Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Amy Hannah Adamson (1893–1963)

by Rosemary Mammino

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with May Mabel Adamson

ADAMSON SISTERS: May Mabel (1891-1966) and Amy Hannah (1893-1963), headmistresses, were born on 28 March 1891 and 4 August 1893, respectively at Rockhampton and Cooktown, Queensland, fourth and fifth daughters of John Adamson, a Primitive Methodist clergyman who later became a politician, and his wife, Caroline, née Jones, both English born. Committed to the emancipation of women, John placed a high value on the academic achievement of his six surviving children.

May was educated at Maryborough Girls' Grammar School where she won a medal for botany at the senior examination. She began a teaching career as an assistant on probation at Maryborough East State School. By 1927, when she was appointed to her fifth school, at Roma, she had begun to suffer ill health that obliged her to take periods of leave. Her former principal at Brisbane Central School described her as 'a most conscientious teacher. Her work is always well-prepared. She gives much thought to the organization of subject matter. She is cultured and has a good influence on trainees'. After almost five years of country service, May returned to Brisbane to teach at Milton (1932-35) and from 1936 at the Central Technical College's Domestic Science High School. In 1927 she had commenced part-time study and later graduated from the University of Queensland (B.A., 1940).

The life sciences were her great forte. An innovative teacher of physiology and zoology, she took her pupils on regular field-trips and instructed student-teachers in physical training. She was tall and slim, with dark hair and a commanding gaze, and always well groomed. A strict but fair teacher, whose students both feared and admired her, she was also an active member of the Queensland Teachers' Union. In October 1953 she was appointed principal of the Domestic Science High School; strong willed and determined, she did not find it easy to delegate authority. May retired on 30 June 1957. She died on 3 October 1966 at Wahroonga, Sydney, and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Educated at Maryborough Girls' Grammar School, on 15 November 1912 Amy was appointed assistant-teacher on probation at Eagle Junction State School. In the next three years she regularly resigned from teaching—in February or March—to attend the University of Queensland (B.A., 1916) on a government scholarship and just as regularly was re-engaged. After graduating, she successively served as a secondary teacher, senior instructor and principal at seven other schools in southern Queensland. Following the foundation in 1933 of the State Commercial High School and College, Brisbane, Amy was one of three teachers selected as floor-master, a position involving control over large numbers of students. In 1943, while still a teacher, she was officer-in-charge of the commercial section of the State's Juvenile Employment Bureau.

Both Misses Adamson were particularly interested in the education of girls and in equal employment opportunities. Amy regarded herself as 'the problem child of the Department' because she saw no reason why women should have limited promotion in the Department of Public Instruction. In 1947 she applied for the post of senior instructor, general branch, State Commercial High School and College: although unsuccessful, she won her subsequent appeal against the appointment of a male colleague. Within eight months, however, she was transferred to Maryborough State High and Intermediate School (Girls) as acting-principal and on 7 July 1949 became principal. There she encouraged relationships between the school and the community, and initiated improvements for both pupils and teachers. Despite suffering coronary disease from 1953, she did not retire until 31 December 1959.

Very short and rather plump, with dark eyes and hair, and a lively personality, Amy was held in high esteem by her colleagues and remembered with affection by her students. She died of myocardial infarction on 19 June 1963 at Clayfield, Brisbane, and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Bonnin (ed), Dazzling Prospects (Brisb, 1988)
  • Department of Education, staff cards of A. and M. Adamson (Dept of Education Archives, Brisbane)
  • Department of Education, personnel files of A. and M. Adamson (Queensland State Archives)
  • Domestic Science High School files, and Maryborough State High School (Girls) files (Queensland State Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

Rosemary Mammino, 'Adamson, Amy Hannah (1893–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


4 August, 1893
Cooktown, Queensland, Australia


19 June, 1963 (aged 69)
Clayfield, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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