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Lillian de Lissa, Women Teachers and Teacher Education in the Twentieth Century

A Transnational History

Kay Whitehead

Beginning with Lillian de Lissa’s career as foundation principal of the Adelaide Kindergarten Training College in Australia (1907–1917) and Gipsy Hill Training College in London (1917–1947), and incorporating the lives and work of her Australian and British graduates, this book illuminates the transnational circulation of knowledge about teacher education and early childhood education in the twentieth century. Acutely aware of anxieties regarding the role of modern women and the social positioning of teachers, students who attended college under de Lissa’s leadership experienced a progressive institutional culture and comprehensive preparation for work as kindergarten, nursery and infant teachers.

Drawing on a broad range of archival material, this study explores graduates’ professional and domestic lives, leisure activities and civic participation, from their initial work as novice teachers through diverse life paths to their senior years. Due to the interwar marriage bar, many women teachers married, resigned from paid work and became mothers. The book explores their experiences, along with those of lifelong teachers whose work spread across a range of educational fields and different parts of the world. Although most graduates spent their lives in Australia or England, de Lissa’s personal and professional networks traversed the British dominions and colonies, Europe and the USA, fostering fascinating global connections between people, places and educational ideas.

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CHAPTER 1: A Transnational History of Women and Education in the Twentieth Century


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A Transnational History of Women and Education in the Twentieth Century

When the foundation principal of Gipsy Hill Training College (GHTC), Lillian de Lissa, retired in January 1947, her British colleagues presented her with a testimonial which read in part

We recognise with pride her magnificent work of helping to create in this country a demand for nursery schools, and of founding a College for teachers of young children. We remember that Gipsy Hill Training College was a pioneer college and suffered periods of great stress […]. We also remember Miss de Lissa’s contribution to international understanding, especially in the field of education.1

GHTC graduates concurred. Had her former associates and Adelaide Kindergarten Training College (KTC) graduates in Australia been consulted, they would have commented similarly about her contributions to Australian early childhood education and teacher education between 1906 and 1917, and added proudly that the foundations of de Lissa’s life work were laid far from the imperial centre.

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