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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 5: ‘Our Community Is Self-Governing’


← 104 | 105 →CHAPTER 5

‘Our Community Is Self-Governing’

When Lillian de Lissa arrived in London in September 1917, ‘the Board of Education was a mere name’ to her but it quickly became a reality.1 With Rennie and the governors’ support, de Lissa successfully renegotiated her relationship with the educational state and emerged as a leader in interwar British teacher education and early childhood education. GHTC also became an important site in the transnational circulation of knowledge about early childhood education and teacher education. Setting aside the college’s institutional history, this chapter focuses on GHTC’s students, the lecturers who worked with de Lissa and the two-year programme of studies.

From the outset de Lissa had to establish her presence among GHTC’s students. Being mistaken for a maid by the first student because she was wearing an overall must have been disconcerting for the newly arrived Australian principal. De Lissa later recalled that she ‘wondered what English students would be like and if they would be the superior beings my very English mother had predicted’.2 Beginning with eleven students, she had worked successfully with about sixty young white middle class women at the Adelaide KTC. Coincidentally, she would commence with the same number at GHTC. This chapter opens with a discussion of GHTC students’ social worlds, and then explores the college’s progressive curriculum and governance in the interwar years.

De Lissa already had ten years’ experience in constructing teacher education curriculum in Australia, though...

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