Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Rubina Hope (Ruby) Gainfort (1890–1985)

by Pauline F. Parker and Susan Sherson

This article was published:

Rubina Hope (Ruby) Gainfort (1890-1985), headmistress, was born on 7 April 1890 at Clifton Hill, Melbourne, second daughter of Dublin-born Edward Gainfort, gentleman, and his Victorian-born second wife Sarah, née Cordy. Following her father’s death (1901), Rubina, her sister, Winifred, and their mother became a tight-knit family. Both sisters began their education at Clifton Hill (Gold Street) State School; in 1905 Rubina enrolled in the newly established Melbourne Continuation School, and in 1909 entered the Melbourne Teachers’ College. She showed particular flair in mathematics, and—after gaining her trained teacher’s certificate (1912)—combined full-time work with further academic studies at the University of Melbourne (BA, Dip.Ed., 1950). In her first year she taught at Goorambat, Merino, Ferntree Gully, Toolern Vale and Chilwell.

Noted as an earnest and methodical teacher, Miss Gainfort found placements in higher elementary and secondary schools in country districts. She became a temporary assistant at Kyabram (1912), third mistress at Echuca (1914) and second mistress at Bairnsdale (1918). An effective organiser, capable of exerting `a good influence’, in 1921 Gainfort became senior mistress at Shepparton High School. Keen to return to her mother and sister, then living at Northcote, Melbourne, she transferred to Williamstown (1926) and then Geelong (1928) High schools. In 1929 she was appointed assistant-in-charge at her alma mater, by that time Melbourne Girls’ High School, which soon left dilapidated premises to occupy the vacant Government House until an endowment from Sir Macpherson Robertson enabled the building of the renamed Mac.Robertson Girls' High School (1934). Gainfort flourished through these transitions. Ennis Honey, a student of those years, recalled her as `assured and dignified’: a passionate teacher of mathematics, direct in manner, dry in humour, but often kind in gesture.

In 1940-41 Gainfort taught at University High School before being appointed acting principal of the Emily McPherson College of Domestic Economy. There, amid wartime strain, she brought a sympathetic approach to staff and students and became a forceful advocate for the professional training offered by the college. In 1946 she returned to MacRobertson as vice-principal, and in 1949 succeeded Mary Hutton as principal. An excellent role model for adolescent girls, Gainfort increasingly welcomed the `more friendly attitude between teacher and pupil’ that had developed over the years of her teaching, the greater use of scientific equipment, the fuller participation of students in class, and the shaping of a curriculum that better reflected their future lives. She was reputed to have known all seven hundred by name.

`A quiet but strong personality’, as her Department of Education records noted, Gainfort was proud of the academic standing achieved by MacRobertson, and of her long association with the school. Over twenty-three years, as student, teacher and principal, she wielded a great influence. After retirement in 1955, she maintained an active involvement through the ex-student Palladian Association. She enjoyed contract bridge, gardening and motoring, and drew much support from her sister, with whom she lived until Win’s death in 1968. Rubina Gainfort (Ruby to her friends) died on 22 November 1985 at Camberwell and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Docherty, The Emily Mac (1981)
  • E. Honey, Nymphs and Goddesses (1994)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 26 Mar 1955, p 29
  • MacRobertson Girls’ High School Archives
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Pauline F. Parker and Susan Sherson, 'Gainfort, Rubina Hope (Ruby) (1890–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 29 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Hill, Rubina

7 April, 1890
Clifton Hill, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


22 November, 1985 (aged 95)
Camberwell, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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