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Clarice Irwin’s visions for education in Australia in the 1920s and 1930s: “what might be”

Dorothy Kass (Department of Modern History Politics and International Relations, Macquarie University, North Ryde, Australia)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Article publication date: 16 August 2019

Issue publication date: 11 November 2019



The paper is a study of Clarice McNamara, née Irwin (1901–1990), an educator who advocated for reform in the interwar period in Australia. Clarice is known for her role within the New Education Fellowship in Australia, 1940s–1960s; however, the purpose of this paper is to investigate her activism in an earlier period, including contributions made to the journal Education from 1925 to 1938 to ask how she addressed conditions of schooling, curriculum reform, and a range of other educational, social, political and economic issues, and to what effect.


Primary source material includes the previously ignored contributions to Education and a substantial unpublished autobiography. Used in conjunction, the sources allow a biographical, rhetorical and contextual study to stress a dynamic relationship between writing, attitudes, and the formation and activity of organisations.


McNamara was an unconventional thinker whose writing urged the case for radical change. She kept visions of reformed education alive for educators and brought transnational progressive literature to the attention of Australian educators in an overall reactionary period. Her writing was part of a wider activism that embraced schooling, leftist ideologies, and feminist issues.


There has been little scholarly attention to the life and work of McNamara, particularly in the 1920s–1930s. The paper indicates her relevance for histories of progressive education in Australia and its transnational networks, the Teachers Federation and feminist activism between the wars.



Kass, D. (2019), "Clarice Irwin’s visions for education in Australia in the 1920s and 1930s: “what might be”", History of Education Review, Vol. 48 No. 2, pp. 198-213.



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