Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Marks, Gladys Hope (1883–1970)

by Margaret Maxwell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Gladys Hope Marks (1883-1970), university lecturer, was born on 14 December 1883 in Brisbane, fifth child of Benjamin Francis Marks, Tasmanian-born merchant, and his wife Jane Matilda, née Cohen, from Sydney. She was privately educated by governesses and tutors. Despite opposition from her father, in 1905 she enrolled in arts at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1908) and won the MacCallum prize for English essays and the Garton scholarships for French and German. After teaching in private schools for girls in 1908-13, she travelled extensively in Europe and studied phonetics at the Sorbonne in Paris, and at University College, London.

Escaping from Belgium on the outbreak of World War I, she worked in London for Belgian refugees and the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association before returning to Sydney in 1915. She became an active assistant honorary secretary of the Universal Service League, organizing and addressing meetings.

Recruited as an acting lecturer in French at the university by Professor G. G. Nicholson in 1916, Gladys Marks was appointed lecturer in 1921. First-year students in her classes on phonetics and prose found her rigorous discipline somewhat daunting. They regarded with awe this slim, elegant woman whose large, dark eyes compelled their attention, and remembered her pursuit of excellence, moral integrity and illuminating sidelights on French culture. In 1929 and 1936 she was acting head of the department—the first female acting-professor at the university. In 1934 she was appointed officier d'Académie by the French government when awarded les Palmes Académiques.

In 1907-12 Miss Marks had been a committee-member of the various university women students' and graduates' organizations that preceded the reconstituted Sydney University Women's Union, of which she was vice-president in 1919-21. Later she was a vice-president of the Sydney University Women Graduates' Association and in 1930-34 president of the Australian Federation of University Women. Long involved with the National Council of Women of New South Wales, she was international secretary in 1921-26 and became an honorary life vice-president in 1934. She attended congresses of the International Council of Women in Rome in 1914 and Copenhagen in 1924. She was also a council-member of the local League of Nations Union and a founder and executive member of the Business and Professional Women's Club of Sydney. Throughout her life she spoke out against inequality and for the advancement of women.

For many years Gladys Marks lived with her family on the waterfront at Potts Point. Devoted and generous to her conservative Jewish family, she faced problems in maintaining a balance between her life at home and at the university and suffered bouts of illness and nervous depression. She retired in 1943. Her keen wit, penetrating mind and unobtrusive kindness gained her many friends. In the 1920s she was a vice-president of the Sydney University Dramatic Society and the house committee of the Sydney Repertory Theatre Society. A talented amateur violinist, she was a discerning concert-goer and a foundation member of the executive of the Musica Viva Society of Australia. She also supported the Friends of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Gladys Marks died in the Scottish Hospital on 6 January 1970 and was cremated with Jewish forms. She left the bulk of her estate, valued for probate at $196,494, to her three nieces, and $10,000 to the University of Sydney's department of French, to which she had already given £8000 for a travelling scholarship. The State branch of the Australian Federation of University Women established the Gladys Marks memorial fund to assist mature women to complete courses at the university.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Thompson and S. Yorke (eds), Lives Obscurely Great (Syd, 1980)
  • Univ Syd Union, Union Recorder, 3 May 1934
  • National Council of Women News, Aug 1967
  • New South Wales Association of University Women Graduates, Newsletter, Mar 1970
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 Apr 1921, 8 Jan 1970
  • Australian Jewish Times, 12 Feb 1981
  • G. Marks papers (University of Sydney Archives)
  • Australian Federation of University Women, New South Wales, papers (University of Sydney Archives)
  • Business and Professional Women's Club papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • National Council of Women (New South Wales), papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Margaret Maxwell, 'Marks, Gladys Hope (1883–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/marks-gladys-hope-7488/text13051, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 14 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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