Inglis, Australians in the Spanish Civil War (Sydney, 1987).

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Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Lowson, Wilhelmina Mary (1895–1987)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 29 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Mary Lowson, 1937

Mary Lowson, 1937

Newcastle Morning Herald (NSW), 16 November 1937, p 3

Life Summary [details]


11 April, 1895
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia


16 March, 1987 (aged 91)
Shenton Park, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cause of Death

mesenteric artery occlusion

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