Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mary Hutton (1883–1964)

by Judith Biddington

This article was published:

Mary Hutton (1883-1964), headmistress, was born on 28 October 1883 at Hawthorn, Melbourne, fourth daughter of Colin Fergusson Hutton, a gentleman from Scotland, and his Adelaide-born wife Isabel Jane, née Townsend. Mary was educated at Manningtree Road State School, Hawthorn. At the age of 15, under the instruction of a private tutor, she qualified for matriculation.

A monitor (1899) and pupil-teacher (1900) at Hawksburn State School, she was recognized as 'promising, energetic and useful', and moved quickly through the ranks. At Melbourne Training College she won her trained teachers' certificate in 1904 and the Gladman prize. Appointed to Cobram in 1906, she gained her infant teachers' certificate that year. Over the next twenty months she taught at five country and city schools. In 1908 Miss Hutton became a secondary teacher at the Continuation School (from 1912 Melbourne High School) and enrolled at the University of Melbourne (Dip.Ed., 1911; B.A., 1914; M.A., 1916). She won the Dwight prize for education and the Cobden medal for political economy.

By 1918 Hutton was one of a small group of senior mistresses with limited opportunities, for there were then no head-teacher positions available to women within the state secondary system. The reclassification of domestic arts schools as girls' secondary schools in 1925 enabled her to be appointed (1927) headmistress of the Collingwood Domestic Arts School, a task she approached with 'vigour, capacity and ability'. Her job was daunting, for the school had little status and was housed in 'barrack like gloom' in a condemned building.

Hutton succeeded Christina Montgomery as headmistress of Melbourne Girls' High School in 1934. Following a bequest from Sir Macpherson Robertson, the school moved into new premises at Albert Park in November and its name was changed to Mac.Robertson Girls' High School. For fourteen years Hutton worked to consolidate her school's reputation for academic excellence and service. She promoted literature and science, a cultured mind, physical health and calm judgement, but had to balance her higher goals with vocational preparation for a world where there were unequal opportunities for girls. She also tried to maintain school spirit when the building was requisitioned during World War II and the pupils were dispersed. After they returned in 1943, she faced higher enrolments, staffing problems and increased traffic noise, but the school's reputation continued to grow.

A tiny (4 ft 11 ins, 150 cm), quiet, reserved woman who served on the Schools Board and the university's committee of convocation, Hutton worked to improve pay and promotion for women secondary teachers. She was an executive-member of the High School Teachers' Association and a council-member of the Victorian Teachers' Union. Her own position illustrated the inequalities she fought: despite consistent assessment as an outstanding head, it was not until 1945 that she was classified as a principal, and even then she was still paid less than her male counterparts. Nevertheless, she considered teaching 'the noblest profession'. Following her retirement as headmistress in 1948, she taught part time at the school for six years.

Hutton's other abiding interest was the Baptist Church, of which she had been a devout member since 1904. In 1951-63 she was a council-member of Kilvington Baptist Girls Grammar School. She died on 20 December 1964 at Fitzroy and was buried in Boroondara cemetery; her estate was sworn for probate at £486. MacRobertson Girls' High School holds her portrait by Alexander Colquhoun.

Select Bibliography

  • MacRobertson Girls' High School, Pallas, June 1948, Dec 1965
  • Victorian Baptist Witness, 5 Mar 1965
  • Argus (Melbourne), 30 Oct, 23 Nov 1948
  • Age (Melbourne), 21 Dec 1964
  • Education Department (Victoria) personal record files and Teachers' Association files (Historical Services, Education Department, Melbourne)
  • Kilvington Baptist Girls School Council minutes
  • MacRobertson Girls' High School Archives
  • South Yarra and Armadale Baptist Church records
  • Education Dept (Victoria) Archives, series 6007, 10249, boxes 137, 138 and 150, 10274, box 4, 10537, boxes 62 and 64 (Public Record Office Victoria).

Citation details

Judith Biddington, 'Hutton, Mary (1883–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 13 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]


28 October, 1883
Hawthorn, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


20 December, 1964 (aged 81)
Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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