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Madeline Rees George (1851–1931)

by Helen Jones

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Madeline Rees George, c.1890

Madeline Rees George, c.1890

State Library of South Australia, 20943726

Madeline Rees George (1851-1931), headmistress, was born on 25 May 1851 at Lewisham village, Kent, England, daughter of Francis George, gentleman, and his wife Ann Fell, née Rees. In 1866-69 Rees George attended boarding school in Wiesbaden, Germany. Proficient in German and French, she became a governess in Kissingen and Munich; in 1875, holding an impeccable reference, she joined her family in South Australia.

In Adelaide, after teaching in several families, she was appointed in 1880 as part-time German and French mistress at the new Advanced School for Girls, South Australia's only state secondary school. Leaving in 1885 to conduct her own private school in North Adelaide, she returned in 1886 as headmistress of the Advanced School. Working with inspector-general John Anderson Hartley, she maintained high academic standards, encouraged esprit de corps and increased enrolments. In 1892, following the opening of a substantial new building in Grote Street, 180 students enrolled. Emulating English girls' high schools, Rees George provided higher education for girls equal to that in the best private boys' schools.

In 1900, after an educational tour abroad, she introduced the school motto, Non scholae sed vitae, presented a wide-ranging report on girls' education to the South Australian government, added Greek and chemistry to the syllabus and introduced inter-school tennis matches. The Advanced School influenced girls' private schools in attitudes to academic standards and public examinations. Those schools and State primary schools were increasingly staffed by its old scholars and former staff, including Caroline Jacob and Ellen Benham. Until 1898 all University of Adelaide female graduates were former Advanced School students. Rees George herself passed several university subjects between 1880 and 1902.

She set state school teachers' and public examination papers, assisted in training pupil-teachers, and was committee-member of the Teachers' Guild of South Australia and the Collegiate Schools' Association. In 1904 she became foundation secretary of the League of the Empire in South Australia, cultivating a vigorous patriotism among her pupils; in 1907 she attended the league's first Imperial conference on education in London. She worked through the league to have a bronze statue of Charles Sturt made in England and erected in Victoria Square, Adelaide, in 1916. The statue is a reflection of both Sturt’s and Rees George’s own determined and honest characters; whereas the square’s other statues, of Queen Victoria, Charles Cameron Kingston and Sturt’s fellow explorer John McDouall Stuart are staid and formal, Sturt’s depicts him in explorer’s working clothes, peering into the distance from beneath a full-brimmed hat, and with water bottle, compass and other tools of trade at hand.

In 1908 the Advanced School for Girls provided the model for the State's secondary schools when it was incorporated into the new Adelaide High School. Rees George remained headmistress of the girls' section, advising the headmaster, until her retirement in 1913 when she travelled in Italy. In 1915-22 she taught at the Methodist Ladies' College; interrupted only by an overseas trip in 1926, she remained the school's weekly visitor on behalf of the League of the Empire and in 1928 was acting headmistress for a term. In 1923 she had been president of the Women Teachers' Association.

A staunch Anglican, her thin, erect figure, sharp features and often tart comments masked generosity and kindness. Her pupils regarded her as 'stern but fair'. In 1916 she had adopted a new interest: after attending lectures, she established a model 'scientific' poultry farm in the backyard of her Childers Street, North Adelaide, home. Her aim was to demonstrate to women and war invalids how they might easily and practically supplement their incomes. Rees George died at Eastwood Mental Hospital on 15 June 1931; her name is commemorated by the M. Rees George Memorial Prize for French at the University of Adelaide.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Twynam, To Grow in Wisdom (Adel, 1977)
  • Education Gazette (South Australia), June 1889, p 47, Mar 1890, p 21, Sept 1891, p 87
  • Lone Hand, 1 June 1916
  • H. Jones, ‘Pinnacle of the state school system …’, Journal of the Australian and New Zealand History of Education, 4 (1975), no 1
  • Register (Adelaide), 23 Dec 1898, 21 Dec 1900
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 16, 17 June 1931
  • Education Department (South Australia), Inspector-General of Schools, correspondence files 2861/1879 (State Records of South Australia)
  • Teachers' Guild of South Australia and Collegiate Schools' Assn, Minute Book, 1891-1905 (State Records of South Australia).

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Citation details

Helen Jones, 'Rees George, Madeline (1851–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 24 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Madeline Rees George, c.1890

Madeline Rees George, c.1890

State Library of South Australia, 20943726

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Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • George, Madeline Rees

25 May, 1851
London, Middlesex, England


15 June, 1931 (aged 80)
Eastwood, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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