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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hay, Olga Janet (1891–1974)

by A. G. Thomson Zainu'ddin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Olga Janet Hay (1891-1974), headmistress, was born on 27 September 1891 at Elsternwick, Melbourne, second daughter of Rev. Joseph Hay, Presbyterian clergyman, and his wife Marjory, née Pender, both Scottish born. Her parents were friends of the Henderson family and in 1903-09 she boarded at Oberwyl school, St Kilda, then owned by Isabel Henderson. Olga began training at Loreto Convent, Albert Park, in 1905 and in 1912 obtained her primary teacher's certificate. In 1911 she had become junior resident mistress under Miss Henderson at Clyde Girls' Grammar School, St Kilda. Miss Hay taught at Ruyton, Kew, in 1912, and at Kambala, Sydney. She returned to Melbourne on the outbreak of World War I and spent two years at Alexandra College, Hamilton. On the advice of her mentor Henderson, in 1917 she bought Horton school, Box Hill, which she sold at the end of the war for twice the price she had paid. In 1919 she became acting-head of Faireleight school, St Kilda, when the headmistress contracted pneumonic influenza.

Having visited the United States of America, Britain and France in 1920, Hay came home to teach at Clyde, by then located at Braemar House, Woodend. She also commenced reading for a degree at the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1924). To fulfil the compulsory practical work in science, she needed to be close to the city and in 1922 was appointed to Methodist Ladies' College, Kew, where she met 'the most democratic group of people I have ever been with in my life'. During the 1920s she was an active member of the Assistant Mistresses' Association.

In 1929-31 Hay spent two years abroad. While in England she gained the Cambridge Teacher Training Certificate and taught at Luton Secondary Girls' School, Bedfordshire. She returned to M.L.C. where colleagues appreciated her personality, her 'outgoing freedom and generosity of spirit', and her eccentricity; the girls liked her dry humour, but feared her sometimes brutal frankness. Besides her teaching, she participated in such extracurricular activities as Bible study, debating and the Walking Club. She also established and organized a library at M.L.C.

From 1937 Hay was headmistress of Clyde. Under her leadership the school continued on the lines set down by Henderson, although Hay gave greater prominence to science, art, music and practical subjects in the curriculum, and introduced interstate excursions. She knew every girl in the school and her influence on each one was more than intellectual: she possessed 'a moral integrity bordering on the puritanical . . . mellowed by charity and sweet reasonableness'. If her forthrightness became irascibility in old age, it was usually tempered by kindness. A member (from 1937) of the Headmistresses' Association and twice its president, she retired from Clyde in 1959. She wrote The Chronicles of Clyde (1966), continued her membership of the Lyceum Club and maintained a keen interest in educational matters. Olga Hay died on 29 August 1974 in East Melbourne and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • A. G. Thomson Zainu'ddin, They Dreamt of a School (Melb, 1982)
  • Cluthan, Dec 1974
  • Age (Melbourne), 18 Sept 1974
  • notes of interviews with O. J. Hay, 22 June 1970, 17 Sept 1971, and other papers (held by author).

Citation details

A. G. Thomson Zainu'ddin, 'Hay, Olga Janet (1891–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 11 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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