Sylvia Stapleton


Terms served on Council

Title Council From To
Alderman Paddington 1933 1934

Family background

Sylvia Stapleton was born Mary (later recorded as Margaret) Sylvia Mitchell in 1898 in West Wyalong to parents Thomas and Margaret Mitchell. Stapleton’s birth name was given as Mary and the name given for her marriage certificate was Margaret. The birth of her sister Florence in 1903 was registered in Redfern.

She married Robert Record Stapleton on 22 March 1924 at Surry Hills. The couple’s marriage was fraught from the beginning and within nine months, Mr Stapleton petitioned for a ‘decree for restitution of conjugal rites’. Mrs Stapleton responded ‘denying the petitioner’s allegations, and also raised an issue of desertion by reason that her husband had refused to provide a home.’ Justice Owen ordered Mrs Stapleton to ‘return to the petitioner within 21 days’.

The pair had two children – Jack (b 1924) and Jean (b 1930). They both lived in Paddington, however, the electoral rolls indicate they lived separately, she on Windsor Street and he with his mother on Bent Street. In 1928 Mr Stapleton petitioned for divorce on the grounds of ‘desertion’ and was granted ‘decree nisi’ – a court order declaring the marriage would be dissolved in six months. The pair remained married, however, and by 1933 were registered at the same address.

Stapleton was Paddington’s first and only female alderman – she replaced her husband on the council when he died suddenly in office in September 1933. A ‘Testimonial Dance’ was held at Paddington Town Hall in November, to raise funds for Stapleton and her children, and in December Stapleton was presented with a ‘crystal necklace’ by the Mayoress, Mrs Curotta, on behalf of the Women’s Committee of the Mayor’s Distress Relief Fund.

Sylvia Stapleton died at Prince of Wales hospital, Randwick on 30 November 1971, aged 73.

Occupation & interests

Sylvia Stapleton was described as ‘one of the most fluent platform speakers in the [Australian Labor Party (ALP)] movement’, and prior to her marriage in 1924 was the youngest member on the ALP Executive. The Sydney Morning Herald noted in 1933, that Stapleton first became involved with the ALP at the age of 16.

The Labor Daily newspaper noted she had ‘more than the usual knowledge of financial matters’ and spent much of her time advocating for the poorest members of her community.

The Electoral Rolls consistently recorded her occupation as ‘home duties’ from at least 1933, despite her political and charity work.

In January 1938, over 400 union delegates from trade unions and ALP electoral councils and branches from the city and country areas of New South Wales gathered at Sydney Trades Hall against the ‘inner group’ which had formed under J T Lang’s party leadership. The conference resolved to establish a committee of 30, comprising 15 union representatives and 15 representatives from ALP Branches, to be known as the Central Labor Organising Committee.

Stapleton was part of a group of 30 members expelled from the ALP for forming a new industrial group, which the ALP Executive saw as separate to the ALP.

Community activity

Sylvia Stapleton was a member of the Women’s Central Organising Committee (WCOC) of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) from 1917 and was its president from 1931 until around 1935. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, ‘undignified scenes’ marked the meeting of the WCOC during the annual election in 1931, during which one member ‘indulged in recriminations with another member’ over the result and ‘blows were struck and the air was rent with unseemly epithets.’

Earlier in 1929 Stapleton was quoted in the Labor Daily newspaper as saying:

Though not a pioneer member of the W.C.O.C, I have for several years been a delegate and fighting side by side with those loyal pioneers whose goal is the emancipation of the workers, and whose good work and noble sacrifices are responsible for the success of Labor in the past.

I hope to continue for many years to come, fighting as in the past for that common goal of all true Laborites – the betterment of our class.

Our greatest reward will be to see prosperity, contentment and happiness reigning supreme in the homes and hearts of our people.

As president, Stapleton oversaw the establishment of the WCOC Hostel for Homeless Women and Girls at 28 Elizabeth Street, Sydney. It was officially opened on 10 October 1931 and Stapleton served as president of the hostel committee, announcing that she ‘was very proud of the fact that the committee had made such a success of the undertaking’.

Stapleton was described in the Labor News in 1923 as ‘One of Labor’s most energetic Women Workers’ and ‘one of the most fluent platform speakers in the movement’, being the youngest member of the ALP State Executive. She served on the executive for a total of nine years, and she was also appointed a justice of the peace in 1924.

