Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edwards, Lewis David (1885–1961)

by J. Lawry

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Lewis David Edwards (1885-1961), public servant, was born on 14 October 1885 at Silkstone, Ipswich, Queensland, son of John Lewis Edwards, coalminer, and his wife Anne, née Morris. A typically Welsh home, rich in sound and faith, laid the foundation for his lifelong participation in the arts of the eisteddfod. A beautiful voice served him well, in small communities when he was a teacher, and later as a lecturer, trade union leader and advocate, and educational administrator. Fluent in recitation and song, he was said when young to be able to provide a complete school concert. After retirement he was president of the Art of Speech Association and of the Eisteddfod Council of Queensland.

Edwards was educated at the Newtown (later Silkstone) State School of which he was dux in 1898, winning the McGill medal. From 1899 he was a pupil-teacher and later assistant teacher at Spring Creek. He moved as an assistant teacher to Ipswich West (boys), Boonah, Petrie Terrace (boys) and Milton, all relatively large schools, then became head-teacher of very small schools at Silverleigh and Mount Cotton.

Without secondary education and while teaching, he matriculated in the new University of Queensland in 1911. Working entirely as an evening student, he eventually graduated with first-class honours in mental and moral philosophy in 1917 (M.A., 1919). G. E. Mayo had been his main teacher. During this period of intense study, Edwards married Mary McQueen on 8 July 1913 and settled in Brisbane as an assistant secondary teacher.

From August 1920 he was appointed a temporary lecturer at the university, first in ethics and metaphysics, later in logic and philosophy. From March 1922, during Professor Mayo's absence, he was acting head of the philosophy department. That year he was elected unopposed as president of the Queensland Teachers' Union. His term was noted for his eloquent and successful advocacy on behalf of secondary teachers before the Industrial Arbitration Court; during his later career he was a popular speaker at annual union conferences. In 1922 he was also assisting to inspect grammar schools. On 1 March 1923 he was appointed acting professor of philosophy and head of the department, but he resigned to take the post of chief inspector of schools from 12 April.

From 1923 until his retirement in 1951, Edwards was associated with the main features of educational development in Queensland. As chief inspector he devoted much attention to the creation of the new primary syllabus issued in 1930, and was especially interested in methods of educational psychology. In 1935 he visited the United States of America, England and Europe under a Carnegie Corporation programme to gain first-hand experience of educational trends of which he was already fully aware. He became director of education in 1937, and director-general in 1941 with the passing of the University Co-ordination Act. As director-general he was ex officio a member of the senate and chairman of the academic standing committee of the university, and chairman of the Library Board of Queensland, the National Fitness Council, The Board of Post-primary Studies and Examinations, the Board of Adult Education and the Schools Broadcast Advisory Committee.

Edwards was universally regarded as a successful administrator and a warm human being. However he served through a period of depression and war and under a succession of Labor governments for whom education was never a major political priority. The expansion of secondary education, dear to his heart, was limited by the government's narrow adherence to the scholarship system. Among other things he was able to encourage the growth of libraries and the introduction of audio-visual aids, to re-emphasize the importance of teaching music and art and—a particular triumph—to create the State String Quartet in 1942. He demonstrated in some fine annual reports and public addresses his awareness of innovations in public systems of education elsewhere, but he fundamentally adhered to the tradition of education created for Queensland in 1915 by J. D. Story. When Edwards received an honorary Ph.D. from the university in 1950, Story hailed him as a 'notable product of the National System of Education'.

His reputation rests on the personal qualities of intellectual ability, charm and humanity which he displayed throughout his career. He died in Brisbane on 17 February 1961 and was cremated after a Congregational service. His wife survived him, but their only son had died in 1954.

Select Bibliography

  • E. R. Wyeth, Education in Queensland (Melb, nd, c1953)
  • R. Goodman, Secondary Education in Queensland, 1860-1960 (Canb, 1968)
  • D. J. Murphy et al (eds), Labor in Power: The Labor Party and Governments in Queensland, 1915-57 (Brisb, 1980)
  • Queensland Teachers' Journal, 20 Nov 1951, p 1
  • Dept of Education (Queensland) Archives
  • University of Queensland Archives.

Citation details

J. Lawry, 'Edwards, Lewis David (1885–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/edwards-lewis-david-6095/text10443, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 1 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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