Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Marks, Harriet Elizabeth (1900–1989)

by Tom Watson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Harriet Elizabeth Marks (1900-1989), schoolteacher and educationist, was born on 25 November 1900 at Charters Towers, Queensland, elder child of George Marks, a miner from Cornwall, England, and his Scottish-born wife Harriet Ann, née McGregor. Her brother (b.1905) died in infancy. In 1906-10 the family lived in Cornwall. They returned to Charters Towers, where young Harriet attended the local state high school; she won an open university scholarship in 1919. While studying science at the University of Queensland (B.Sc., 1923) she lived at the Women’s College, when Freda Bage was principal. She taught physics and mathematics in high schools and technical colleges at Cairns (1923-27), Brisbane (1928-36) and Toowoomba (1938-44), with other shorter appointments in between. Influenced by Marianne Brydon, she became interested in teaching domestic science.

In 1944 Marks was transferred back to Brisbane to devise and supervise teaching of a homemaking course—including such subjects as dressmaking, cooking, physiology, hygiene, nutrition, mothercraft and handicraft—for members of the Australian Women’s Army and the Australian Army Medical Women’s services. From 1946 to 1951 she was in charge of a Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme program, administered by the Central Technical College, that provided day and evening classes in dressmaking, cookery, pastry-making, cake-icing and millinery for ex-servicewomen (and men). In 1944-53 she was also a resident tutor, and sometime assistant to Bage, at Women’s College.

Appointed principal of the Domestic Science High School, Brisbane, in 1951, Marks became inspectress of women’s work in Queensland secondary schools two years later. She moved around the State, examining the teaching of domestic science, and also supervised the domestic science cars that, hooked up to a train, travelled around the State making six-week stops at remote locations. Students were required to cook meals and to serve them on tables covered with clean, ironed tablecloths, and decorated with flowers.

Fascinated by the science of nutrition, Marks founded (1960) the Home Economics Association of Queensland. In 1966 she became the first female president of the State’s Institute of Inspectors of Schools. She retired that year and in 1968 published Nutrition and Elementary Food Science, a textbook that revealed her broad scientific approach to the teaching of domestic science; a British edition followed in 1970. She was elected a fellow of the Australian College of Education (1970) and of the Home Economics Association of Australia (1987).

A long-time member of the University of Queensland Women Graduates’ Association (later the Queensland Association of University Women), Marks always maintained a close link with Women’s College, her ‘second home’. She was a council member for many years until 1986, Old Collegians Association president (1950) and a member of the building appeal and standing committees. In 1989 she was made a founding fellow of the college; the dining hall had been named after her in 1981.

Never married, Marks died on 1 March 1989 at Auchenflower and was cremated with Uniting Church forms. An obituarist wrote that she combined ‘creative vision with down to earth practical good sense and a lively sharp wit’. The Harriet Marks bursary, financed by a bequest of about $63,000 made by Marks, was established in 1990 at the University of Queensland.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Brotherton, A College is Built (1973)
  • G. Logan, A Centenary History of Home Economics Education in Queensland, 1881-1981 (1981)
  • R. Bonnin (ed), Dazzling Prospects (1988)
  • T. Watson, ‘Harriet Elizabeth Marks’ in E. Clark and T. Watson (eds), Soldiers of the Service, vol 3 (2006)
  • Newsletter (Home Economics Association of Australia), Mar 1989, p 3
  • Univ of Qld, Women’s College, Calendar, 1989, pp 18, 49
  • H. E. Marks, reminiscences (ts, 1977, copy held on ADB file)
  • Marks staff record (Education Queensland Library Services, Brisbane).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Tom Watson, 'Marks, Harriet Elizabeth (1900–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/marks-harriet-elizabeth-14923/text26112, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 6 December 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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