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Tisdall, Alice Constance (1877–1968)

by Lyndsay Gardiner

This article was published:

Alice Constance Tisdall (1877-1968), educationist, was born on 17 August 1877 at Walhalla, Gippsland, Victoria, seventh child of Henry Thomas Tisdall, teacher, and his wife Lucy, née Weekes. Henry (1836-1905), originally from Waterford, Ireland, had migrated to Victoria in 1858. He and his English-born wife had arrived at Walhalla in 1868 to become head teacher and work mistress at Stringer's Creek State School. Four of Lucy's sisters were also teachers and three taught with them there. An amateur botanist, Henry collected, identified and illustrated Gippsland wildflowers and fungi. Sponsored by Baron von Mueller, he was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society, London, in 1883.

Constance, as she was known, attended Walhalla School as a small child; after the family moved to Melbourne in 1886 she went briefly to Montague Street State School and later to a dame's school at Toorak. Her serious education in the humanities occurred at home under her parents' guidance. Matriculating in 1897, she lacked grounding in classics and mathematics and failed first year arts at the University of Melbourne. A resident bursary to Trinity College enabled her to try again: in 1899 she won the first year logic exhibition. She graduated (B.A., 1903; M.A., 1906) and accepted a teaching post at Alexandra College, Hamilton, where she reaffirmed her childhood conviction that she was 'born to teach'.

The principal, successively, of Rosbercon College (1906-33) (her family's school at Brighton), St Anne's Church of England Girls' Grammar School at Sale (1934-43) and St Christopher's Training College for Women, East Malvern (1945-47), she became president of both the Women Graduates' Association of Victoria and the Victorian Headmistresses' Association. In 1961 she was appointed O.B.E. That year she published Forerunners, the story of the teaching experiences of the Tisdall and Weekes families.

She had little interest in administration. Her rejection in 1911 of Archbishop Lowther Clarke's offer to take over Rosbercon as a nucleus of an Anglican girls' school for the southern suburbs led ultimately to its eclipse by Firbank Church of England Girls' Grammar School; small family schools like Rosbercon were unable financially to meet demands for increased mathematics and science teaching, as well as for better facilities. St Anne's and St Christopher's, with institutional backing, benefited from Constance's stimulating teaching without suffering unduly from her lack of business acumen.

A deeply Christian woman, Constance kept diaries which reveal stern spiritual self-examination and a constant awareness of the presence of God. Her ideal of education was essentially a person-to-person relationship, based on exchange of ideas, mutual trust, firm discipline (as in a well-ordered family), and above all on love. At Rosbercon she adopted a modified version of the Dalton Plan, taught English literature and Scripture, and imbued the school with a Christian ethos. St Anne's, when Constance arrived, had some thirty-five pupils, all primary; teaching took place in the parish hall, a mile (1.6 km) from the boarding hostel; when she left, the school with ninety pupils was on one site and had secondary registration. At St Christopher's she guided a group of young women interested in teaching religious education and in youth leadership.

On retirement, Constance continued teaching English literature, mainly to migrants. Still bright-eyed and owlish, she read voraciously, and enjoyed visits and reunions with 'old girls'. Small and spry, she was remembered by former pupils as an affectionate teacher, with a capacity for pepperiness. She died, unmarried, on 24 August 1968 and was cremated after an Anglican service at St James's Church, Glen Iris.

Select Bibliography

  • Sprogs-News from St. Anne's, no 1, Mar 1964, 5, no 2, Oct 1968
  • Argus (Melbourne), 13 July 1905
  • Herald (Melbourne), 31 Oct 1931, 2 Dec 1933, 13 Dec 1944, 8 Dec 1959, 3 Oct 1961, 12 Aug 1967, 4 June 1969
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 13 Dec 1944, 10 June, 9 Nov 1961, 17 Aug 1967
  • Age (Melbourne), 23 May 1947, 10, 21 June, 11 Nov 1961, 11 Dec 1963, 26 Aug 1968
  • Tisdall family papers (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

Lyndsay Gardiner, 'Tisdall, Alice Constance (1877–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 19 May 2022.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2022

Life Summary [details]


17 August, 1877
Walhalla, Victoria, Australia


24 August, 1968 (aged 91)
Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence