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.

Edna Mavis Jackson (1913–2000)

by Caitlin Stone

This article was published online in 2024

Charles Bush, Mavis Jackson MBE, 1979.

Charles Bush, Mavis Jackson MBE, 1979.

University of Melbourne Art Collection, Commissioned by International House 1979, Courtesy of the Estate of Charles Bush.

Edna Mavis Jackson (1913–2000), fund-raiser and microbiologist, was born on 21 July 1913 at Machilipatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India, elder child and only daughter of English-born Walter James Swan, naval port officer, and his South Australian-born wife Edith Alice, née Ball. Educated (1920–31) at Methodist Ladies’ College, Melbourne, Mavis was active in school life, competing in athletics and swimming, and writing for the school magazine. In 1930 she won the school’s F. J. Cato scholarship as the best all-rounder in her class, and she was a prefect in her final year.

From 1932 Swan studied science at the University of Melbourne (BSc, 1936), where she displayed the community involvement that characterised the rest of her life. In 1936 she was a member of the Students’ Representative Council and secretary of the Committee of Melbourne University Women. She was active in raising funds to furnish the university’s new Union House and was a committee member for the Women’s College appeal. It was through these activities that she met Alice Paton, whose husband (Sir) George Paton was professor of jurisprudence and later the university’s vice-chancellor. Swan would later work with Alice Paton to raise funds for another residential college, International House. Graduating in December 1936, Swan was one of only three women science graduates alongside fourteen men. She subsequently became a committee member of the Victorian Women’s Graduate Association.

In April 1940 Swan became engaged to Alan Vaughan Jackson (1912–2000), a pathologist and captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps. She enlisted in the Voluntary Aid Overseas Service on 11 November 1941 and worked briefly as a microbiologist with the AAMC and as a blood transfusion officer at the Heidelberg Military Hospital. On 23 March 1942, at the Stow Memorial Church in Adelaide, she married Jackson while he was on leave from duty in the Middle East. The next month she requested a discharge from the VAOS and over the next five years would have three children.

In 1951 Jackson was invited by (Sir) Ian Clunies Ross to join the planning and fund-raising committee for a new residential college at the University of Melbourne, Australia’s first ‘International House,’ which opened in 1957 and catered to both Australian and international students. It was the beginning of an involvement that would continue for nearly thirty years. Her most significant contribution was as inaugural secretary (1953) and then president (1954–67) of the International House Women’s Auxiliaries. She oversaw concerts, fêtes, lunches, and other activities, and by 1967 the auxiliaries had raised more than £130,000. One of her biggest projects was the 1961 building appeal for the construction of International House’s second accommodation building. She was often called upon to undertake the more domestic aspects of preparations for International House: advising on kitchen design, choosing furniture, and sewing curtains and bedspreads. A founding member (1955–79) of the International House council, she would later become the first woman to chair the council (1973–79).

Supporting International House was not Jackson’s only philanthropic activity. She was a board member of the Yooralla Hospital School for Crippled Children (1954–60), the National Council of Women of Victoria (1957–60), and the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria (1967–84). From 1962 to 1977 she worked in the Alfred Hospital’s pathology department, where her husband was the director, establishing a cytology unit. A member of the Lyceum Club (president 1973–75), she was made an honorary life member in 1995.

Jackson was appointed MBE in 1968 for her role at International House and was awarded the Queen’s silver jubilee medal in 1977 in recognition of her community service. Those who knew her commented on her ability to draw others into a cause. Lyndal Pascoe, who as an undergraduate student in the 1950s worked with Jackson on fund-raising activities, remembered being ‘happily sucked along in the slipstream of her enthusiasm’ (quoted in Kilpatrick 2000, 7). Jackson’s grandson, James Kilpatrick, wrote of her quality of ‘motivating the right people to get things done’ (2000, 7).

On 6 August 2000, just four months after the death of her husband, Jackson died at Richmond, and was cremated after a funeral at Toorak Uniting Church. She was survived by her two sons, her daughter, and her eight grandchildren. A portrait by Charles Bush (1979) hangs in the dining hall at International House, where scholarships for academic potential and academic performance and the Mavis Jackson Room are named in her honour.

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Bomford, Janette M. Circles of Friendship: The Centenary History of the Lyceum Club Melbourne. Melbourne: The Lyceum Club, 2012
  • Jackson, Mavis. ‘Early Reminiscences of the Founding of International House.’ April 1998. International House Archives, University of Melbourne. Copy held on ADB file
  • Kilpatrick, James. ‘Mavis Jackson, MBE: Scientist, International House Founder, Lyceum Club President.’ Age (Melbourne), 16 November 2000, Today 7
  • Larkins, Frank. International House Melbourne: Sixty Years of Fraternitas. Melbourne: Melbourne University Publishing, 2018
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, VX66165
  • UniNews (Melbourne). ‘Obituary: Mrs Mavis Jackson MBE, 1913–2000.’ 11 September 2000
  • Sinclair, Roger. ‘Obituary: Alan Vaughan Jackson MD, FRCPA, FRCPath, FRACP.’ Pathology 32, no. 4 (2000): 299–300

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Caitlin Stone, 'Jackson, Edna Mavis (1913–2000)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2024, accessed online 24 July 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Charles Bush, Mavis Jackson MBE, 1979.

Charles Bush, Mavis Jackson MBE, 1979.

University of Melbourne Art Collection, Commissioned by International House 1979, Courtesy of the Estate of Charles Bush.

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Swan, Edna Mavis

21 July, 1913
Machilipatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India


6 August, 2000 (aged 87)
Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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.

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.

Military Service
Key Organisations