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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 8: ‘Interesting Work […] in the Uttermost Parts of the Earth’

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← 180 | 181 →CHAPTER 8

‘Interesting Work […] in the Uttermost Parts of the Earth’

World War Two had not only brought profound changes for GHTC and de Lissa, but also for GHTC and KTC graduates. Many graduates lost contact with each other and their respective colleges. GHTC’s Old Students Association and publication of the Gipsy Trail had been suspended, and so had the Kindergarten Graduates Association in Adelaide.1 Both groups were reconstituted after the war. The first British post war reunion was held at GHTC’s new Kingston Hill premises in 1947, and ‘a most interesting assortment of ages, types and styles sat down to lunch’. More than 1,000 students had graduated during de Lissa’s thirty year tenure, but only seventy graduates and lecturers attended this reunion.2

When the Gipsy Trail resumed in 1948, GHTC and KTC graduates from de Lissa’s entire career were scattered along an age-continuum beginning with about 250 novice teachers who had graduated from GHTC during the war. News of these modern women was ‘very scanty’ with correspondents representing the unmarried graduates as ‘settled down in varying degrees of contentment in infant and nursery classes’ and married graduates at home with little children.3 The majority of GHTC graduates were not-so-old and not-so-young in 1948, and Edna Rothwell wrote ‘I shall be heartened to have a message, no matter how short, telling me that you are enjoying life, married, or still teaching’.4 Her statement distinguished between married and single graduates, implying the...

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