Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Grace Mackintosh (1890–1954)

by G. E. Sherington

This article was published:

Grace Mackintosh (1890-1954), headmistress and college lecturer, was born on 5 September 1890 at Aberdeen, Scotland, daughter of John Mackintosh, bookseller and historian, and his wife Grace Smith, née Knight. Her father was a doctor of laws, the author of The History of Civilisation in Scotland (four volumes, 1878-88) and other works on Scottish history. Young Grace attended the University of Aberdeen (M.A., 1914), graduating with second-class honours in English language and literature. Having completed a teacher's training certificate at the University of Cambridge in 1915, she taught at the Royal Academy, Inverness, and at the Central School, Aberdeen (later Aberdeen Academy).

In 1930, during the Depression, Miss Mackintosh was appointed principal of Columba Girls' College, Dunedin, New Zealand, a Presbyterian day and boarding school. Her health deteriorated in the cold climate of the South Island and she was afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis. She found it difficult to make decisions, even to the point of worrying over the marks to be awarded to each girl. After only three years she applied successfully for the position of principal of Presbyterian Ladies' College, Pymble, Sydney, where she succeeded Nancy Jobson.

Tall, with short hair which was greying by the time she had arrived in the antipodes, Mackintosh experienced great difficulty in adjusting to life as a headmistress in Australia, just as she had in New Zealand. At both schools she faced declining enrolments due to uncertain economic conditions. Despite her academic attainments, she found it hard to relate closely to the staff and girls. The younger pupils, in particular, could not understand her Scottish brogue. Believing that the fall in enrolments provided opportunities for new ideas, she tried a number of educational experiments, such as instituting an ex-students' weekend.

To many at both Columba and P.L.C. Pymble, Mackintosh appeared deeply religious—almost mystical in her outlook—as she endeavoured to interpret Presbyterianism for a twentieth-century audience. At P.L.C. she introduced a new college prayer: written in the form of a Collect, and based in part on a Greek hymn to Zeus, and on the words of St Paul and St Augustine, it attempted to bind the girls to centuries of religion and to emphasize the bonds of faith as the basis of education. Revealingly, it was the loss of her own Christian faith that finally led to her decision to resign from P.L.C. in 1936.

Following a visit home, Mackintosh came back to Sydney and taught in state secondary schools. She was seconded from North Sydney Girls' High School in 1943 to act as lecturer in English literature at Teachers' College, Sydney, replacing the long-serving Elizabeth Skillen, and remained as an acting-lecturer on temporary appointments until 1 March 1953. Although she was by then beyond middle age, several of her colleagues believed that she was a good lecturer, but she made little impact on the overall life of the college. Returning to Scotland to live with her brother John, Grace Mackintosh died of cancer on 23 March 1954 at Aberdeen.

Select Bibliography

  • Dictionary of National Biography, supplement, 1912-21
  • V. A. Sheddon, Columba College (Dunedin, NZ, 1965)
  • M. Coleman, This is Pymble College 1916-1991 (Syd, 1991)
  • Magazine of the Presbyterian Ladies' College, Pymble, 1935
  • Pymble Ex-Students' Magazine, 1935-36
  • Aberdeen University Review, 35, 1953-54, p 439
  • teachers' records, Department of Education (New South Wales) Archives, Sydney
  • private information.

Citation details

G. E. Sherington, 'Mackintosh, Grace (1890–1954)', 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]


5 September, 1890
Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland


23 March, 1954 (aged 63)
Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

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.