Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kathleen Mitford Lilley (1888–1975)

by Patricia Noad

This article was published:

Kathleen Mitford Lilley (1888-1975), headmistress, was born on 11 December 1888 at Kelvin Grove, Brisbane, second of five children of Edwyn Mitford Lilley, barrister, and his wife Kate, née Goggs. A granddaughter of Sir Charles Lilley, she extended the family's association with Brisbane Girls' Grammar School to over a century.

Kathleen was educated there herself. Winning the Fairfax medal for senior French in 1907, she attended the University of Sydney from 1908 and, on graduating in 1911 with third-class honours in French, joined the staff of Ipswich Girls' Grammar School to teach English, French and gymnastics. In 1919-20, on leave from Ipswich, she undertook further studies of English at Sydney University and gained her M.A. in 1922. At the end of 1923 she became head of St Faith's Anglican College at Yeppoon on the central Queensland coast and in 1925 headmistress of Brisbane Girls' Grammar School.

As headmistress, Miss Lilley ran both the day school and the boarding school, where she lived for many years. The school itself occupied nearly all of her life—she even tended the gardens when time permitted. She continued to teach English and French (with a reputed preference for brighter students) and is remembered with affection and some trepidation by her students, who nicknamed her 'Blos'. She was rather a formidable figure: a large, handsome woman, well dressed, with presence and authority, 'an air of rectitude' and a reputation for a quick temper. She is remembered as shy; although she was close to and proud of her family (her brother Charles became a well-known surgeon), she led a rather isolated personal life. Professionally seen as a disciplinarian, she was justly proud of the school's consistently high results in English, and took a continued interest in physical education and sport. She was a president of the Secondary Schools' Sports Association and a member too of the Crèche and Kindergarten Association of Queensland. She was also sometime president of the female Brisbane literary club, the Scribblers'. A hint of her educational philosophy is found in one of the rare public comments she permitted herself, pressing in her last annual report for an extra year of secondary education: 'Such an extension would enable secondary school work to be done with such thoroughness and pleasure as to foster the love of learning, rather than the love of percentages, and would surely lead to the acquisition to some degree of that wisdom which is the ultimate aim of the cultivation of the mind'.

1925 to 1952 were years of the school's gradual and gentle development in her care. Miss Lilley maintained a relationship of mutual respect with the school's board of trustees throughout. Retiring in 1952 to her home at Herston, she died at Herstonville Convalescent Home on 12 July 1975 and was cremated with Church of England rites. The Kathleen M. Lilley library was built at Brisbane Girls' Grammar School in 1958 as a memorial to her.

Select Bibliography

  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty (1859-1919) Years (Brisb, nd, 1919?)
  • R. Goodman, Secondary Education in Queensland, 1860-1960 (Canb, 1968)
  • Queensland Women's Historical Association, Historical Happenings, Aug 1975, no 122
  • Brisbane Girls' Grammar School Magazine (Annual Reports), 1925-52, and Centenary Magazine, 1975
  • Queenslander, 16 July 1931
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 15 July 1975.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Patricia Noad, 'Lilley, Kathleen Mitford (1888–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 16 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


11 December, 1888
Kelvin Grove, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


12 July, 1975 (aged 86)
Herston, Brisbane, Queensland, 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.