Notable People of Collingwood

Collingwood Notables Database

Josephine McCormick

1858 - 1924

Gymnast, physical therapist

Personal Photo 1
'The picture of health' in 1904

Anna Julia Josephine McCormick lived with her widowed mother and sister Ellen Maria (Ella) in St Heliers Street Abbotsford from the 1880s until her death in 1924. She became joint principal, with Harriet Elphinstone Dick, of the Ladies Gymnasium in the city. She specialised in medical gymnastics and massage for spinal and other deformities. According to her obituary in The Advocate

The whole of Miss McCormick’s career was taken up in alleviating the bodily suffering of other people, and these included a great number of children whose spinal and similar complaints necessitated special treatment scientifically administered. [her] exceptional gifts had brought her into well-deserved prominence.

Josephine was the middle daughter of (John) Joseph McCormick and Anna Conry. Joseph was a solicitor originally based in Melbourne, but the family moved to regional Victorian towns where Joseph died young in 1874. The third daughter died later the same year and Anna took her small family back to Melbourne. In 1881 and 1882 Anna was renting a house in Freeman Street Fitzroy from Alice C. Moon, who was co-proprietor with Harriet Elphinstone Dick of the Ladies Gymnasium, which they had set up in 1879 and is believed to be one of the first of its kind established in Australia. Josephine began participating in gymnastic activities. In 1882 she and Harriet performed an exhibition with Indian clubs at the Ballarat Gymnasium.

The two friends, Harriet and Alice, were living at The Steyne in St Heliers Street. In May 1884 Josephine and her sister Ellen obtained a mortgage for £425 from the Colonial Permanent Building and Investment Society to buy The Steyne from Alice Moon for £520 (though their mother Anna was always listed in the council rate book as the owner). Here they were just over the road from the Convent of the Good Shepherd, at whose chapel they attended Mass. The location was charming: their garden ran down to the Yarra, the 1840s mansion Abbotsford House was still standing, and the Convent was surrounded by productive fruit and vegetable gardens. The five-roomed brick house was by no means grand, but with its verandah on three sides oriented to the river it made a delightful home. Apart from the nuns, their neighbours included Max and Harriett Kreitmayer, also Catholics, and the Snowdens. The McCormicks and Harriet Kreitmayer often worked together at fund-raising events for Catholic schools and churches.

Alice Moon moved on to other interests, and as a result Josephine became more involved with the running of the Ladies Gymnasium. By March 1887 she was co-principal with Harriet. She continued running the gymnasium in the 1890s after Harriet spent some years in Sydney, but both women were still listed as principals until in April 1899 a notice appeared in The Age stating that the Ladies Gymnasium formerly conducted by Misses H Elphinstone Dick and Josephine McCormick would in future be carried on by the latter (as during the last 7 years).  As Harriet then opened another gymnasium there exists the possibility that the women had a falling out, but perhaps they were just regularising a business arrangement.

Not only did Josephine treat girls at the gymnasium, but some stayed at The Steyne for their treatment. In the late 1890s Reike Parker was sent from Tasmania to be treated for a spinal complaint that kept her bed-ridden in a splint. By the end of 1902 she was ‘able to run about and romp like any little girl’. She went to Mass with the McCormicks and attended St Euphrasia’s School, and was to remain living at The Steyne until the 1950s. Other girls arrived from time to time but one of them, Patty Morrissy, was less fortunate, as it seems she was suffering from that incurable scourge of infantile paralysis (polio) which predisposes the sufferer to respiratory weakness. After staying at The Steyne in 1913 she returned to her country home the following year where she was hospitalised and died of lobar pneumonia at the age of 14.

In 1903 to 1904 Josephine spent a year in Europe visiting the principal physical culture institutes in London, Paris, Vienna and Berlin, and undertook a course of study with Professor Lorenz of Vienna, and  Dr Bernard Roth of London. Dr Lorenz was one of the founders of the German society of Orthopaedic Surgery, but used non-invasive and manipulative techniques rather than surgical operations. An extensive newspaper interview describes her experiences and methods.

Josephine Russell, who in 1885 had participated in the Town Hall display and won the gold medal as Senior Champion, became Josephine’s assistant at the gymnasium and was living at The Steyne by 1903. In her will dated 1919 Josephine left her interest in the gymnasium to Josephine Russell, but it seems it closed shortly afterwards. Both McCormick sisters wrote their wills at the same time, each leaving the house and household effects in trust for the surviving sister and upon death to Josephine Russell and (Reike) Parker, both of whom remained living with the McCormicks.  The wills specified that if the recipients then wanted to sell the house, that it be offered to the Convent of the Good Shepherd in the first instance. 

Josephine was 66 when she died in 1924. The immediate cause of death was cerebral haemorrhage, the risk of which is increased by kidney disease (then called ‘Bright’s disease’) from which she had been suffering for some time. According to an obituary in The Australasian:

… she had been in ill health for some considerable time and had lived very quietly. A woman of wide interests, artistic and literary, she had a most sympathetic personality, which endeared her to a very large circle of friends. [and was one] of the original members of the Lyceum Club …

An extensive article in the Catholic newspaper The Advocate expanded further:

Greatly gifted and deeply mourned …  a constantly busy life, made a greater number of devoted friends of all ages … she took, to the last, a deep interest in literature and the arts. When the Lyceum Club was founded, she was one of its first members, and was the means of increasing its early membership.

A woman of broad sympathies and winning personality, the late Miss McCormick kept a wonderful hold on the esteem and affection of the people of diverse occupations, creed, and country that her life-work brought her into contact with; and her correspondence with former pupils and patients travelling abroad was voluminous, varied, and deeply interesting.

In all charitable works in connection with the Faith, [she] took an active part … she was a devoted daughter and sister …

Her mother, Anna died in 1927 and sister Ellen survived until 1943, living with Josephine Russell and Reike.  Miss Russell moved to Mentone in the 1940s and died in 1949. Ownership of the house was eventually transferred to Rieke in 1950. 

The Steyne still stands in 2023, though much altered and no longer named. It was for some years the residence of the Collingwood Children’s Farm manager. Most of the veranda has been removed and unsympathetic timber additions at front and rear make it hard to get an impression of the original design. Look down through the side gate from St Helier’s Street where you can see the remains of the verandah on the east side, for a glimpse of the former house’s appearance.


House Photo 1

18 St Heliers Street in 2023

Life Summary

Birth Date Birth Place
14 August 1858 South Yarra, Victoria
Home Addresses
Home Street Home City Status of Building
18 St Heliers Street Abbotsford Extant
Church Lodge
Immaculate Conception, Convent of the Good Shepherd
Death Date Death Place Cemetery
1 October 1924 Abbotsford Boroondara RC B1577

The Argus, The Age, Advocate, Fitzroy City Press, Brighton Southern Cross, Critic (Adelaide), The Australasian, The Herald.

Trove list: Josephine McCormick:

The future of the figure: a chat with Miss McCormick

History of gymnastics


Obituary The Advocate

Ingleton, Making trouble: tongued with fire: an imagined history of Harriet Elphinstone Dick and Alice C. Moon

Online Image links

A chat with Miss McCormick

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