Prior to her marriage, she was Vice-President and Treasurer of the WCOC in 1923-24, and also a member of the Surry Hills League of the ALP, during which time she ‘endeared herself to the poor of the district’. Her advice and assistance, according to The Labor Daily newspaper, was ‘frequently sought in the cause of charity’.

In 1933, after she was elected to Paddington Council, the Sydney Morning Herald concluded: ‘It will be Mrs Stapleton’s endeavour in her new office to secure more and better playgrounds for children; better distribution and greater consumption of pure milk and butter; the extension of the Mayor’s Relief Fund; and the improvement of unhealthy dwellings’.

Local government service

Sylvia Stapleton was elected an alderman, winning by 114 votes, of Paddington Council on 28 October 1933, filling a vacancy left by her husband’s sudden death almost a month prior. She was Paddington Council’s first and only female alderman.

The Sun newspaper reported on her win, saying: ‘Mrs Stapleton has taken an active part in the public life of the municipality. She is president of the women’s central organising committee of the State Labor Party and head of the Mayoress’s clothing committee.’ The Sydney Morning Herald described her as ‘energetic and forceful’. It concluded:

The women of Paddington consider that they have scored a triumph to their sex by the election to aldermanic honours of Mrs Sylvia Stapleton…She feels that, having been her husband’s right hand during his long illness, she will not be breaking new ground in assuming office of the council.’

In June 1934 the Labor Daily announced Mrs Stapleton had been diagnosed with pleurisy and would be cancelling engagements and receiving treatment at her home. On 13 August 1934, the newly renovated Paddington Town Hall was re-opened as the Stapleton Hall, after the late Robert Stapleton. It was officially opened at the Mayoral ball by Alderman Morris Curotta, and Sylvia Stapleton and her husband’s parents attended, among several other guests.

Despite frequently featuring in local and political newspapers, Stapleton’s service as an alderman was short-lived and ended in December 1934. She did, however, continue her work with women’s groups associated with the ALP.


The information about this alderman was compiled in collaboration with Woollahra Library and Information Service.

‘Mrs M Mitchell, JP’, Labor News, 17 November 1923, p. 6,

‘Miss Sylvia Mitchell’, The Labor Daily, 19 February 1924, 7,

‘“Labor Daily” Humour’, The Workers’ Weekly, 29 February 1924, 2,

‘Women’s Central Organising Committee’, Labor News, 5 January 1924, p. 2,

‘In Divorce’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 December 1924, 14,

‘Greatest reward’, The Labor Daily, 30 November 1929, 8,

Sydney Morning Herald, 2 October 1933, p. 6,

‘Labour Women’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 March 1931, 10,

‘The Case for the Woman Voter’, The Labor Daily, 3 December 1931, p. 7,

‘A Testimonial’, The Labor Daily, 19 October 1933, p. 9,

‘Labor’s Choice’, The Labor Daily, 26 October 1933, p. 11,

‘Woman Councillor’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 31 October 1933, p. 4,

‘Into shoes of dead husband’, The Sun, 29 October 1933, p. 2,

‘Woman elected councillor’, The West Australian, 30 October 1933, p. 9,

‘Elected alderman’, The Labor Daily, 30 October 1933, p. 6,

‘Let’s Talk of Interesting People’, The Australian Women’s Weekly, 4 November 1933, p. 3,

‘Woman may be mayor’, The Sun, 12 November 1933, p.2,

‘Of Interest To Women’, Voice, 9 December 1933, p. 3,

‘Women and Politics’, The Australian Women’s Weekly, 14 April 1934, p. 22,

‘Mrs. Stapleton’, The Labor Daily, 7 June 1934, 11,

‘Stapleton Hall’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 August 1934, 5,

‘Woman Alderman’, The Maitland Daily, 9 December 1933, 4,

‘Divorce papers Robert Record Stapleton Margaret Sylvia Stapleton’, 1924-25, State Archives Collections, Museums of History NSW, NRS-13495-11-[13/13247]-973/1924,

‘Divorce papers Robert Record Stapleton Margaret Sylvia Stapleton’, 1928, State Archives Collections, Museums of History NSW, NRS-13495-7-[13/13509]-721/1928,

‘Deaths’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 December 1971, 52.

NSW Births Deaths Marriages, Registration no. 17645/1898, 742/1924, 253/1972.

Electoral Rolls, Australian Electoral Commission, East Sydney, Paddington, 1935, 123 and 1936, 112; and Newtown, Dalley, New South Wales, Australia, 1968, 64

‘Stapleton, Margerate Mary Sylvia (1898–1971)’, People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, 2023,


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