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Morres, Elsie Frances (1874–1958)

by Lyndsay Gardiner

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

Elsie Frances Morres (1874-1958), teacher, was born on 6 September 1874 at Sandhurst (Bendigo), Victoria, daughter of Henry Morres, surveyor, and his wife Emily Augusta, née Moore. Starting school when only 4, she matriculated from Tintern Ladies' College, Melbourne, in 1888 aged 13. In 1890 she enrolled at the University of Melbourne and as a non-resident student of Ormond College. Her course was made more difficult by the absence of both Greek and Latin in her secondary education, but she was determined and hard working; she was awarded the exhibition in Natural Philosophy I and graduated B.A. in 1901, having been president of the Committee of University Women. She received her M.A. in 1903 and later maintained her interest in university affairs, being for some years on the committee of the Victorian Women Graduates' Association.

Since childhood, when she had 'taught' her brother's toy soldiers, Elsie Morres had wished to become a teacher. She served a seven-year apprenticeship at Melbourne Church of England Girls' Grammar School, and became, in 1906, founding headmistress of The Hermitage, a new Anglican grammar school for girls at Newtown, Geelong. She remained headmistress for over twenty-seven years, retiring at the end of first term 1933.

During her years as headmistress, The Hermitage's enrolments grew from 45 to 200. It grew physically as more properties were bought, new buildings erected and old ones modified; it grew academically and in sporting prowess, but remained essentially a family school. The emphasis was always on boarders, particularly girls from Western District families, to whom the headmistress regarded herself as a mother. She later commented that though she had borne no children she had daughters unnumbered.

The Hermitage under Miss Morres maintained close ties with the Church of England. Herself a sincere Christian, she had qualified as associate of theology, and she strove to impart to the girls her deep personal faith and the principles and precepts of the Church. In 1926 she had the joy of seeing Archbishop Lees dedicate 'the Sanctuary' at the school.

Many of her 'daughters' went on to the university, often as residents of Janet Clarke Hall, and embarked on professional careers, but Miss Morres was not a feminist in the post-World War II sense of the term; she regarded women as equal but different. To her mind a girl 'should be a woman and a home-maker first and let her business or her profession come after'. This belief and the realization that non-academic girls had other talents to be developed, led her to pioneer at The Hermitage a course in domestic economy which included dressmaking, cookery and laundry.

After her retirement Elsie Morres lived in a cottage in the Dandenongs, but maintained close contact with the school and with her former pupils. She died at Footscray on 17 November 1958 and was cremated. A portrait by William Dargie is at Geelong Grammar School, Highton.

Select Bibliography

  • I. Southall, The Story of The Hermitage (Melb, 1956)
  • The Hermitage, Coo-ee, 1932, 1933, 1958
  • Geelong Advertiser, 15 Feb, 18 Dec 1906, 18 Dec 1907, 16 Dec 1908
  • Age (Melbourne), 21 Apr 1933, 18 Nov 1958
  • M. Y. Blight, Attitudes Towards Women in Victoria Gaining a University Education and Subsequent Graduate Employment 1900-1920 (B.A. Hons thesis, Monash University, 1970).

Citation details

Lyndsay Gardiner, 'Morres, Elsie Frances (1874–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/morres-elsie-frances-7658/text13395, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 21 October 2018.

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

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