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McRae, Doris Mary (1893–1988)

by Cheryl Griffin

This article was published:

Doris Mary McRae (1893–1988), schoolteacher and headmistress, was born on 25 January 1893 at Pakenham, Victoria, first child of Victorian-born Donald McRae, teamster, and his English-born wife Mary Jane, née Broad. Attending Pakenham State School, Doris won a scholarship to the Melbourne Continuation School and while studying there boarded with her uncle, James McRae. In 1910 she returned to Pakenham as a junior teacher, then entered the Training (later Teachers’) College and began an arts degree at the University of Melbourne.

In September 1914 Miss McRae took up her first post at Faraday Street State School, Carlton. Recruited into the secondary teaching service in 1916, she joined the staff of Echuca High School. For the next thirty-four years she taught in both rural and suburban schools. Students found her a challenging and inspiring teacher. Her political activism developed alongside her profession, beginning in 1914 when she joined the Australian Student Christian Movement and the Student Peace Group. By the 1920s she was a member of the Free Religious Fellowship and, in 1935, of the newly established Teachers’ Peace Movement and the Movement Against War and Fascism.

From the 1920s McRae was an active unionist, joining the council of the Victorian Teachers’ Union in 1934, and serving as vice-president in 1941-47. She cared deeply about the welfare of the children she worked with, her fellow teachers and society in general, and was a passionate advocate of equal pay for women. A keen promoter of the VTU, she was a key player in the establishment of an independent teachers’ tribunal in 1946 and an agitator, together with other left-wingers, for VTU affiliation with the Trades Hall Council and the Australian Council of Trades Unions.

In 1942 McRae was appointed headmistress of Flemington Girls High School. During World War II she sat on the Victorian committee of the Women’s Charter Conference and was a member of the Council for Women in War Work. From 1945 she was a member of Melbourne’s International Women’s Day Committee. She had developed an international perspective through overseas travel. In 1929-30 she had gone on a teacher exchange to Scotland and in 1937 attended the Pan Pacific Women’s Conference in Vancouver, Canada, later travelling to England and the Soviet Union. On her return she had joined the Communist Party of Australia, written for its Guardian, lectured occasionally at Marx House and became a member of the Left Book Club and the Australian-Soviet Friendship League.

At the peak of her teaching career, her activities were closely monitored by the Commonwealth Investigation Service and in 1946 she was the subject of heated debate in the Victorian Parliament. In 1948 she was defeated for office in the VTU. Mention of her in the Lowe royal commission into communist activity in Victoria, and a relentless anti-communist campaign, forced her to retire in ill health in 1950.

After unsuccessfully contesting the Federal seat of Henty for the CPA in 1951, McRae devoted her energies to the Union of Australian Women, of which she was a foundation member (1950) and president (1964-66). In 1952 she was the Union’s Victorian delegate to the Defence of Children conference in Vienna. She was also active in the Flemington-Kensington Progress Association, lobbying for the establishment of a youth centre and for the conversion of abandoned local tanneries into recreational grounds. Vigorous and prodigiously active well into her eighties, Doris McRae died on 9 October 1988 at East Brighton. A memorial service was held at Coburg High School and her body was donated to the Department of Anatomy, University of Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Evans et al, Optima Semper (1995)
  • S. Fabian and M. Loh, Left-Wing Ladies (2000)
  • C. Griffin, A Biography of Doris McRae, 1893–1988 (PhD thesis, Univ of Melbourne, 2005) and for bib.

Citation details

Cheryl Griffin, 'McRae, Doris Mary (1893–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 4 February 2023.

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

View the front pages for Volume 18

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