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Robertson, Margery Fraser (1858–1933)

by B. Fincher

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Margery Fraser Robertson (1858-1933), teacher and educationist, was born on 1 July 1858 at Emerald Hill (South Melbourne), eldest of nine children of James Robertson (d.1883), carpenter, and his wife Margaret, née Fraser, Scots who had migrated from Inverness in 1854 and married in 1857.

In 1873 Margery Robertson became a pupil-teacher at Emerald Hill State School, and in 1878 qualified to enter the Training Institution, where she was greatly influenced by the advanced educational ideas of the principal, F. J. Gladman. Having graduated with the trained teacher's certificate she gained appointments at country and metropolitan schools, teaching classes for matriculation, civil service and state school exhibition examinations, in addition to primary grades, for there were then no government secondary schools. One of the few women to obtain the Education Department's second honours certificate, Miss Robertson in 1900 reached the highest promotion level then attainable by women, the second subdivision of class two on the Education Department's classified roll.

When the Continuation School was opened in 1905, she was selected as a temporary assistant. Following an excellent report from Joseph Hocking, the school principal, she was appointed in March 1907 senior mistress, 'next in seniority to the Principal'. In 1909 Miss Robertson was designated head mistress.

Her students at the Continuation School (later Melbourne High School), found her a firm disciplinarian who gave much, but demanded class participation and written work of a very high standard. They praised her thorough preparation and the careful coverage she made of the external examination syllabuses. They recalled that she wrote 'BE STRONG' on many blackboards, advocating that they adopt this watchword. At her regular girls' assemblies she stressed the need for women's abilities to be extended to best serve the nation. She urged the girls to develop their individuality, but to value co-operation among women. Her long term as president of the Old Girls' Association, formed in 1909, allowed her to influence some young women for many years. On her retirement in 1922, Hocking commended her 'sane judgement, wide sympathy and love of her work'.

Margery Robertson's contribution as an educationist extended beyond her work in schools. She served on a major committee which revised the programme for infant departments, was a council-member of Emily McPherson College of Domestic Economy and one of three departmental representatives on the Victorian Council of Public Education from its inception in 1911. For the V.C.P.E. she convened a committee which reported in 1912 that women teachers in other Australian States, and in London, had better promotion opportunities than were available in Victoria.

Respect for learning, high moral principles and a strict code of personal behaviour may have resulted from Miss Robertson's Presbyterian upbringing. She had learned, too, the need for strength and determination in her battle for qualifications and a career in a man's world. An attractive woman, tall and robust, she dressed in dark or quiet colours, her hair beautifully groomed, wearing always a black velvet band around her throat. Usually very serious, she had natural dignity, some said a commanding presence; was prim, perhaps, and very proper.

As a teacher, and as a member of policy-making committees, this austere, somewhat lonely woman was an important contributor to educational thought and practice for the first fifty years of 'free, compulsory and secular' education in Victoria. She died, unmarried, at her family home at South Yarra on 9 January 1933 and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Hocking, Story of the Melbourne High School, 1905-1921 (Melb, 1922)
  • Education Department (Victoria), Vision and Realisation, 1, L. J. Blake ed (Melb, 1973)
  • A. Inch, Honour the Work: A History of Melbourne High School (Melb, 1977)
  • Melbourne Continuation School, Ours, Sept 1907–Sept 1927
  • Argus (Melbourne), 12 Jan 1933
  • Outline of Career of Margery Robertson (typescript, records, Education History Services, Victorian Education Department, Melbourne).

Citation details

B. Fincher, 'Robertson, Margery Fraser (1858–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/robertson-margery-fraser-8238/text14423, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 1 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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