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Florence Ethel Johnson (1884–1934)

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Florence Ethel Johnson (1884-1934), feminist and educationist, was born on 26 March 1884 at Port Melbourne, daughter of Victorian-born parents Henry Johnson, boilermaker, and his wife Minnie, née Johnson. Florence began her career in 1900 as a pupil-teacher at South Preston State School. Her considerable aptitude led to appointment as head of Arcadia South State School in April 1906 and to a further thirteen years highly regarded work in various Victorian schools. She joined the Victorian Lady Teachers' Association in 1908 and later the Sixth Class L.T.A.; in 1915 she organized the Junior Teachers' Association.

During World War I Miss Johnson fought for a return to the pre-1892 pay scale for women of four-fifths the male wage, a principle granted in 1918. She attempted to improve the career prospects of women teachers and was several times on deputations to the Education Department. A delegate to the first Victorian State Service Federation council-meeting in January 1917, she was elected an honorary secretary to the Sixth Class L.T.A. in May. She then helped to form the Victorian Women Teachers' Association and was elected president; in December when the L.T.A. merged with the W.T.A. she became vice-president.

By 1918 Florence Johnson's 'great talent for organisation' was generally acknowledged. In November she was appointed to a V.S.S.F. review committee and in July next year she resigned her teaching post at Mount Waverley to become secretary of the V.S.S.F.'s women's division. She took up the cudgels for equal pay for women teachers but also sought, with some success, improved conditions for members of the Mental Hospital Nurses' Association, and for female typists and clerks in the public service. In March 1921, however, she resigned to become assistant secretary of the reorganized Victorian State Teachers' Union. She worked furiously to improve union membership and was disheartened by her apparent demotion in October to organizer. A growing dissatisfaction with union policy 'not in the best interests of women teachers' led to her resignation in March 1924 and the re-forming, with herself as paid secretary, of the W.T.A.

After the Teachers' Act of 1925 Miss Johnson urged the promotion rights of teachers with a long service record but minimal qualifications. With a colleague, Ida Body, she formed the supportive Victorian Federation of Mothers' Clubs. In 1927, miffed by the omission of the W.T.A. from the departmental organizing committees for the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York, she clashed with the minister, Sir Alexander Peacock; he accused her of preaching 'the doctrine of discontent' but was no match for her clever repartee.

In 1921 Florence Johnson stood as an Independent Labor candidate for St Kilda, the only woman in the Legislative Assembly elections. Concentrating her campaign on health, welfare and education, she unwisely relied on the female vote. Her defeat necessitated her re-entry into the Education Department as teacher at isolated Mirboo North. In Melbourne again from 1928 she campaigned through the W.T.A. for a women teachers' welfare officer; during the Depression she promoted teachers' and students' work to assist the unemployed.

In 1932 en route to Ceylon Florence made a surprise marriage to a marine engineer Frederick Arthur Ingram on 24 December at St George's Cathedral, Perth. Idealistic (but also pragmatic), courageous, a 'little “live-wire” ', 'the Emily Pankhurst of Victorian teachers', she continued her work with the W.T.A. after her marriage. She died at Malvern of complications of mitral valve disease on 6 November 1934, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • W. J. McDonald, ‘Florence Ethel Johnson’, Victorian Historical Journal, no 201 (Aug 1980), and for bibliog
  • Education Dept of Victoria, History section, MS 79/18.

Citation details

'Johnson, Florence Ethel (1884–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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