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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wilkinson, Dorothy Irene (1883–1947)

by Caroline Simpson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Dorothy Irene Wilkinson (1883-1947), headmistress, was born on 22 May 1883 at Upholland, Lancashire, England, eldest daughter of Rev. Christopher George Wilkinson (1855-1929), Anglican clergyman, and his wife Florence, née Shann. Recruited by Bishop Montgomery, in 1889 Wilkinson brought his family to Tasmania and served in the diocese. In 1896 Dorothy went home to complete her schooling at the Clergy Daughters' School, Casterton, Westmorland.

Returning to Tasmania, she discovered a love of teaching while assisting her father, headmaster of Launceston Church Grammar School. In 1909 she entered the University of Melbourne (Dip.Ed., 1912; B.A., 1913; M.A., 1921) where she played hockey for the university and graduated with honours in history. After teaching briefly at the Church of England Girls' Grammar School, Melbourne, Dorothy returned to Launceston and in 1915 established the Girls' Grammar School which in six years built up an enrolment of two hundred pupils.

In 1920 Miss Wilkinson was appointed headmistress of Sydney Church of England Girls' Grammar School, Darlinghurst, in succession to Edith Badham. After failing to persuade the Church to move the school, or to buy the adjoining property (Rosebank), she initiated an extension and renovation programme, converting the school hall into a chapel in 1926. That year she introduced a house system. She took a year's leave in England and Palestine in 1929. On her return, her own ill health and the stresses of the Depression occasioned difficulties, but by 1935 the school had a record 365 students. In 1941 she established a wartime branch of the school at Leura in the Blue Mountains.

Originally known as 'Stickybeak', she cleverly altered the nickname to 'Stick' by which she became affectionately known to the girls who admired her readiness to stick by them. She moved quickly about the school, wearing an academic gown and her golden hair in a bun. Miss Wilkinson was a dedicated High Church Anglican, devoid of extremism; she wrote prayers and hymns, notably the chapel hymn, Luceat Lux Vestra. She provided her students with an education grounded in the Christian faith, while encouraging them to enter and excel at public examinations.

Committed to wider issues of education, Miss Wilkinson served as honorary secretary (1923-47) of the Association of Headmistresses; a councillor of the Teachers' Guild of New South Wales (vice-president, 1934-35) and of the Teachers' Central Registry, she was also a member of the New Education Fellowship and the Gurney Soubeiran Trust. She endeavoured to raise the salaries of teachers in non-government schools and battled, with minimal success, against clerics who regarded teaching as a 'calling'.

Retiring in May 1947, she handed on to her successor Barbara Chisholm a flourishing and profitable school with an enrolment of 450 pupils. Dorothy Wilkinson moved to Wahroonga. On 18 September, alighting from a bus at Neutral Bay, she fell beneath the vehicle and was crushed to death. Following a funeral service at St Andrew's Cathedral, she was cremated. Her estate was sworn for probate at £8222. In 1970 the Dorothy Wilkinson Library was opened at S.C.E.G.G.S.; the school holds her portrait (1933) by Adelaide Perry.

Select Bibliography

  • SCEGGS Council, Sydney Church of England Girls' Grammar School 1895-1955, W. Sharland ed (Syd, 1958) and G. Appleton ed (Syd, 1972)
  • SCEGGS, Lux, June 1945, jubilee no
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Oct 1920, 9 May, 19, 20 Sept 1947
  • private information.

Citation details

Caroline Simpson, 'Wilkinson, Dorothy Irene (1883–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 14 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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