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Smart, Marjorie Gordon (1911–1982)

by Barbara Green

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Marjorie Gordon Smart (1911-1982), diplomat and college principal, was born on 20 May 1911 at Winnipeg, Canada, daughter of Rev. Dr Charles Gordon, Presbyterian minister and later moderator of the church in Canada, and his wife Helen, née King, a graduate of the University of Manitoba. Her father also wrote popular novels under the pen name ‘Ralph Connor’. Service to the church and education were highly prized in her family.

Graduating with an honours degree in English and history from the University of Manitoba, Marjorie became secretary (1942-46) to Malcolm MacDonald, Britain’s high commissioner to Canada. She was personal assistant (1947) to Sir Gordon Munro, head of the British treasury’s delegation to Washington, DC. In 1947 she sat for and passed the Canadian foreign-service examination when it was first open to female candidates. She joined the Canadian Department of External Affairs in 1948 and was vice-consul in New York and press officer with the delegation to the United Nations in 1949-53.

On 11 April 1953 at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York City, Marjorie Gordon married Edward Kenneth Smart (1891-1961), the Australian consul-general in New York. Smart had been born on 23 May 1891 at Kew, Melbourne, second child of Victorian-born Edward Andrew Smart, solicitor, and his wife, New South Wales-born Helen Florence, née Lupton. Educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, he was commissioned in the Permanent Military Forces in 1910. On 12 June 1915 he married English-born Phyllis Evelyn Robertson (d.1950) at Christ Church, South Yarra. In World War I he saw action in the Australian Imperial Force as an artillery officer. For his gallantry and devotion to duty on the Western Front, he won the Military Cross while serving with the 55th Siege Artillery Battery in 1916 and the Distinguished Service Order while commanding the 110th Field Artillery (Howitzer) Battery in 1918. He finished the war as a major, having been twice mentioned in despatches and twice wounded.

Continuing his PMF career, in 1939 Smart became third military member of the Military Board as a major general. Next year he was promoted to temporary lieutenant general and appointed commander of Southern Command. He was head of the Australian Military Mission, Washington (1942), and Australian army representative, London (1942-46). He transferred to the Retired List in July 1946. Smart commenced his diplomatic career as Australian consul-general, San Francisco, United States of America (1946-50) and became Australian consul-general in New York (1950-54). A good host and conversationalist, he mixed easily with people.

Marjorie Smart resigned her diplomatic post when she married, and following her husband’s retirement in 1954 the couple moved to Melbourne. Marjorie became active in voluntary work, particularly for the University of Melbourne; she chaired the appeal for Union House in 1955 and the women’s committee for the University Appeal in 1958. Survived by the son and daughter of his first marriage, Kenneth Smart died of a duodenal ulcer and haematemesis on 2 May 1961 at Heidelberg, Melbourne, and, after a funeral with full military honours, was cremated. Marjorie worked as an immigration officer (1962-63) for the Department of Immigration, completing five sea voyages to and from England. She became an Australian citizen in 1963.

On 13 January 1964 Marjorie Smart assumed office as the first principal (1964-75) of St Hilda’s College, University of Melbourne. Under her leadership student numbers rose from 87 to 165 and several new buildings were constructed, including the Alice Paton Library, two additional residential blocks, a chapel and a junior common room. In 1973 she oversaw the admission of the first male students. She was appointed AM in June 1975 and retired later that year.

Following a stroke in 1976 Smart convalesced in Melbourne before returning to Canada. She died on 23 May 1982 at Winnipeg. After her death St Hilda’s College established the Marjorie Smart fellowship to fund a public lecture series. In 1981 a fourth residential building had been named in her honour. Her portrait by Peter Zageris hangs in the college dining hall.

Select Bibliography

  • Sabretache, vol 32, no 3, 1991, p 5
  • New York Times, 12 Apr 1953, p 93
  • Herald (Melbourne) 16 Apr 1956, p 17, 16 Jan 1964, p 25, 25 Feb 1964, p 19
  • Age (Melbourne), 3 May 1961, p 3, 28 Oct 1963, p 12, 21 Nov 1975, p 20
  • Archives (St Hilda’s College)
  • Honours and Awards database (Australian War Memorial)
  • B833, item 6669477 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

Barbara Green, 'Smart, Marjorie Gordon (1911–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/smart-marjorie-gordon-14883/text26073, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 25 August 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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