Woman Harken, Nennie (1922 - )


Western Australia, Australia
Equal pay campaigner, Teacher and Trade unionist

Written by Deborah Towns, Swinburne University

Nennie Harken was born in 1922 and undertook her early schooling at the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions, Katanning, WA. In 1939 she completed her Leaving Certificate at the Sacred Heart High School, Highgate, Perth, moving then to a position as a teaching monitor in Denmark Primary School. She attended Claremont Teachers College and also studied education and English at the University of Western Australia. With so many men enlisted for service, the College had 100 female students and only 30 men. As a student teacher Harken taught at Nedlands and Subiaco primary schools. At Claremont Central School, she worked with Dorothy Tangney, before her election to the Senate.

Graduating during the war she, like many other young women teachers was sent to the country, initially to Grant's Patch, a small isolated, mining settlement, twenty-four miles from Kalgoorlie where she taught a class of 20 as the sole teacher. She called this experience an 'adventure', boarding with a family for the two years she was there and kept on studying as the Department expected. After another single teacher position which lasted for three years, she moved to Coolgardie where she worked with two other teachers. In 1955 she was promoted to first mistress or deputy principal at Grosnells Primary School. This was an administrative and teaching role alongside a male in a similar position. Nennie was responsible for the discipline and tone of the school for the girls, organised girls' sport and oversaw needlework. Initially only the male deputy head could be the acting head but that gradually changed.

Harken joined the State School Teachers Union of Western Australia (SSTUWA) in 1940 and was on the union's executive for 25 years, beginning in 1957. She regularly attended Australian Teachers Federation Conferences interstate and represented the union on the Western Australian Council for Equal Pay and Opportunity from 1958 to 1973, including a period as chair. Equal pay was introduced in 1967 but the Committee continued until 1973 when all discriminatory clauses had been removed from State legislation. Harken was acting president of the SSTUWA when there were a series of rolling strikes and in 1979 was the first woman elected to the Teachers' Tribunal.

In 1980 Nennie Harken was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia, for services to education' and made a life member of the SSTUWA. The union's executive meeting room is named in her honour.

Published Resources

Book Sections

  • Twycross, Dale and Harken, Nennie, 'Nennie Harken talks to Dale Twycross', in Hunt, Lynne and Trotman, Janina (eds), Claremont Cameos, Women Teachers and the Building of Social Capital in Australia, Edith Cowan University, Perth, Western Australia, 2002, pp. 234 - 247. Details

Online Resources

See also