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Erdos, Renée Fauvette (1911–1997)

by Paul Kiem

This article was published online in 2021

Renée Fauvette Erdos (1911–1997), teacher and distance education practitioner and authority, was born on 3 January 1911 in Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), only child of Hungarian-born Philippe Erdos, photographer, and his Tasmanian-born wife Fauvette, née Loureiro. Fauvette was the daughter of the Portuguese artist Artur Loureiro and his wife the Melbourne art critic Marie Therese, née Huybers. Renée was named after Philippe’s sister, the Hungarian novelist and poet Renée Erdős. She thus had significant New Women literary forbears on both sides of the family, as Fauvette’s aunt was the Australian novelist Jessie Couvreur. The Erdos family lived in Ceylon, Switzerland, London, and Hungary, before settling in London. Following Philippe’s death in 1915, Fauvette embarked on a wartime voyage to return to Australia. She and Renée arrived in Melbourne on the RMS Morea in January 1917.

Moving to Sydney, Fauvette offered French language classes to support herself and her daughter. Educated at Loreto Convent school, Kirribilli, Renée was awarded a Teachers’ College scholarship and studied at the University of Sydney (BA, 1933; DipEd, 1934). Later, she would study history as an evening student and begin research for an unfinished master’s degree in the discipline. A diligent and capable student, she taught at Wenona School in 1933, before gaining an appointment with the New South Wales Department of Education in 1934. For more than a decade she taught in State secondary schools, including Wollongong High School (1937–40), where she collected ‘long, descriptive compositions’ (Erdos 1976) every week from the future novelist and columnist Charmian Clift, and Armidale High School (1942–44), where she also presented demonstration lessons in history method for the New England University College.

During 1944 Erdos answered a newspaper advertisement seeking correspondence teachers for armed forces personnel. Having prepared a course in modern history, in 1946 she was seconded to Sydney Technical College’s department of preparatory studies to teach matriculation classes to war veterans under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme. As the CRTS drew to a close at the end of the 1940s, community demand for matriculation classes created a permanent position for her at Sydney Technical College. In 1948 she was appointed the college’s first head teacher of history.

Immersed in all aspects of history teaching, Erdos saw the need for a professional association for history teachers. A year spent generating support for her initiative culminated in a meeting at Sydney Technical College on 30 July 1954, which resulted in the foundation of the History Teachers’ Association of New South Wales (HTANSW). A. G. L. Shaw, a senior lecturer in history at the University of Sydney, was elected inaugural chairman and Erdos became secretary; she was later chairman (1959–60).

In 1959 Erdos’s career changed direction again when she was appointed supervisor of correspondence courses and officer-in-charge of the Department of Technical Education’s correspondence teaching division. Able to draw on both her teaching experience and considerable administrative abilities, she was well suited for the role, and the correspondence division flourished. The award of Smith-Mundt and Fulbright scholarships in 1961 allowed her to embark on an extensive overseas study tour and to establish contact with international colleagues involved in correspondence education. Her expertise was quickly recognised and she was elected president of the International Council for Correspondence Education (1965–69). Her publications, Teaching by Correspondence (1967) and Establishing an Institution Teaching by Correspondence (1975), were influential in offering practical support for those developing new correspondence programs. She also published two short works: The Sydney Gazette: Australia’s First Newspaper (1961) and Ludwig Leichhardt (1963). A member of the Australian College of Education from 1961, she became a fellow in 1967.

Resigning from the Department of Technical Education in 1969, Erdos began work in 1970 with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Botswana, establishing correspondence teacher training programs. From 1972 to 1975 she was employed in Tanzania, and between 1976 and 1979 she worked in Swaziland. Each of the projects involved her in assisting with training and laying the foundations for the expansion of distance education in these developing countries.

Matronly in appearance and perceived as socially conservative, Miss Erdos—as she was always addressed—was above all a teacher of the old school who inspired both respect and affection in students. The title ‘our Stalin’ (Kiem 2008, 21), given to her by HTANSW colleagues, was a fond tribute to her administrative effectiveness as the association’s secretary. Her immense energy and engaging manner won her friends and admirers around the world. While disavowing ‘militant’ (Erdos 1992, 14) feminism, she was proud of her role as a pathfinder for women. Deakin University conferred an honorary doctorate of letters on her in 1989. In 1992 she published Teaching Beyond the Campus.

Erdos never married. She died on 10 March 1997 at Neutral Bay and, following a funeral at St Augustine’s Anglican Church, was cremated. She gave money to establish three awards at Australian universities: the Fauvette Loureiro memorial scholarships, which supported emerging artists to travel, and the Philippe Erdos prize in history for the best fourth-year history thesis, both at the University of Sydney, and the Renée Erdos memorial prize for students who undertook their honours program largely off-campus at Deakin University. In 2009 HTANSW created the Renée Erdos award to recognise services to or achievement in school-based history.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Erdos, Renée. Interview by Hazel de Berg, 14 July 1976. Transcript. Hazel de Berg collection. National Library of Australia
  • Erdos, Renée. Teaching Beyond the Campus. [Neutral Bay, NSW]: Renée Erdos, 1992
  • Kennedy, Buzz. ‘Renée Erdos 1911–1997.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 19 March 1997, 35
  • Kiem, Paul. ‘Renée Fauvette Erdos (1911–1997): Educator & Founder of the History Teachers’ Association of NSW.’ Teaching History 42, no. 2 (June 2008): 8–29
  • Lewis, Ann Michele. ‘A Career by Accident? The Life and Work of Dr Erdos, Outstanding Pioneering Figure in the Field of Education.’ Bachelor of Education essay, University of Queensland, 1990
  • Livingston, Kevin T. ‘The Work of Renée Erdos.’ Distance Education 7, no. 2 (September 1986): 301–6
  • Menyhért, Anna. ‘A Hungarian Woman Writer’s Transnational Afterlife in the Digital Era: Renée Erdős (1879–1956).’ In Transnational Perspectives on Artists’ Lives, edited by Marleen Rensen and Christopher Wiley, 127–44. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020
  • National Library of Australia. MS 5724, Papers of Renée Erdos

Additional Resources

Citation details

Paul Kiem, 'Erdos, Renée Fauvette (1911–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/erdos-renee-fauvette-27063/text34538, published online 2021, accessed online 27 May 2022.

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