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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Voss, Harriette Martha (1887–1951)

by Betty Cosgrove

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Harriette Martha Voss (1887-1951), medical practitioner and community worker, was born on 10 October 1887 at Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, youngest of five children of Robert Skerritt Exton, an artist from England, and his Irish-born wife Rose, née Robinson. Rose was a cousin of Sir Hercules Robinson. Ettie studied at Brisbane Girls' Grammar School and the University of Sydney (M.B., Ch.M, 1915). She was appointed resident medical officer at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, Camperdown, in March 1915 and promoted chief R.M.O. next year. On 8 July 1919 at Holy Trinity Church, Fortitude Valley, she married with Anglican rites Paul Ernest Voss, a medical practitioner. They had one child.

In partnership with his father Francis Voss, Paul practised at Penmaen, Bolsover Street, Rockhampton, and also treated patients at Hillcrest, a private hospital owned by the family. His wife did not practise medicine after her marriage. Living at Penmaen and later at another family home, Securus, on the coast at Tanby Point, Emu Park, she involved herself in community activities. After being patroness (1920) of the Rockhampton Young Women's Christian Association, she served as its honorary treasurer (1922-25) and president (1933-51). Under her direction, the local Y.W.C.A. provided accommodation for, at times, an average of twenty-five servicewomen a week during World War II and formed a club for the wives of servicemen from the United States of America. Rest and refreshment facilities at the association's rooms were open to working women and girls, and to families of Australian armed-services personnel and civilians.

Throughout the war years Mrs Voss worked for the Australian Red Cross Society at Rockhampton. In 1942-45 she presided over the entertainment committee of the local branch of the American National Red Cross, staging concerts and acting as hostess at dances. She helped to form the women's auxiliary of the Rockhampton and District Patriotic Fund and held the office of organizing secretary. The auxiliary raised money for comforts for those serving overseas, dispatching nine thousand parcels in a single year. It also provided supplementary income to their families, if they were in need. At the Patriotic Fund depot women provided regular farewell luncheons for drafts of more than one hundred soldiers about to embark on active service. They organized entertainment for American and other allied troops, and operated a free canteen at the aerodrome for travelling personnel. As a representative of 'local patriotic bodies', Voss was introduced to Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the president of the United States, who visited American troops stationed at Rockhampton in September 1943.

After her husband died in 1948, Voss became manager of Hillcrest hospital. In 1951 ill health forced her to resign that post, as well as her presidency of the Y.W.C.A. She died of cancer on 20 December that year at Emu Park and was cremated; her son survived her. According to her wish, Hillcrest was acquired by St Andrew's Presbyterian Church. The Harriette M. Voss clubrooms, in a new Y.W.C.A. building in Bolsover Street, were opened in 1955.

Select Bibliography

  • L. McDonald, Rockhampton (Brisb, 1981)
  • L. McDonald, A Ministry of Caring (Rockhampton, Qld, 1992)
  • Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 21 Sept 1945, 26 Dec 1951
  • Voss family papers and YWCA (Rockhampton) papers (held in Capricornia Collection, Central Queensland University Library).

Citation details

Betty Cosgrove, 'Voss, Harriette Martha (1887–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 21 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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