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Elite women's schools across three Australian states in the 1930s: a prosopographical study

Josephine May (University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Article publication date: 24 March 2023

Issue publication date: 8 May 2023




This paper presents a descriptive analysis of elite women's biographical sketches in Who's Who-type collections, now out of copyright, published in Australia in the 1930s: Victoria (1934), New South Wales (1936) and Queensland (1939). It concentrates on information given about their schooling.


The biographical sketches of the women, defined as “elite” by their inclusion in three collections from the 1930s, were examined for information about their and their daughters' education. Using mixed methods in a prosopographical approach, this is mainly a quantitative analysis. It outlines and compares the schools they attended where given as well as providing basic demographic details of the 491 women.


The paper shows that, for those who gave educational details, the women and their daughters attended private schools almost exclusively. Three types of schools were listed – private venture, corporate, and a very few state schools. The paper demonstrates that the landscape for girls’ secondary schooling was not a settled terrain in terms of type, place, religion, or age of schools available for elite girls' education in the late 19th and early 20th century. Private schools are shown to be part of the “machinery of exclusiveness which characterised the inter-war years” (Teese, 1998, p. 402) and private venture schools survived well into the third decade of the 20th century.


Beyond the histories of individual schools, little is known about the educational profile of Australian elite women in the past. This largely quantitative analysis helps to uncover and compare across state-based cohorts, previously unknown demographic, and schooling details for interwar women who recorded their educational details, as well as for the NSW and Victorian daughters where given.



May, J. (2023), "Elite women's schools across three Australian states in the 1930s: a prosopographical study", History of Education Review, Vol. 52 No. 1, pp. 29-48.



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