Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mabel Mary Lush (1881–1958)

by Ruth Benjamin

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Mabel Mary Hailes Lush (1881-1958), kindergarten teacher, was born on 30 June 1881 in East Melbourne, third child of George Lush (1846-1932), a Victorian-born merchant and later philanthropist, and his Scottish-born wife Mabel Mary Elizabeth Nicol, née Fullarton. Her mother died three days after Mary's birth and George Lush remarried in 1886. Educated (1892-97) to matriculation level at Ruyton Girls' School, Kew, Mary studied and taught piano. In 1905 she gained a diploma of music from the University of Melbourne.

A devout Christian and a member of the Collins Street Baptist Church, Miss Lush began her teaching career in 1906 as a volunteer at Melbourne's first free kindergarten, in Bouverie Street, Carlton. Showing aptitude for the work, she trained as a kindergarten teacher in 1909-10 and as an infant teacher in 1911. She studied the latest kindergarten methods with John Dewey at Columbia University, New York (1917), and with the McMillan sisters in London (1927). In her work at Carlton as assistant-director (1911-16), director (1916-28) and co-ordinator of student training (1912-28), she achieved a reputation for a high standard of teaching and leadership. She was loved and trusted by the families of Carlton and admired by her students.

Lush became a leader of the Free Kindergarten Union of Victoria. She served as an acting-supervisor (1914 and 1916), president of the directors' association, and lecturer (1915-34 and 1940) at the Kindergarten Training College. In 1926 she published her avant-garde curriculum, Progressive Kindergarten Methods. From 1937 she held positions on the F.K.U.V. executive (acting-president 1942-44, president 1944-48), and on the college council and education committee. She represented the F.K.U.V. on the Australian Association of Preschool Child Development (from 1937) and the Lady Gowrie centres (from 1939), and lectured on kindergarten education and child development in many forums.

Throughout her professional life Lush balanced a strong belief in the value of early childhood education with a philanthropic ideal. She gave her time and knowledge generously, accepted no salary, and made substantial donations to the Carlton Kindergarten, the F.K.U.V. and other related organizations. Unmarried, she combined family life and professional expertise with humanitarian concern. She adhered firmly to traditional values and obligations, nursing her father, sister and stepmother through their final illnesses in the family home at Kew. Academically qualified and displaying competence, commitment and leadership, she was compassionate in her work for the welfare of disadvantaged women and children.

When she retired from Carlton Kindergarten in 1928 a stained-glass window was erected in her honour. Lush was made life vice-president of the F.K.U.V. in 1948 and was appointed O.B.E. in 1952. Following a long illness, she died on 1 October 1958 at Richmond and was cremated with Presbyterian forms; her estate was sworn for probate at £49,366. Dora Mary Lush was her niece.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Gardiner, The Free Kindergarten Union of Victoria 1908-1980 (Melb, 1982)
  • Free Kindergarten Union of Victoria, Annual Report, 1915-16, 1927-28, 1928-29, 1958-59, and Monthly News Sheet, Oct 1948 (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • R. Benjamin, Mary Lush, 1881-1958: A Pioneer in Early Childhood (transcript, 1991, privately held).

Citation details

Ruth Benjamin, 'Lush, Mabel Mary (1881–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


30 June, 1881
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


1 October, 1958 (aged 77)
Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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