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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Polglaze, Muriel Jean (1911–1978)

by Lynne Williams

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Muriel Jean Polglaze (1911-1978), economist, was born on 21 May 1911 at Ararat, Victoria, daughter of William Henry Polglaze, schoolteacher, and his wife Annie Murdison, née Talbett, both Victorian born. The family moved to Canterbury and Jean attended Melbourne Girls' High School. Professor (Sir) Douglas Copland lived near the Polglazes and probably encouraged her to enter the University of Melbourne (B.Com., 1932; M.Com., 1936). After graduating, she remained in the faculty of commerce as Copland's research assistant. From 1933 she also worked as a tutor.

While holding (1934-35) a Kilmany scholarship for economic research, Miss Polglaze wrote a thesis on business profits in relation to changes in economic activity in Australia. In 1936 she was appointed temporary lecturer in economics. A newspaper article described her as 'modest', 'graceful' and 'golden-haired'. Awarded a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship, she visited (1937-38) universities in England, Sweden and the United States of America, 'studying the measurement and analysis of investment, and familiarizing herself with techniques that might be applied to Australian data'. She also studied the measurement of business cycles. In 1939 she returned to the University of Melbourne as lecturer in statistical method.

On Copland's recommendation, the Federal government established in 1940 a statistical section in the Department of Defence Co-ordination (later the Department of Defence) with Polglaze as part-time head. Her unit was responsible for analysing data provided by the departments of the Army, the Navy, Air, Munitions, and Aircraft Production with the aim of presenting to the War Cabinet, at regular intervals, a 'picture of the Australian war effort'. Working with minimum time and under difficult circumstances, she and her staff were required to produce information that was accurate, concise and easily understood. For her services she was appointed M.B.E. (1952).

After World War II Polglaze resumed full-time teaching at the university and in 1946 was appointed senior lecturer in the new department of economics. In 1953 she was promoted to associate-professor. She taught several honours courses, but specialized in statistical method. 'Polly', as she came to be affectionately known, advised honours students on their careers and guided some of them in their choice of postgraduate study abroad. Her standard practice was to invite the best honours students to continue in the department as tutors while pursuing a master's degree part time. This course gave them the chance to find out whether they were suited to academic life.

In addition to lecturing and tutoring, Polglaze served as sub-dean of the faculty of economics and commerce and as acting-head of the department of economics. She sat on numerous university, faculty and departmental committees. A 'perfectionist' and 'at times a hard task-master', she had 'a pleasant personality and delightful sense of humour, which was not always readily recognized by those who did not know her well'. After five years of poor health, Polglaze retired on 31 March 1977. She died of ischaemic heart disease on 19 June 1978 at Box Hill and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • University of Melbourne, Staff News, 6, Aug 1978, p 91
  • Economic Record, 54, Dec 1978, p 406.

Citation details

Lynne Williams, 'Polglaze, Muriel Jean (1911–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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