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Rennie, Beatrice Lilias (1893–1971)

by Jill Curnow

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

Beatrice Lilias Rennie (1893-1971), headmistress, was born on 21 September 1893 at Belmont, Dubbo, New South Wales, sixth of eight children of native-born parents Charles Edward Rennie, a draftsman with the Department of Lands, and his wife Lilias, née Millar. The family moved to Chatswood, Sydney, and later to Mosman. Beatrice enjoyed outdoor activities, such as boating, fishing, swimming and walking. Educated at Woodstock, North Sydney, she eventually convinced her father to allow her to attend the University of Sydney (B.A., 1916).

In 1918 she became first assistant-mistress at the Glennie Memorial School, Toowoomba, Queensland; its principal was Miss Grace Lawrance. Miss Rennie taught history, geology and physical culture, and also assisted in the library and with the photography club and school magazine. Her kindly humour and love of scholarship made a deep impression on her students. That she was described as 'tall' was due as much to her imposing presence as to her height.

Misses Lawrance and Rennie travelled to England and the Continent in 1921 and visited many of the best girls' schools. Both women resigned from the Glennie in 1925 with the intention of founding a school in Sydney. They chose a large, old house at 47 Mandolong Road, Mosman, where Queenwood was officially opened on 22 September. Their entrepreneurial courage was remarkable since neither enjoyed perfect health.

The name 'Queenwood' was chosen partly after the school which Miss Lawrance's mother had founded in England and partly because of Miss Rennie's regard for John Ruskin's book, Sesame and Lilies (1865), in which he described 'queenliness'—dignity, courtesy and service—as key aims of a girl's education. She observed that 'we are all daughters of the King of Heaven' and described the school motto, Per aspera ad astra, as providing fine ideas, high standards and a lasting strength of purpose.

By 1926 Queenwood was a registered secondary school. Three years later Miss Rennie was teaching, running the school and caring for her ailing co-principal. In 1932 a combination of the Depression, Lawrance's death in November, and Rennie's successive illnesses meant that Miss Violet Maude Medway (who had joined the staff in 1929) often assisted in managing the school. The two women became co-principals in 1942. Queenwood prospered despite the Depression and World War II. By 1950 Rennie was president of the State branch of the Headmistresses' Association of Australia. She and Medway bought a holiday cottage near the golf course at Leura where Rennie walked on the links with their cat, Ting, who lived to the age of 21.

Miss Rennie continued teaching English, geology, history, zoology and Scripture, though in later years she no longer took the boarders for an early morning swim at Balmoral. The school did well academically. In 1962 Rennie retired as co-principal, but the school remained her home; she worked in the library and helped students, as far as her health permitted. In 1966 the school became a non-profit private company, Queenwood School for Girls Ltd. Miss Rennie suffered from chronic nephritis for many years. She died on 4 September 1971 at Mosman and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Henderson, The Glennie, a Work of Faith (Syd, 1983)
  • V. M. Medway, Queenwood, the First Sixty Years 1925-1985 (Syd, 1986)
  • Queenwood Gazette, 1930, 1936-37, 1939
  • Queenwood School for Girls archives, Mosman, Sydney.

Citation details

Jill Curnow, 'Rennie, Beatrice Lilias (1893–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rennie-beatrice-lilias-11508/text20529, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 21 December 2014.

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

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