Helmrich, Dorothy (1889–1984)

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Helmrich, Dorothy (1889–1984)

Australian singer and founder of the Arts Council of Australia. Born Dorothy Jane Adele Hellmrich (later changed to Helmrich), in Woollahra, New South Wales, on July 25, 1889; died in Strathfield, Australia, on September 1, 1984; the youngest of six children of John Hellmrich (an architect) and Esther Isobel (Pepper) Hellmrich; attended Mosman Academy and High School; studied singing at the New South Wales State Conservatorium and at the Royal College of Music, London; never married; no children.

Born into a musical family, singer Dorothy Helmrich took piano and voice lessons as a child and began her musical career with the Mosman Musical Society. Through a generous benefactor, Lady Alice Cooper , Helmrich was able to study at the New South Wales State Conservatorium and later at the Royal College of Music in London. She made her London debut at Wigmore Hall, followed by engagements throughout the provinces as well as radio broadcasts. Through the years, she built an international reputation and toured widely in Britain, Europe, and America. From 1941 to 1974, she also held a teaching post at the Conservatorium.

In 1943, Helmrich founded the Australian Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA), a group of volunteers whose mission was "to bring art in all forms, to the people." By 1946, it had evolved into the Arts Council of Australia, of which Helmrich served as vice president and later president of the New South Wales division for 20 years. Through her leadership and resourcefulness, the organization expanded to provide art, drama, music, and arts education nationwide, particularly in schools and rural areas. Unable to obtain commonwealth funding, the volunteer group struggled with a restrictive budget until 1967, when it was superseded by the Australian Council for the Arts.

From 1908 on, Helmrich was also a proponent of theosophy, which she called "a philosophical basis for living… for which I am extremely grateful." She was a member of the United Lodge of Theosophists in London and the Theosophical Society in Australia. The singer never married. "I was fated to live my life in single blessedness," she said. In recognition of her achievements, Helmrich was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1959. She died at Strathfield in 1984.