Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gertrude Mary Walton (1881–1951)

by Juliet Ludbrook

This article was published:

Gertrude Mary Walton (1881-1951), headmistress, was born on 1 April 1881 at Derby, England, daughter of James Pollitt Walton, schoolmaster, and his wife Margaret Ellen, née Hanesworth. Gertrude, her mother, two brothers and two sisters migrated to Western Australia in 1891; her father, recently appointed inspector of schools, had arrived the previous year. Educated privately, she passed the South Australian senior public examination in 1898. She attended the University of Adelaide (B.A., 1904) and the Sorbonnne, Paris (diplôme d'études Françaises, 1908), and taught for a year in the École Primaire Supérieure at Guise.

Returning to Perth, Miss Walton joined the staff of the newly established Methodist Ladies' College in 1909 as first mistress. In 1913 she was appointed headmistress. Although restrained by an all-male and rigidly Methodist school council—in 1914 she had to obtain permission to read her own report on speech day—she succeeded in establishing herself as a leader in education. She travelled to England and Europe in 1920, visiting schools and observing advances in education. Next year she introduced a modified version of the Dalton plan, which encouraged students to work at their own pace; it remained in operation at the school until 1945. At much the same time Margaret Bailey introduced a similar version of the Dalton plan at Ascham, Sydney.

Affectionately known as 'Wal', Walton taught English, history, religious studies and, for a short time, French. She was respected for her enthusiasm and her scholarship. Always interested in developments in education, she attended New Education Fellowship conferences in England (1936) and in Perth (1937). After retiring in 1945, she wrote a history of M.L.C., The Building of a Tradition (1949). She used extracts from her speech night reports to encapsulate the principal elements of her educational philosophy: delaying specialization as long as possible, acquiring self-discipline, and learning to face and conquer personal difficulties. Stressing the importance of preparing for an occupation (other than marriage), and of pursuing worthwhile leisure activities, she aimed to foster in her pupils 'a well-balanced character and enthusiastic devotion to some worthy aim in life'.

An independent woman, Walton travelled overseas alone. At home she drove (less than perfectly) her own car. Friends and pupils remembered her series of little terriers, always named Ferdinand. A keen theatre-goer, she read widely, particularly enjoying crime fiction, and wrote an unpublished dissertation: 'The vogue of the detective novel'. She considered that acquiring a love of good books was more important than academic success. Of middle height and conservatively dressed, she had dark hair, a slightly olive complexion, a loud, fruity laugh, and large, luminous eyes which her great-nephew Storry Walton remembered as 'cool and appraising, observant: terrible in reproval, kind and serene at other times'. She died of coronary vascular disease on 20 February 1951 at Blackpool, England, and was cremated. Walton bequeathed £500 to M.L.C. for the library; it was named after her in 1957.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Lang, A Living Tradition (Perth, 1980)
  • J. Shepherd, The Quiet Revolution (1997, copy held at MLC Archives, Perth)
  • West Australian, 22 Feb 1951
  • Walton family papers (MLC Archives, Perth)
  • private information.

Citation details

Juliet Ludbrook, 'Walton, Gertrude Mary (1881–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


1 April, 1881
Derby, Derbyshire, England


20 February, 1951 (aged 69)
Blackpool, Lancashire, England

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