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Dow, Gwyneth Maude (1920–1996)

by Deborah Towns

This article was published online in 2022

This is a shared entry with Hume Dow

Norman Wodetzki, Mr Hume Dow and Dr Gwyneth Dow, 1984

Norman Wodetzki, Mr Hume Dow and Dr Gwyneth Dow, 1984

University of Melbourne Archives, 2003.0003.00482

Hume Dow (1916–1997), journalist and literary scholar, and Gwyneth Maude Dow (1920–1996), educationist and historian, were husband and wife. Hume was born on 4 January 1916 at Richmond, Melbourne, only child of David McKenzie Dow, journalist and later a public servant, and his wife, Nellie, née McKenzie, both Victorian-born. He was a grandson of John Lamont Dow (1837–1923), a journalist and minister for lands and agriculture (1886–90) in Victoria. Gwyneth (known as Gwyn or Gwen) was born on 14 August 1920 at Caulfield, Melbourne, younger daughter of New South Wales-born Eric Terry and his English wife Bessie Alice Annie, née Crick. The family lived comfortably and independently from the dwindling legacy of Samuel Terry (1736–1838), a convict who became one of the richest men in New South Wales. When researching her book, Samuel Terry: The Botany Bay Rothschild (1974), Gwyn discovered that Terry was not her forebear but had adopted her great-grandfather and his siblings when he married their widowed mother Rosetta Marsh, née Pracey.

Hume was educated in New York, where his father was employed as official secretary for Australia in the United States of America (1924–31) and then acting commissioner-general (1931–38). Attending (1924–34) the progressive Staten Island Academy, he won a scholarship to Harvard University (AB, 1938), graduating summa cum laude in English literature. He was the literary editor and a film critic for the student magazine, Harvard Advocate, and was elected to the academic fraternity Phi Beta Kappa in 1937.

Returning to Melbourne in 1938, Dow joined the Argus as a cadet journalist. On 2 August 1941 he began full-time duty in the Citizen Military Forces for service in World War II. Within two months, he was a staff sergeant in the publications section of the Directorate of Education and Vocational Training at Army Headquarters, Melbourne. Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force in October 1942, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in December. He was assistant editor (1941–43) and then editor (1944–46) of the army’s educational journal Salt and was promoted to temporary captain in 1944. Demobilised on 18 June 1946, he transferred to the Reserve of Officers. After the war, he was a journalist (1947–49) and talks editor at Radio Australia and was active in the Australian Journalists’ Association.

Educated (1929–36) at Melbourne Church of England Girls’ Grammar School (MCEGGS), Gwyneth Terry was inspired by her history teacher, Gwenda Lloyd (1899–1965), but left school without matriculating. While working as a filing clerk and apprentice hairdresser, she attended night school at Taylor’s Coaching College, then enrolled in 1938 at the University of Melbourne (BA, 1945; DipEd, 1950; BEd, 1957; MEd, 1962; PhD, 1984). On 2 January 1940 at St John’s Church of England, Camberwell, she married Rohan Deakin Rivett, a journalist. Suspending her studies owing to illness, she moved to Sydney with her husband, who had enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was preparing news bulletins for the Department of Information. In 1941 she assisted the economist Wilfred Prest with a social survey in Melbourne funded by the Department of Post-War Reconstruction that taught her much about economic inequality. The next year her husband became a prisoner of war (1942–45) and her first child died in infancy. She became a pioneering industrial welfare officer in Melbourne’s factories, and then in 1944 returned to her studies to complete her degree part time. Her second child was stillborn in 1946 and the Rivetts divorced the next year.

On 17 January 1948 Gwyn Rivett and Hume Dow married at the registry office, Queen Street, Melbourne. She completed her teacher training and commenced work at MCEGGS in 1950, while he rejoined the Argus as deputy chief sub-editor. Their support for left-wing causes and socialising with known communists attracted the attention of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization. In 1951 they moved to London, where Gywn taught at Peckham Girls’ Comprehensive School and Hume worked as a freelance journalist and an information officer at Australia House.

Returning to Melbourne in 1953, the Dows quickly advanced their careers. Hume became a senior tutor in English at the University of Melbourne (MA, 1971) and flourished under the leadership of the professor of English, Ian Maxwell (1901—1979), a lifelong friend to them both. In 1955 Hume established an English rhetoric course, initially for journalists, which he taught until his retirement. He was promoted to senior lecturer in 1963 and reader in 1974. Commencing with the popular poetry anthology Worlds Unknown, co-edited with John Barnes in 1960, he published several anthology textbooks. His only book of literary criticism, Frank Dalby Davison (1971), showed his scholarly enthusiasm for Australian literature.

