Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Dorothy Isabel Knox (1902–1983)

by Ruth Teale

This article was published:

Dorothy Isabel Knox (1902-1983), headmistress, was born on 27 August 1902 at Benalla, Victoria, youngest of three children of Victorian-born parents Edward Knox, factory manager, and his wife Robina Dewar, née Brodie. A gifted student, Dorothy was educated at Benalla, Grassmere, Warrnambool and Warragul, before matriculating from Melbourne High School. At the University of Melbourne (BA, 1923; MA, 1925) she lived at Janet Clarke Hall.

Appointed to teach English, history and French at Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Goulburn, New South Wales, in 1923, Knox became senior mistress in December 1925. From 1927 to 1929 she undertook a working holiday in England and Europe, before returning to Goulburn as senior mistress and, later, acting principal. One referee claimed that `her ability to impart is of the highest class, her scholarship is excellent, and her discipline more than usually good’.

In 1932 Knox was named principal of the new Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Orange, where her organising and administrative abilities were fully tested. In July 1936 she became headmistress of PLC, Pymble, Sydney, which under her guidance greatly expanded in the 1950s and 1960s. She retired in 1967, as the first cohort of students under the Wyndham scheme (which she praised) completed the Higher School certificate. She resumed work as acting headmistress (1969-71) of PLC Armidale.

A woman of high Christian ideals and exceptional strength of character, `Knocky’ was a diminutive figure, with penetrating blue eyes, a kindly smile and a peaches-and-cream complexion. She was secretary (1939-47) and president (1948-50, 1955-56, 1963-64) of the Teachers’ Guild of New South Wales and president (1950-52) of the Headmistresses’ Association of Australia. A foundation member (1959) and fellow (1969) of the New South Wales chapter of the Australian College of Education, she served (1962-67) on the State Secondary Schools Board.

Miss Knox’s enduring encouragement of women students, especially those from country districts, motivated her determination to see another women’s college established at the University of Sydney, under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales. In 1948 she convened a planning committee, with Isabel McKinney (Harrison) as honorary secretary. When no suitable and affordable site had been found, the Presbyterian Assembly agreed in 1967 to establish a college, named for John Dunmore Lang, at Macquarie University. Knox chaired (1970-78) the foundation council of the college, which opened in March 1972 and became co-educational. She rejoiced in the number of international and women students that the college attracted. The Dorothy Knox fellowship enabled the periodic appointment there of a distinguished scholar or artist.

An inveterate traveller, Miss Knox undertook overseas trips in 1958 and 1973, described in her memoirs, Time Flies (1982). On her retirement she lived in a unit at Waverton until blindness forced her to enter a hostel at Roseville. She was appointed OBE in 1958 and AM in 1980. Never married, she died on 7 Nov­ember 1983 at Terrey Hills and was cremated. Memorial services were held at the renamed Pymble Ladies’ College and at Orange; the Dorothy Knox Centre at PLC, Armidale, was opened in 1989.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Coleman, This Is Pymble College 1916-1991 (1991)
  • B. Mansfield and M. Hutchinson, Liberality of Opportunity (1992)
  • C. Pound and A. Atkinson, The Common Task (1995)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Nov 1983, p 15
  • H. de Berg, interview with D. Knox (transcript, 1981, National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ruth Teale, 'Knox, Dorothy Isabel (1902–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


27 August, 1902
Benalla, Victoria, Australia


7 November, 1983 (aged 81)
Terrey Hills, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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.