Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Mary (Isabel) Flinn (1894–1959)

by A. T. Yarwood

This article was published:

Mary (Isabel) Flinn (1894-1959), teacher and housewife, was born on 1 February 1894 in East Melbourne, second daughter of Christopher Flinn, clerk, and his wife Marion, née Scott, both Victorian born. Isabel (a name she adopted) was educated at Presbyterian Ladies' College (1908-12) where she was prominent in the debating society and the Christian Union, and won an exhibition in her final examinations. At the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1916; M.A., 1918; Dip.Ed., 1919) she majored in philosophy, attracting Professor W. R. B. Gibson's attention with a 'neat solution of a complicated problem in Formal Logic'. She graduated with first-class honours and was awarded a Hastie scholarship. In 1917 Flinn was appointed to tutor in philosophy at Ormond College; she also taught at Trinity and Queen's colleges, as well as taking students in mathematics at P.L.C. and Melbourne High School. In addition, she gratuitously taught classes in psychology for the Workers' Educational Association and for the Free Kindergarten Union of Victoria.

In recommending her for a lectureship in education and psychology at the University of Queensland in December 1920, Gibson wrote that she had 'an eminently first-class mind, enthusiastic in its inner springs, keen and penetrating'; from the unanimous testimony of her students, he concluded 'she must be a quite exceptionally good teacher'. One of her students was William Macmahon Ball. In More Memories of Melbourne University: undergraduate life in the years since 1919 (1985) he described how Miss Flinn transformed him in two months from unrelieved failure to confidence. Before moving to Queensland, Flinn helped to found the Public Questions Society at the university and was active in the Lyceum Club. After three years teaching, she resigned from the University of Queensland in 1924. On 26 March that year at Queen's College Chapel, Parkville, she married 34-year-old Cyril Stanley Shaw Yarwood, a Methodist minister and her ex-student at Queen's.

Without formal employment while she bore and raised four children, Mrs Yarwood was typical of a generation of women whose careers were cut short by marriage. In 1943 she was appointed to the staff of Woodstock Girls' School, Albury, New South Wales. Students felt privileged to be taught by her, and remembered her comments on the implications of the dropping of the first atomic bomb. Many others were touched by her serenity, wisdom and courage. She resigned in December 1949 to accompany her husband to Wollongong where he had taken a teaching post. Isabel enjoyed bush walking and gardening, played golf with her sons, and took a delight in solo whist and operatic music. When a friend regretted the fate of flowers in the Yarwood garden, Isabel—who was attracted to Stoicism—replied: 'we enjoy its beauty now, but we must accept the cycle of life and death, not only for flowers but for ourselves'. Following a long absence from Christian practice, she became an active member of the Presbyterian Church, Thirroul. Survived by her husband, daughter and three sons, she died of acute pancreatitis on 11 September 1959 in the district hospital, Bulli, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Dow (ed), More Memories of Melbourne University (Melb, 1985)
  • Presbyterian Ladies' College (Melbourne), Patchwork, 1908-12, and Archives
  • University of Melbourne Archives
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

A. T. Yarwood, 'Flinn, Mary (Isabel) (1894–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 15 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Yarwood, Mary

1 February, 1894
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


11 September, 1959 (aged 65)
Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.