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Medway, Violet Maude (Vi) (1909–1996)

by Cheryl Szatow

This article was published online in 2020

Violet Medway, 1969

Violet Medway, 1969

Violet Maude Medway (1909–1996), headmistress, was born on 17 January 1909 at Watsons Bay, Sydney, eldest of five children and only daughter of English-born parents Harold Richard Medway, butcher, and his wife Annie Maude, neé Pooley. Harold’s family were farmers with extensive property in Devon and Somerset. Maude’s brother had taken a degree at the University of Cambridge while she, whose father did not believe in education for women, worked nevertheless as a bookkeeper for an uncle who was a butcher in Surrey, England. Violet was educated at St Mary’s College, Gunnedah, and Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Pymble, having won an exhibition bursary to the latter in 1920. Her earliest years were largely spent in the home of John Hazelwood, the headmaster of Watsons Bay Public School, with his wife and family. At PLC Pymble she was dux in 1924 and 1925. She attended the University of Sydney (BA, 1929), studying history, anthropology, English, and mathematics. During her time there she also assisted in her parents’ business.

When Medway graduated, her preference was for a career in anthropology or archaeology, but she was offered work at Philips Lamps (Australasia) Ltd. Shortly after, in 1929, she accepted a teaching position in English, history, mathematics, and Latin at Queenwood School for Girls, Mosman. She settled in quickly, and in 1932 she was made first assistant to the principal, Beatrice Rennie.

In 1937 Medway became part-owner of Queenwood with Rennie. Appointed co-principal in 1942, she became principal in her own right in 1962; she would hold that position until she retired in 1982. After the school was established as a non-profit company, Queenwood School for Girls Ltd, in 1966, she was chairman of the board of directors from 1974 to 1992. On stepping down from that role she was made patron. It was arguably largely as a result of her commitment and foresight, together with the support of Rennie, that Queenwood grew from a small private-venture school to a highly regarded institution for some eight hundred students from kindergarten to sixth form by 1996.

Medway was honorary secretary of the Guild Teachers’ College, which trained primary teachers for independent schools, and the Association of Headmistresses (of Independent Schools) of New South Wales from 1956 to 1971, and president of the latter in 1973. Honorary secretary of the Headmistresses’ Association of Australia between 1959 and 1962, she was a member of its executive committee until 1965. She was also a founding member of the Independent Girls’ School Sports Union. From 1968 to 1982 she represented the independent girls’ schools on the New South Wales government’s board of secondary school studies. In 1968 she was an inaugural committee member of the Association of Independent Schools, and in 1970 of the National Council of Independent Schools of Australia. She was appointed MBE in 1971.

An impressive woman with regal bearing and blue eyes which could bear down eagle-like on unwitting girls, or light up a day with a twinkle of mischievous good humour for those privileged enough to be granted access to her personal charm, Medway was always indisputably in charge. A motoring enthusiast, she reluctantly gave up driving her little red BMW when her eyesight diminished. The businessman Sir John Marks described her as ‘a remarkable woman,’ who was ‘as capable an administrator as the chief executive officers of some of our large companies’ (Marks [1984], 113).

In retirement Medway lived beside Queenwood, and oversaw its archives; she wrote two histories of the school. She died on 29 May 1996 at her Mosman home, and was cremated. A thanksgiving service, with the order and content prepared by her, was held locally at St Clement’s Church of England. Desiring of comforting her girls, she had included the joyous Christmas carol ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ and the school hymn, which had been written by her long-time business partner and friend Beatrice Rennie. Her personal estate, valued in excess of $1.7 million, was bequeathed predominantly to Queenwood. Two awards, for dux and for sporting achievement, had been established in her name in 1979, and Queenwood’s junior school was named after her. A portrait by Judy Cassab, commissioned in 1963, was hung next to Rennie’s in the assembly hall at Queenwood.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Marks, J. H. D. Memories: Reflections, Guideposts and Milestones. Self published, [1984]
  • McPhee, Trish. ‘Dedicated Teacher with a Vision for Girls’ Education.’ Australian, 12 June 1996, 14
  • Medway, V. M. Interviews by the author, 1989–92
  • Medway, V. M. Queenwood: The First Sixty Years 1925–1985: A History According to V. M. Medway. Sydney: Macarthur Press, 1986
  • Medway, V. M. Queenwood: The Next Ten Years 1985–1995: A History According to V. M. Medway. Lane Cove, NSW: McPherson’s Printing Group, 1995
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • Queenwood School for Girls. Archival collection

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Cheryl Szatow, 'Medway, Violet Maude (Vi) (1909–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/medway-violet-maude-vi-27544/text34949, published online 2020, accessed online 3 December 2022.

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