Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Theodosia Ada Wallace (1872–1953)

by Robyn Arrowsmith

This article was published:

Theodosia Ada Wallace (1872-1953), journalist, was born on 18 August 1872 at Jolimont, East Melbourne, daughter of English-born parents Alexander Britton, journalist and historian, and his wife Ada, née Willoughby. Theodosia's education began at the Misses Budds' kindergarten school, and when the family moved to Sydney, about 1885, continued at home; by 1890 the Brittons lived at Ravensworth, Woolloomooloo. The same tutors taught Theodosia and her two brothers and she took private music lessons from Madame Charbonnet Kellermann, mother of Annette. Matriculating in March 1888, Theodosia studied English, Latin, Greek, mathematics, chemistry and physics at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1891). In 1900 she was honorary secretary of the University Women's Association.

Theodosia's father, grandfather, two uncles and a cousin were journalists and after teaching briefly she switched to a long life of writing. At the age of 20 she wrote a social column for the Melbourne Argus and Australasian as 'Biddy B.A.'. She also contributed to the Sydney Morning Herald and later joined its staff, writing mainly on temperance and feminist subjects, such as the passing of the Married Women's Property Act, free kindergartens and changes to the laws on prostitution. The Herald started a weekly feature, 'A Page for Women', in September 1905 and Theodosia was appointed editor, under the general editorship of Thomas Heney. The first issue contained jottings on fashion ('Snuff brown chiffon is one of the newest materials for evening gowns'), gardening, table decoration, shopping in Paris, Australians in England and women artists in Sydney, and advice by Ethel Turner on suitable literature for young girls. On its second appearance the page was more attractive, with an artwork title piece and fashion drawings. The page increased the Herald's circulation by 700 copies in the first week and 1400 in the second, but numbers reverted to former levels thereafter.

On 28 December 1905 at St John's Church of England, Darlinghurst, Theodosia married Irish-born Albert Edward Noble Wallace (1872-1928), accountant and civil servant, sometime Queensland and New South Wales chess champion; they had met through her chess-enthusiast brother Alexander. Theodosia left the Herald before her first child was born in 1907; a second was born in 1908. She wrote The Etiquette of Australia (1909), which went into three editions by 1922.

In 1914 the Australian Woman's Weekly described Wallace as a 'most practical-looking, learned, and to-the-manner-born journalist'. She worked for various newspapers, such as the weekly Bystander, where for £3 a week she supplied most of the letterpress, and wrote syndicated letters for the Orange Leader and a Dubbo newspaper. In the Newcastle Herald, under the pseudonym 'INO', her weekly column 'An Idle Woman's Diary' ran from 1920. She was the first head of the Country Press Association's press-cutting service, working there for about thirty years. In the 1920s her poem, 'My love for you', set to the music of Lillian Mitchell, was published by W. H. Paling & Co. Wallace wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald in 1934 about bell-ringing in Sydney churches, describing the 'ear-filling sound' as having 'something satisfying to the soul in it'.

A founding member of the Society of Women Writers, she attended a meeting convened in September 1925 to form an organization that would draw together women writers and newspaper artists, including Zara Aronson and (Dame) Mary Gilmore; Wallace was elected to the first executive committee, and became a vice-president in the 1940s. She died on 1 October 1953 at her Double Bay home and was buried in Rookwood cemetery. Her son and daughter survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Souter, Company of Heralds (Syd, 1981)
  • P. Clarke, Pen Portraits (Syd, 1988)
  • Australian Women’s Weekly, 26 Sept 1914, p 6
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 May 1900, p 8, 24 Nov 1934, p 11
  • Society of Women Writers, minute book, 7 Sept 1925 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • correspondence with Mrs A. Farr, 1981 (held on ADB file).

Citation details

Robyn Arrowsmith, 'Wallace, Theodosia Ada (1872–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Biddy B.A.
  • Britton, Theodosia

18 August, 1872
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


1 October, 1953 (aged 81)
Double Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.