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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Creswick, Alice Ishbel Hay (1889–1973)

by Diane Langmore

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Alice Ishbel Hay Creswick (1889-1973), Red Cross commandant and kindergarten administrator, was born on 21 September 1889 at Aberdeen, Scotland, daughter of William Reid Reid, advocate, and his wife Jeannie Georgina Farquharson, née Begg. Alice was educated in private schools at Tonbridge, Kent, England, at Geneva, Switzerland, and at Hanover, Germany. During the winter sports at Grindelwald, Switzerland, she met Henry Forbes Creswick, son of Australian pastoralist Alexander Creswick; Henry had read law at the University of Oxford. Forbidden to wed until she was 21, she married him on 30 November 1910 at the Scottish National Church, Chelsea, London.

Henry took his bride to Liewah (one of his father's many stations) in the Riverina district of New South Wales. After making a resourceful adjustment to outback life, in 1914 Alice sailed for Britain with her husband and newborn son; she stayed with her parents while Henry served as an officer with the King Edward's Horse in World War I.

Back in Australia, the Creswicks remained at Liewah until about 1928 when they came to Melbourne to care for the elderly Alexander. The mother of four children, Mrs Creswick served on the committee (president 1928-38) of the Lady Northcote Free Kindergarten. Henry Creswick was killed in a traffic accident in 1935. Impressed by her financial acumen, Alice's father-in-law made her a director of the family properties, a position she was to hold for the rest of her life. In her bereavement she flung herself into public activity: she joined the executive of the Free Kindergarten Union and became president in 1939.

A capable and forceful leader, Mrs Creswick was diverted from her activities with the F.K.U. in 1940 when the Australian Red Cross Society asked her to be its principal commandant. In this capacity she travelled widely each year, inspecting the work of existing Red Cross Emergency Service companies and establishing new ones. She organized conferences of divisional commanders, and held courses for hospital visitors attached to the army and for personnel selected to assist prisoners of war. In addition, she visited Britain and Europe where she conferred with the International Red Cross about arrangements for Australian prisoners of war, and for the sick and wounded.

When she resigned from her position in 1946, the national Red Cross paid tribute to her 'skill in choosing and inspiring the women who served in Field Force'. Next year she was appointed a dame of grace of the Order of St John. Mrs Creswick continued her whole-hearted involvement with the Red Cross as vice-chairman (1946-49) of the national council and national executive, as honorary life member (from 1949) and as a member of the national council to 1959. She represented the Australian Red Cross at conferences in Stockholm (1948) and Oslo (1954).

In 1946 Mrs Creswick had resumed her presidency of the F.K.U. She persistently lobbied the State government for greater support for pre-school training and succeeded in setting the union's finances on a sound basis. In 1947 she gained State government help for the extension of buildings and facilities at the Kindergarten Training College, Kew, where a new wing was named in her honour. She called frequently on the forty-two free kindergartens under her direction and in 1949 visited pre-schools in England, France and Sweden. While ill health forced her to resign as president of the F.K.U. in April, she was made a life vice-president.

Mrs Creswick also retained a close interest in the Australian Association of Pre-School Child Development (later Australian Pre-School Association), of which she was a foundation vice-president (1939); she was subsequently a vice-chairman of its Victorian branch and a life vice-president. In 1953 she established the Colombo Plan pre-school standing committee of the A.P.A. which sent training officers to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Concerned with the need for professional leadership in the pre-school movement, in 1955 she founded a scholarship fund: she contributed £4000 herself and £4000 which she had obtained from donors in Victoria. The Alice Creswick (now the Alice Creswick and Sheila Kimpton) scholarship enabled its first recipient to visit the United States of America in 1956. Mrs Creswick was appointed O.B.E. in 1958.

Although vigorous and practical, she had a Celtic regard for religion and superstition. She was conservative and conventional, with a strong sense of duty. Her active working life left little time for her other interests which included opera and ballet, 'a spot of golf', growing camellias, and collecting old china, furniture and flower prints. In retirement she had more leisure to devote to these hobbies, and to her country home near Flinders where she worked off 'excess energy' in the garden and orchard. At her Toorak home she held an annual exhibition of floral arrangements to raise funds for Victorian kindergartens and pre-schools.

Survived by a son and daughter, Alice Creswick died on 24 October 1973 at Armadale and was buried in Boroondara cemetery. Her will made generous bequests to the Anglican Church, the Australian Red Cross and the F.K.U.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Gardiner, The Free Kindergarten Union of Victoria, 1908-80 (Melb, 1982)
  • Australian Pre-School Quarterly, Feb 1967
  • Age (Melbourne), 19 Aug 1935, 2 Apr 1945, 9 Nov 1954, 21 Oct 1959
  • Herald (Melbourne), 29 Nov 1941, 1 Jan 1949, 14 Nov 1956
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 15 Aug 1947, 6 Apr 1949
  • private information.

Citation details

Diane Langmore, 'Creswick, Alice Ishbel Hay (1889–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 26 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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