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Maybanke Susannah Anderson (1845–1927)

by Beverley Kingston

This article was published:

Maybanke Susannah Anderson (1845-1927), feminist and educationist, was born on 16 February 1845 at Kingston-on-Thames, Surrey, England, daughter of Henry Selfe, plumber, and his wife Elizabeth, née Smith. She arrived in Sydney in January 1855 with her parents and brothers including Norman and was educated as a teacher, which she later attributed to her mother's 'strong personality'.

On 3 September 1867 at St Philip's Church of England, Sydney, Maybanke married Edmund Kay Wolstenholme, a timber merchant from West Maitland; by 1871 they were living at Balmain and he later became an accountant. Late in the 1870s the Wolstenholmes moved to the outskirts of Marrickville and by 1882 had built a large new home, Maybanke, in spacious grounds. Deserted by her unemployed husband in December 1884, she began to advertise a school next year. Over the next decade she built up a considerable reputation for Maybanke College through its modern teaching methods, the success of its pupils, especially in university examinations, and through her own public activities. In 1892 she divorced Wolstenholme for desertion, under Sir Alfred Stephen's Divorce Amendment and Extension Act.

In 1891 Maybanke was a foundation vice-president of the Womanhood Suffrage League of New South Wales and president in 1893-96. From 1892 she was also a member of the Women's Literary Society, a group which had serious intellectual and feminist aspirations, and in 1893 was a founder and secretary-treasurer of the Australasian Home Reading Union which sought to spread systematic reading by establishing small study circles in country areas. Next year she published and edited her own fortnightly paper, Woman's Voice: 'democratic but not revolutionary; womanly but not weak; fearless without effrontery; liberal without licence'. Lack of finance as well as the pressure of numerous other activities led her to abandon it eighteen months later after her friend Margaret Windeyer refused to take it over. In 1895 she had helped to set up the first free kindergarten at Woolloomooloo, and continued work with the Kindergarten Union of New South Wales and as secretary of the Playgrounds Association of New South Wales until the 1920s. About 1898 she sold Maybanke College and was for a time registrar at the Teachers' Central Registry in George Street.

On 2 March 1899 Maybanke Wolstenholme married with Congregational rites (Sir) Francis Anderson, professor of philosophy at the University of Sydney, and devoted herself increasingly to university activities. A regular speaker and hostess, she was an organizer of the University Women's Society and gave special attention to the Women Evening Students' Association, perhaps because it symbolized the spirit of bold self-help that women needed to grasp the opportunities becoming available to them. Through the National Council of Women of New South Wales, she organized the Citizens' Association which worked to allow women the right to be elected to municipal councils.

For some years after their marriage the Andersons lived at Manly, then acquired a place at Pittwater where Maybanke could farm and garden, knit and sew, as well as write numerous pamphlets and pieces for the press. In 1919 she published Mother Lore, a handbook on developing the intelligence of babies and the education of young children. A member of the Royal Australian Historical Society, she published the 'Story of Pittwater' in its Journal and Proceedings (1920). Later the Andersons moved to Hunters Hill and Maybanke again set about compiling a local history, which she read to the society in 1926. As well, she wrote a chapter on the position of women for M. Atkinson's Australia: Economic and Political Studies (Melbourne, 1920).

Towards the end of that year the Andersons set off on a third tour of Europe. Maybanke sent articles about her travels to the Sydney Morning Herald until she died on 15 April 1927 at St Germain-en-Laye, Paris. Predeceased by two sons and two daughters, she was survived by two sons of her first marriage to whom she left her estate, valued for probate at £2725. Harry Wolstenholme became a solicitor and an amateur ornithologist of repute.

Select Bibliography

  • Hermes (Sydney), 1927, no 1
  • Hesper (Sydney), 1927, Lent
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Nov 1892, 16 Oct 1911, 19, 20 Apr 1927
  • Woman's Voice, 1894-96
  • Lone Hand, Feb 1914
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 21 Apr 1915, 19 Apr 1927
  • Windeyer papers, box 19 (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Beverley Kingston, 'Anderson, Maybanke Susannah (1845–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 16 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Selfe, Maybanke Susannah
  • Wolstenholme, Maybanke Susannah

16 February, 1845
Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, England


15 April, 1927 (aged 82)
St Germain-en-Laye, France

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