Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Woodcock, Lucy Godiva (1889–1968)

by Bruce Mitchell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Lucy Godiva Woodcock (1889-1968), teacher and trade union leader, was born on 23 February 1889 at Granville, Sydney, daughter of Thomas Woodcock, a railway surveyor from Jersey, Channel Islands, and his native-born wife Janet, née Howieson. Appointed to Pitt Town Public School as a pupil-teacher in October 1906, Lucy was transferred in May 1907 to Parramatta South where she completed the four-year training and teaching period. As a qualified primary teacher, she taught at Eden (1910-11), Coledale (1912), Lidcombe (1913-20) and Darlington (1921-27). She completed by evening study two degrees at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1922; B.Ec., 1924) where she was influenced by Professor Robert Irvine who broadened her feminism into a more general radicalism. Late in 1927 she went to London for a year's exchange teaching. On her return in 1929, she was promoted to first assistant at Arncliffe and then Cessnock, and later to mistress at Grafton (1930), Abbotsford (1931) and finally Erskineville (1933) where she remained until her retirement in 1953. During the Depression she organized food and clothing for local children.

Throughout her career Lucy Woodcock was actively involved in the Teachers' Association of New South Wales, and from 1918 the New South Wales Teachers' Federation of which she was a long-standing member of the executive (1924-27, 1931-53); in 1934-53 she was senior vice-president. A tireless campaigner for the rights of women teachers, she opposed the Married Women (Lecturers and Teachers) Dismissal Act of 1932 (repealed 1947) and was prominent in campaigns to achieve salary restoration, a teachers' certificate, and equal pay and opportunities for female teachers. She was an author of Justice Versus Tradition (1925), produced by women teachers for the equal pay campaign, and jointly chaired with Muriel Heagney the Council of Action for Equal Pay, founded in 1937. When the federation affiliated in 1942 with the Labor Council of New South Wales and the Australasian Council of Trade Unions, she was one of the first delegates to both bodies. In 1942-44 she was a member of the senate of the University of Sydney.

Her twenty years in the union's second highest elected position was a tribute to her personal popularity and to her ability to remain above factional struggles. Miss Woodcock served beside the long-term president Arthur McGuinness and with the communist Sam Lewis. She retained her position when a vigorous anti-communist movement helped Harry Heath to defeat Lewis in 1952. In her retirement she was prominent in the civil rights case over the apparent victimization of Lewis by the Public Service Board, to which Heath had been appointed. Her pamphlet, The Lewis Case and You (1956), trenchantly analysed the case and its political ramifications.

A strong-faced woman, with her hair pulled back severely above emphatic brows and alert eyes, Woodcock carried her crusades for equality, justice and peace beyond her profession. In campaigning against the dismissal of married teachers she had been supported by the United Associations of Women, of which she became vice-president after retiring from teaching and president in 1957-68. A foundation member (1937) of the New Education Fellowship (World Education Fellowship), she was its second president, then a vice-president until her death. Prominent in the Australian peace movement, she provoked controversy by attending the Stockholm peace meeting as an observer in 1954 and next year attended the World Peace Congress in Helsinki. She twice visited China as a delegate of the Australian Peace Council and helped to found the Australia-China Society. The Australian Aborigines Evangelical Fellowship was set up at a meeting at her Enfield flat in 1956. Lucy Woodcock died on 29 February 1968 at Ashfield, Sydney, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • B. A. Mitchell, Teachers, Education, and Politics (Brisb, 1975)
  • W. Mitchell, 50 Years of Feminist Achievement (Syd, 1979)
  • G. Phelan, Women in Action in the Federation (Syd, 1981)
  • New South Wales Teachers' Federation, Education (Sydney), Feb 1954
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Mar 1968
  • Department of Education (New South Wales) records (Sydney).

Citation details

Bruce Mitchell, 'Woodcock, Lucy Godiva (1889–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/woodcock-lucy-godiva-9172/text16197, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 24 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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