Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mary Christine Heinig (1892–1979)

by Elizabeth J. Mellor

This article was published:

Mary Christine Heinig (1892-1979), educationist, was born in 1892, probably in New York, daughter of German-born parents Frank Heinig, manager, and his wife Alma. Christine was later reticent about her background and German descent, but is said to have grown up among pioneer settlers at Winnetka, Illinois, where she was educated in a one-room school. After graduating from the National College of Education at Evanston—which was renowned for its Froebelian approach to teaching—and studying at the University of Chicago (Ph.B., 1932), in 1928 she became director of the nursery school at Columbia University, New York (M.A., 1936). Her early publications included Play; The Child's Response to Life (with Rose Alschuler, Boston, 1936) and The Child in the Nursery School (Melbourne, 1938).

In 1937 Miss Heinig accepted the invitation of the Free Kindergarten Union of Victoria to succeed Mary Gutteridge as principal of the Melbourne Kindergarten Training College for one year. She brought to the position knowledge of recent developments in nursery education and a revitalized approach to Froebelian theory. Her appointment was extended for a further year, during which she attracted more students and improved the quality of instruction. Former students recalled the vivacity, creativity and enthusiasm of her teaching. She initiated in-service programmes, upgraded library facilities, designed experimental equipment, and instilled in students and kindergarten staff the need for a scientific approach to nursery education based on observations of children's development and closer collaboration with parents.

Heinig's influence quickly spread beyond Victoria. Her organizational ability and charm facilitated the foundation of the Australian Association for Pre-School Child Development (later the Australian Pre-School Association) which, in 1938, appointed her its first federal education officer. Her main duty was to co-ordinate the establishment of child-research and demonstration centres in each State and Territory. After a brief visit to the United States of America, she took up her post; she was assisted by Dr J. H. L. Cumpston, director-general of the Commonwealth Department of Health, by State committees and by Lady Gowrie, after whom the centres were subsequently named. Heinig's contribution was both practical and administrative: she influenced the design of buildings, furnishings and equipment, as well as the appointment of staff. As pre-school adviser (from 1943) to the Department of Health, she promoted wartime children's centres (based on existing kindergartens), instigated play-groups and advised on Margaret Graham's successful innovation, 'Kindergarten of the Air'. With Cumpston, Heinig co-authored Pre-School Centres in Australia (Canberra, 1945).

Resigning from the A.A.P.S.C.D. in September 1944, Heinig returned to the U.S.A. in the following year. There she continued her involvement in education as an associate (1947-61) in elementary and secondary education of the American Association of University Women. She was described as 'an auburn-haired person with quizzical eyes and quirked lips that reveal an ever-fresh approach to living'. In 1951 she was sent to Germany by the State Department to help establish kindergartens in Berlin; in 1955 she revisited Australia to attend the seventh biennial conference of the Australian Pre-School Association. She died on 23 October 1979 in Alabama, U.S.A. An Australian colleague paid tribute to her 'dynamic . . . attitude', 'breadth of outlook' and 'true sense of the place of child study and pre-school child development in the general march of education'.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Gardiner, The Free Kindergarten Union of Victoria 1908-1980 (Melb, 1982)
  • E. King, Dreams Become Deeds (Melb, 1986)
  • Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 5, no 1, Mar 1980
  • Age (Melbourne), 13 Feb, 20 Mar 1937, 3 Oct 1942, 7 Sept 1944
  • Argus (Melbourne), 15, 17 Mar 1937
  • Herald (Melbourne), 15 Mar 1937, 9 Nov 1938, 10 Aug 1955
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Apr, 10 Nov 1938, 7 Sept, 30 Nov 1944, 21 July, 14, 15 Sept 1955, 8 Nov 1979
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 11 Aug 1955
  • A. Jackson-Nakano, From the Cradle. A History from the Records of the Australian Early Childhood Association 1938-1958 (manuscript, 1993, Australian Early Childhood Assn, Canberra).

Citation details

Elizabeth J. Mellor, 'Heinig, Mary Christine (1892–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 24 July 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]


New York, New York, United States of America


23 October, 1979 (aged ~ 87)
Alabama, United States of America

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