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Fidler, Mabel Maude (1871–1960)

by Marjorie Jacobs

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

This is a shared entry with Isabel Margaret Fidler

Isabel Margaret Fidler (1869-1952), tutor to women students, and Mabel Maude Fidler (1871-1960), headmistress, were born on 21 March 1869 in Sydney and 2 March 1871 at Wollongong, New South Wales, second and third of five children of William Fidler (d.1874), Wesleyan minister, and his wife Alice Maude Bedford (formerly Brennand). William Fidler, son of a Wesleyan missionary, was born in Trinidad and arrived in Australia in 1857. Isabel and Mabel were educated to matriculation level at Emily Baxter's Argyle School in Surry Hills. Isabel won the Fairfax prize at the junior public examination in 1884 and was first prox. acc. at the senior examination in 1887. Mabel shared the senior Fairfax prize in 1889.

Isabel entered the University of Sydney in 1895 and graduated B.A. in 1898 with first-class honours in English, French and Latin. Two years later she took up duties as tutor to the women students. Although at first she offered tutorial assistance in Latin and French, she increasingly tried to improve the conditions for women students, promoting their awareness of the opportunities and obligations of university life. She was president of the Sydney University Women's Association (Union) in 1903 and 1908. The senate's decision in 1914 to provide a building for women's activities within the university led to the reorganization of the women's union. The years 1915-21, when Isabel Fidler was its president, saw the building of (Sir W. M.) Manning House and the organization of its administration under the women's union. She was president again in 1923-25 and 1927-28. Thereafter as vice-president, with her office located in Manning House, she provided administrative guidance until she retired in 1939. Her services were recognized when its reading room was named the Isabel Fidler Room.

A foundation committee-member of the Sydney University Women Graduates' Association, Isabel was president in 1928 and later a vice-president. In 1946 she was appointed an honorary life vice-president. Her concern for the status of women in public and social life led her to support the National Council of Women of New South Wales. She was convenor of its education committee in 1912-37 and vice-president for about twenty years. A vice-president of the Sydney University Women's Society (Sydney University Women's Settlement) 1900-21, chairman of committees (1921-32) and president of the reorganized and renamed Sydney University Settlement (1932-45), and a vice-president (1945-52) she was active in the acquisition and maintenance of the centre in Edward Street, Chippendale, and the development of its clubs for the children and women of the area. Her recognition of the need for professional training in social work led her to support the Board of Social Study and Training from its inception in 1928; she was a member of the executive committee (1928-33) and vice-president 1934-40.

Small in stature, composed in manner, Isabel Fidler enjoyed the formal life of the university. She was appointed M.B.E. in 1939. She died on 5 June 1952 in hospital at Lindfield and was cremated with Baptist forms. Her portrait by W. A. Bowring, painted in 1931, hangs in Manning House, and a memorial garden is located nearby.

Mabel Fidler was a governess for some years. This experience and the example of Emily Baxter encouraged her to open a school when she and her sisters built a house at Gordon in 1899, which they named Ravenswood. The school, opened in 1901 on land adjacent to the house, shared its name and grew rapidly as a non-sectarian, private day place for girls. By 1924, when it was sold to the Methodist Church, it was the largest of its type in Sydney, with an enrolment of 180, and was highly regarded for the quality of its teaching and its achievements in sport. Mabel Fidler took a personal interest in the pupils from kindergarten to leaving certificate. A quiet woman, restrained and firm in manner, she attracted well-qualified and enthusiastic teachers; she was a vice-president of the Classical Association of New South Wales. She retired from Ravenswood in 1925.

Both sisters then moved to Pymble where Mabel kept house and cultivated the garden which they both loved. Her last years were spent with her sister-in-law at Chatswood where she died in hospital on 25 February 1960 and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • Ravenswood in Retrospect (Syd, 1952)
  • A. G. McGrath, A Short History of the N.S.W. Association of University Women Graduates (Syd, 1970)
  • National Council of Women of New South Wales, Seventy Five Years, 1896-1971 (Syd, 1971)
  • University of Sydney Union, Union Recorder, 16 Apr 1931, 30 Mar 1939, 19 June 1952, 27 Nov 1952, 9 July 1964
  • University of Sydney Women's Settlement, Annual Report, 1932-53 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Board of Social Study and Training, Annual Report, and minutes, 1928-1940, and Senate minutes, and University of Sydney Women's Union, Minutes of Board meetings (University of Sydney Archives).

Citation details

Marjorie Jacobs, 'Fidler, Mabel Maude (1871–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fidler-mabel-maude-6362/text10591, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 30 August 2014.

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

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