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Gibson, Gladys Ruth (1901–1972)

by Philippa L. Fletcher

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Gladys Ruth Gibson (1901-1972), educationist and women's leader, was born on 29 December 1901 at Goodwood Park, Adelaide, eldest of four children of James Ambrose Gibson, a travelling collector for the South Australian Blind and Deaf and Dumb Institution, and his wife Emma, née Keeley. Educated at Goodwood Public and Unley High schools, Ruth began work in 1919 as a student-teacher at Goodwood. Her mother died in 1923, after three years of illness. Ruth assumed most of her responsibilities and became the centre of strength in a closely knit family, remaining so all her life. She obtained her diploma from the Teachers' Training College and studied part time at the University of Adelaide (B.A., 1937; Dip.Ed., 1940).

In 1921 Miss Gibson had been appointed to Westbourne Park Public School. She later taught at primary and technical high schools in Adelaide and in the country before becoming inspector of girls schools (1941) and of secondary schools (1952). At a conference of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Institutes of Inspectors of Schools, held in Perth in 1954, she delivered a paper, 'Education's Part in International Understanding'. During her early career she had been influenced by Adelaide Miethke, and brought energy, dedication and commitment to women's education. Like Miethke, she promoted the careers of promising young teachers. A member of the Public Examinations Board (1942-63) and of the Technical High Schools Curriculum Board, she convened the English and social studies committees of the latter. She was a foundation member, honorary treasurer and a fellow (1963) of the Australian College of Education, a founder of St Ann's College, University of Adelaide, and president (1960-61) of the South Australian University Women Graduates' Association. She retired from teaching in 1961.

While influential and respected within her profession, Gibson was better known for her work with the National Council of Women—at the State, national and international levels. In 1938 she had been one of ten Australian delegates (and their secretary) to the jubilee conference of the International Council of Women, Edinburgh. As South Australian president (1950-54) of the N.C.W., she arranged and headed a women's welcome to Queen Elizabeth II in 1954. Gibson was president (1952-56) of the National Council of Women of Australia and vice-president (1953-56) of the international body. The Federal government had selected her as an official guest at the coronation in 1953, and as a representative at the tenth and eleventh sessions of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, held in Geneva (1956) and New York (1957); at the 1957 meeting she was elected rapporteur to the commission. These sessions examined women's access to education, economic opportunity, tax and legal questions, and the nationality of married women. Gibson travelled extensively to attend conferences and executive meetings of the International Council of Women, and of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Her wide interests also led to her involvement as an office-bearer in the State division of the United Nations Association of Australia, in the Soroptimist and Lyceum clubs, Adelaide, in the Good Neighbour Council of South Australia and in the State section of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia. In addition, she served on selection committees for Churchill fellowships and nursing scholarships. These duties never overshadowed her concern for individuals, shown in her many practical acts of kindness and consideration. She was a devout Anglican. Gibson lived in East Terrace, and enjoyed carpentry, gardening and motoring. Although not radical in her views, she was a feminist of her day and a believer in social justice. No position she held was a sinecure: she worked at all of them, and was impressive both as a chairwoman and a public speaker. Tall and strongly built, she dressed impeccably and had considerable presence. Some found her intimidating, but those who knew her appreciated her intelligence, warmth and humour, her generous and unpretentious nature, her skill as a hostess and her attachment to her family.

Gibson had been appointed O.B.E. in 1953 and was elevated to C.B.E. in 1970. She died of cancer on 23 August 1972 at Belair and was cremated. In 1974 a bronze sundial was erected in her memory at the Adelaide Festival Centre; from 1977 the Ruth Gibson memorial award has assisted women to further their studies and careers.

Select Bibliography

  • Greater Than Their Knowing (Adel, 1986)
  • Education Gazette of South Australia, 2 Oct 1972, p 319
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 19 Dec 1961
  • National Council of Women (South Australia) Archives, Adelaide
  • private information.

Citation details

Philippa L. Fletcher, 'Gibson, Gladys Ruth (1901–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gibson-gladys-ruth-10299/text18223, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 22 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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