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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bedford, Ruth Marjory (1882–1963)

by Jane Connors

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Ruth Marjory Bedford (1882-1963), by unknown photographer, 1930s

Ruth Marjory Bedford (1882-1963), by unknown photographer, 1930s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23207577

Ruth Marjory Bedford (1882-1963), writer, was born on 2 August 1882 at Petersham, Sydney, second daughter of native-born parents Alfred Percival Bedford, clerk, and his wife Agnes Victoria who was the seventeenth child of Sir Alfred Stephen. Percy and Agnes were first cousins. With her sisters Sylvia and Alfreda, Ruth was educated at home and grew up in a family that was clannish and prominent in Sydney society. In 1892 she wrote to her mother that she would try to be 'more clever and good', a promise honoured next year with the publication of Rhymes by Ruth (revised and reprinted 1896).

She swam regularly with one of her 'closest and dearest friends' Dorothea Mackellar, and the two of them enjoyed play-acting characters they had invented. Ruth's Sydney at Sunset and other Verses appeared in 1911. After the death of her mother and a broken engagement, she went abroad in 1912, toured the Continent, shared a flat in London with Dorothea and returned in 1913. They co-authored two light and racy novels, The Little Blue Devil (London, 1912) and Two's Company (London, 1914), based on their 'play people'.

As a 'children's poet' Bedford published several collections of verse, including Rosycheeks and Goldenhead (London, 1913) and Hundreds and Thousands (1934). At 40, she claimed that she was still able to write with her 'own thoughts of the times of ten or eleven'. One London literary agent rejected her work as 'very slight and almost too innocuous', but the Brisbane Courier Mail approvingly remarked that she had 'not been caught in the stream of so-called modernism'. Throughout her long career as a full-time writer Bedford stuck to simple subjects and published seven collections, among them The Learner and Other Verses (1937) and Who's Who in Rhyme and Without Reason (1948). Her poems appeared in anthologies and in the Sydney Morning Herald for thirty years. She also wrote plays: Postman's Knock was commended at the Australian Play Society's 1932 competition and several were accepted by the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Photographs taken from adolescence to old age show her strong, rectangular face, dominated by dark eyes and prominent teeth. In 1923 Bedford told Aussie magazine that 'children come first in her affections, and then people, books, the stage, surfing, pictures and travel'. A cousin described her as 'sprightly' and forthright. Most of Ruth's life was spent at Edgecliff and Woollahra with her sisters and members of Sydney's literary world. As its secretary, she represented the Sydney P.E.N. Club at a convention in Buenos Aires in 1936; she also belonged to the Women's Pioneer Society of Australasia.

Her last work, Think of Stephen (1954), was also her most acclaimed. Sponsored by the Commonwealth Literary Fund, it was a warm chronicle of the domestic and social life of her mother's family, for which Ruth drew on her grandmother's diaries and letters. Professor Kathleen Fitzpatrick, among others, reviewed it favourably, and the book prompted a letter of praise (and an invitation to lunch) from Patrick White. Slowly worn down by illness, Bedford died on 24 July 1963 at Paddington and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Brunsdon (ed), I Love a Sunburnt Country: The Diaries of Dorothea Mackellar (Syd, 1990)
  • Aussie, Apr 1923, p 43
  • BP Mag, 1 Sept 1936, p 15
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 Apr 1932, 11 June, 7 Dec 1936, 24 May, 14 Nov 1953, 26 July 1963
  • H. de Berg, interview with Ruth Bedford (transcript, 1961, National Library of Australia)
  • Stephen papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Jane Connors, 'Bedford, Ruth Marjory (1882–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 23 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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