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Flynn, Julia Teresa (1878–1947)

by Imelda Palmer

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

Julia Teresa Flynn (1878-1947), educationist, was born on 24 January 1878 at West Melbourne, youngest of six children of Daniel Flynn, grain and corn merchant, and his wife Bridget, née Burke, both Irish-born Catholics. Julia was educated first in Carlton, then at South Melbourne College and later at Presbyterian Ladies' College, where she came under the influence of a brilliant mathematics master, J. P. Wilson. She matriculated in 1893. Three years later she again took the examination, this time with first-class honours in geometry and trigonometry.

On 25 January 1897 she was appointed monitor to Brunswick South State School. In 1900 she entered the newly re-opened Training College, with Frank Tate as principal. Unlike her two elder sisters, who were very successful primary teachers, Julia went on to gain a university degree, due partly to the vision of Tate, who had persuaded the government to allow some college students to stay on to pursue the first year of a degree course. Nine students were chosen initially, among them Julia Flynn. She left college at the end of 1901, having completed a Trained Teachers' Certificate course and first year arts. The degree, undistinguished, was not accomplished till March 1912. Clearly the demands of teaching were great.

On leaving the college, Julia Flynn taught first at Christmas Hills and then at Bright. In 1907 she was appointed to the Continuation School (later Melbourne High School) and was soon recognized as an outstanding teacher of mathematics and a person of 'unselfish disposition and wide sympathies'. In 1914 she was appointed to one of the three newly created positions of inspector of secondary schools, at a time when all senior education posts were held by men. Through long hours, hard work and dedication she rose to senior inspector in 1924, then assistant chief inspector early in 1928. When M. P. Hansen succeeded Tate as director of education in June of that year, Julia Flynn became acting chief inspector of secondary schools. No woman had ever reached so high a level in the Victorian Public Service.

Hansen attempted to block her progress in July 1928, with an advertisement for the vacant chief inspectorship deliberately captioned '(Male Required)'. When pressed, Hansen admitted that he could not conceive of a woman chief inspector. Immediately, powerful women's groups rallied, appeals were made to the 1926 Women's Qualification Act, questions were asked in parliament and the Age took up the cause of women's rights. She finally won the position on appeal from J. A. Seitz, but held it for only a six months probationary period, as Hansen refused to recommend confirmation of the appointment, claiming that she lacked vision and imagination. Not until 1936, with Seitz as director, was she finally appointed chief inspector, a position she held until her retirement on 25 January 1943.

As an inspector and administrator, Miss Flynn was considered formidable, but just. The high standard she required of others was a reflection of her total commitment to the welfare of children and the cause of education. In retirement she worked indefatigably as secondary schools advisory officer to the Catholic Education Office, thereby serving the Church she held so dear. On 14 October 1947, two days after suffering a heart attack, she died at Mount St Evin's Hospital, East Melbourne. She was buried in Melbourne general cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Education Dept (Vic), Vision and Realization, L. J. Blake ed (Melb, 1973)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victorian), 1929, 3rd S, v 179, p 102, 222, 734, 1133
  • Victorian Education Gazette and Teachers' Aid, Sept 1901, Feb 1902, Jan 1928, July 1928, Mar 1943, Oct 1947
  • Australia and New Zealand History of Education Society, La Trobe University, Journal, Nov 1975
  • Age (Melbourne), and Argus (Melbourne), 15 Oct 1947
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 22 Oct 1947, Victorian Dept of Education Archives (Melbourne)
  • Melbourne Diocesan Historical Commission Archives
  • C. R. T. Mathews, Julia Flynn (unpublished pape, privately held).

Citation details

Imelda Palmer, 'Flynn, Julia Teresa (1878–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/flynn-julia-teresa-6201/text10657, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 23 December 2014.

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

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