Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Rowntree, Amy (1885–1962)

by Grant Rodwell

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

Amy Rowntree (1885-1962), educationist, was born on 13 July 1885 in Hobart, fourth child of Francis Rowntree, engineer, and his wife Anne Maria, née Fearnley. Her great-grandfather Edward Casson Rowntree had been transported to Hobart from York, England, in 1830. Amy attended Battery Point Model School and in 1902 became a student-teacher there. In April 1906, after appointment to Geeveston State School, she joined the first student intake at the Philip Smith Training College, Hobart; winning a State exhibition, she was granted a further year of college and university attendance.

After teaching for four years Miss Rowntree studied kindergarten methods at Teachers' College, Sydney, under Martha Simpson in 1912-13. Returning to Hobart, she became mistress of method at the Elizabeth Street Practising School with responsibility for training infant-teachers and in 1919 was appointed to the new position of inspector of infant-schools, the first female inspector of schools in Tasmania. She also graduated from the University of Tasmania (B.A., 1919; M.A., 1921).

A slight, dark, serene figure, known to close colleagues as Miss Amy, she established a hallmark for Tasmanian career women. Although occasionally infatuated with colleague or student, she declared that 'a professional woman must necessarily be cut off from many of the joys of womanhood … must be in a position to travel and to surround her life with the means of intellectual culture and physical care'. Her own work entailed visits to Britain, Europe and North America in 1923-24 and 1938-39.

Under Miss Rowntree's control Tasmanian state school infant-classes reached a high standard, with art and music included in the curriculum. She combined the best of the traditional Froebelian with the more recent Montessorian methods to suit Tasmanian society and in the 1920s experimented with the Dalton plan, a Massachusetts curriculum method. An articulate public speaker, she promoted the ideals of early childhood education as applicable to general primary education, a concept several progressive primary schools adopted in the 1930s. She also helped to develop a curriculum for the pioneering rural area-schools.

After retiring in 1945, Amy Rowntree acted briefly as a recruiting officer for the Education Department and later as curriculum adviser. She aided the production of a documentary film on Tasmanian area-schools, 'Over the Hill', and helped to organize the 1946 New Education Fellowship Conference. Chairwoman of the Better Homes for Australia Society (Tasmanian branch), she was active in the Fellowship of Australian Writers, Royal Society of Tasmania, University Women Graduates' Association, Arts Club, Business and Professional Women's Club, the French Circle, Tasmanian Historical Research Association and the Battery Point Progress Association. She was appointed O.B.E. in 1949.

Miss Amy lived with her younger sister Miss Frances (Fearn) at their waterfront home Bramble Carr, Battery Point. Devout members of St George's Anglican Church, they welcomed student visitors and pursued their favourite recreations—historical writing for Amy and water-colour painting for Fearn. Miss Rowntree published many newspaper articles and several books on local history. She died at Battery Point on 4 March 1962 and was cremated. In 1965 a trust fund for infant-teaching scholarships was established by public donation in her memory.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Turney (ed), Pioneers of Australian Education, vol 3 (Syd, 1983)
  • D. Phillips, Making More Adequate Provision (Hob, 1985)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 5, 7 Mar 1962, 2 Aug, 13, 20 Nov 1965
  • Folio Ed 13 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Grant Rodwell, 'Rowntree, Amy (1885–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rowntree-amy-8289/text14527, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 25 October 2014.

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

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