Woman Lawson, Betty (1920 - 2008)

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Equal pay campaigner, Teacher and Trade unionist
Alternative Names
  • Bennett (Maiden)

Written by Deborah Towns, Swinburne University

Betty Bennett was born in Melbourne in 1920. She first taught at Ellinbank State School before studying at the Teachers Training College, Melbourne where she gained a Trained Primary Teachers Certificate in 1940. While a student she began her political activism when she was elected as vice-president of the Student Representative Council. She married Jack Stevenson in 1942 and gained a BCom., from the University of Melbourne while teaching and raising a family.

Lawson taught at Bairnsdale Technical School but was ineligible for promotion as a married woman. However she was ambitious and independent and after leaving her husband was able to show that she was a single parent, and hence eligible to be employed as a permanent teacher and to seek promotion. In 1954 she was put on the Technical Teachers' Female Roll and taught at Box Hill Girls' Technical School. She had joined the technical teachers' branch of the Victorian Teachers Union (VTU) in the 1950s and in 1960 she was promoted to Sandringham Technical School and elected to the VTU's Executive as the Metropolitan Technical Women's representative. In 1963, along with teachers' union activists George Lawson and George Lees, she established the national Technical Teachers Association of Australia (TTAA). She was the first woman president of the TTAA in 1966 and 1967.

Lawson had worked with the Chair of the VTU's Equal Pay Committee, Hilma Cranley, president of the VTU (1965-67) and others, advocating equal pay for women teachers. In 1967, she was one of the leading organizers for the 'Talk Out Equality for Women Conference'. Bob Hawke and other community leaders spoke in favour of equal pay and approximately 700 attended. Late in 1967, and decades after the Victorian Lady Teachers Association had first demanded equal pay in 1901, the claim was finally accepted. Lawson joined with other technical teachers who left the VTU in 1967 and formed the TTAV. She was vice-president in 1967 and elected as the first woman president in 1968, serving on the TTAV's Council for four years. In 1970 she was promoted to the position of principal of Sunshine North Technical School. This made her the first women principal of a co-educational technical school. However she had resorted to legal means and challenged the Teachers Tribunal to gain this pioneering role.

On her retirement in 1974 she was awarded Life Membership of the TTAV. She married George Lawson in the same year. Added to the Victorian Honour Role of Women in 2003, Betty Lawson died in 2008.

Additional sources: Towns, Deborah, 'The technical division was always something of a maverick: Betty Lawson and Rosita Vila, leadership, feminism, equity and unionism, 1960s - 1980s', chapter in '"Our Own Sphere": Women Teachers in the Victorian Education Department 1880s to 1980s', PhD thesis, La Trobe University, 2010, pp.213-52.

Published Resources


  • Towns, Deborah, '"our own sphere…" Women Teachers and the Victorian Education Department 1880s-1980s', PhD thesis, La Trobe University, 2010. Details

Online Resources

See also