Meanwhile, Gwyn taught English and history (1953–56) at Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School, where she was impressed by the determination of the headmistress Rubina Gainfort (1890—1985) to improve girls’ educational opportunities. While studying for her bachelor of education, she shared the exhibition in the history of Australian education in 1955. Appointed to a permanent lecturing position in the faculty of education at the University of Melbourne in 1958, she was promoted to senior lecturer in 1963 and reader in 1970.

In 1961 Dow was awarded the Freda Cohen prize for her master’s thesis on the lawyer, politician, and educational reformer, George Higinbotham. She published a wealth of brilliant scholarly papers, articles, chapters, and books, including the popular school textbook Uncommon Common Sense: Signposts to Clear Thinking (1962). Acknowledging Hume’s collaboration with her publications, she stated ‘he was in a sense more ambitious for me than I was for myself, and his journalistic experience as a senior sub-editor made him a fiend for accuracy’ (Longmire 1996, 41).

As a member (1966–77) of the Victorian Department of Education’s curriculum advisory board, Dow was able to implement her passionately held democratic learning theories. In 1973 she pioneered an alternative diploma of education, known as Course B, which focused on practical teaching experience in schools and negotiated non-competitive student assessment. Implementation proved controversial, and her own evaluation of this innovative course was published as Learning to Teach: Teaching to Learn (1979), written during a visiting research fellowship (1977) at the University of Leicester. She won a Fulbright scholarship in 1982 and in 1984 the university awarded her a doctor of education degree by examination. At the presentation, Kwong Lee Dow, the faculty dean and a former pupil, stated that her life’s work showed ‘a practical concern for greater education equality, and a commitment to theoretical rigour and excellence’ (Melbourne University Gazette 1985, 11). Despite her many scholarly achievements, she was not appointed a professor.

Gwyn and Hume both thrived in the intellectual and convivial community life of the university, with memberships of university committees and of professional and community organisations. Hume was noted for his organisational skills, for mentoring others, and for his loud, clear voice. From 1966 to 1975 he represented the non-professorial staff on the university council. The Dows were consummate hosts: he was five feet ten and a half inches (179 cm) tall and a ‘gentleman,’ while she just reached his shoulder, ‘dressed in a classy way, smoked with flair, and could appear ready for mischief’ (Hannan 2020). Hume was a popular member of the university’s literary and dining Twenty Club, which Gwyn also joined when women were admitted in the early 1980s.

Hume retired in 1982, followed by Gwyn in 1985. He edited two books (1983 and 1985) of recollections by University of Melbourne students, and together they authored a history, Landfall in Van Diemen’s Land: The Steels’ Quest for Greener Pastures (1990). Gwyn’s feminist principles became more apparent in her later writing and activities. Though they had no children, the Dows were happily engaged in the lives of Gwyn’s niece and nephews. Their ‘marriage of true minds’ (Longmire 1996, 41) came to an end on 6 September 1996, when Gwyn died at East Melbourne. Hume died on 27 November 1997 at Kew. They donated their bodies to the department of anatomy at the University of Melbourne.

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Barnes, John. ‘Educator with Journalistic Flair: Hume Dow.’ Australian, 17 December 1997, 14
  • Deakin University Library. Dow Collection, ADPML/SPMSS 327.94 Dow
  • Lee Dow, Kwong. Interview by the author, January 2020
  • Hannan, Bill and Lorna Hannan. Interview by the author, January 2020
  • Longmire, Anne. ‘Revolutionising Education for All: Dr Gwyneth Maude Dow.’ Age (Melbourne), 2 October 1996, B2
  • Longmire, Anne. ‘Uncommon Common Teacher: Gwyneth Dow and Democratic Education.’ DEd thesis, Monash University, 1996
  • Melbourne University Gazette. ‘Gwyn Dow: Doctor of Education.’ 41, no. 1 (March 1985): 11
  • National Archives of Australia. A6126, 142
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, VX114558
  • University of Melbourne Archives. Dow Family papers, 1999.0002, 1999.0018
  • University of Melbourne Archives. Gwyneth Dow papers, 1986.0199, 1990.0164
  • University of Melbourne Archives. Hume Dow papers, 1981.0055, 1982.0002, 1988.0115

Citation details

Deborah Towns, 'Dow, Gwyneth Maude (1920–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dow-gwyneth-maude-30132/text37395, published online 2022, accessed online 5 July 2022.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2022

Norman Wodetzki, Mr Hume Dow and Dr Gwyneth Dow, 1984

Norman Wodetzki, Mr Hume Dow and Dr Gwyneth Dow, 1984

University of Melbourne Archives, 2003.0003.00482