Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Louise Warden McDonald (1903–1988)

by Judith A. Hancock

This article was published:

Louise Warden McDonald (1903-1988), headmistress, was born on 14 July 1903 at Belfast, Ireland, daughter of Silas Crooks, manufacturer, and his wife Theresa, née Hogan. The Crooks family migrated to Australia in 1912 and settled at Paddington, Brisbane; Silas was a draper. Louise was educated at Brisbane Normal School and at St Margaret’s Church of England High School for girls where, in 1922, she was school captain, dux and president of the Literary and Debating Society. She studied science at the University of Queensland (B.Sc., 1926; Dip.Ed., 1939). While a student she sang in the Queensland University Musical Society choir; later she became a member of the University of Queensland Women Graduates’ Association. She started work as a student demonstrator in biology at the university. In 1926-38 she taught science at St Margaret’s and, in 1939, at Ipswich Girls’ Grammar School. Next year she joined the staff of Brisbane Girls’ Grammar School as a science teacher before assuming the position of second-mistress. She succeeded Kathleen Lilley as headmistress in 1952.

Although Miss Crooks was not a tall woman, she had presence and a reputation for not being intimidated; the students respected her. She encouraged girls to study science although, at the time, it was not easy to obtain well-qualified, experienced and competent teachers. Facing a major challenge within the board of trustees when she wanted state-of-the-art science laboratories built, with the support of the chairman she persuaded the trustees to apply for Commonwealth government grants. They were successful and new laboratories opened in 1964 and a science block in 1969.

On 20 December 1958 at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Brisbane, Miss Crooks had married Hugh McCallum McDonald (d.1968), a sales representative and a divorcee. She was active in the Association of Heads of Independent Girls’ Schools in Australia, serving as treasurer (1955-58) and as president (1969-71). Convinced that potentially valuable members of staff, in particular people from overseas, were being lost to the education system due to uncertainty regarding their qualifications, she represented the headmistresses at a meeting of the educational sub-committee of the Commonwealth government’s Committee on Overseas Professional Qualifications. In her presidential address at the association’s conference she criticised the appointment of male principals to girls’ independent and co-educational schools; she strongly believed that girls should have strong female role models. Also, she observed that in the 1970s ‘our accepted moral code, the basic tenets of the Christian Religion, the whole social structure as we have understood it for centuries and the forms and contents of education are being challenged’. Teachers would need in-service training to prepare them for ‘gale-force’ changes in the syllabus.

Retiring in 1970, next year Mrs McDonald was elected a fellow of the Australian College of Education, which noted, in addition to her main achievements, her contribution to the education of Aboriginal children. She served (1951-71) on the council of Women’s College, University of Queensland; she was a member of a Women’s Forum club and she enjoyed bushwalking. Maintaining an interest in St Margaret’s, she was made a life member of the old girls’ association in 1970. In her final years she became frail and was cared for by her stepdaughter Helen Filmer. She died on 20 November 1988 at Gympie and was cremated with Anglican rites. In 2003 the science laboratories that she had established at BGGS underwent major refurbishment and were named in her honour.

Select Bibliography

  • D. E. and I. V. Hansen, Feminine Singular (1989)
  • Brisbane Girls’ Grammar School, Annual Report, 1952-71
  • St Margaret’s Anglican Girls’ School archives, Brisbane
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Judith A. Hancock, 'McDonald, Louise Warden (1903–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


14 July, 1903
Belfast, Antrim, Ireland


20 November, 1988 (aged 85)
Gympie, Queensland, Australia

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