Woman Knowles, Violet May (1901 - 1996)

West Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Written by Deborah Towns, Swinburne University

Violet May Knowles (known as May) was born in West Perth in 1901. Her parents were Joseph and Catherine Knowles (nee Ginnis). She attended West Leederville and Burran Rock primary schools and Perth Girls' High School. The subjects of modern and ancient philosophy, biology and mathematics, which she needed to commence teacher training, were unavailable at her school so she attended classes at Perth Boys High School and worked as a teaching monitor. This experience meant that she was the only woman to have been a monitor at Perth Boys. In 1922 she commenced her training at Claremont Teachers College and studied at the University of Western Australia and gained a Science degree. She taught at Perth Girls' High School and then at Thomas Street for six years then moved to Northam High Schools for a further sixteen years.

Initially Knowles found it difficult financially as teachers were paid monthly. She taught girls' sport and was Olympic champion Shirley Strickland de la Hunty's first coach. Knowles was called 'the hyphen' as she was seen to be crossing boundaries between men's and women's teaching roles. In 1944 she was promoted to principal-mistress at Perth Modern School which made her the top woman in secondary teaching. Then she went to the Kent Street High School where, because as it was a practising school, her salary was £10 per year higher. In 1955 she was headmistress of Girdlestone Girls High School before returning to Perth Girls High School as headmistress.

After retirement in 1960, Knowles worked for many years in honorary capacities at the National Trust and the Children's Court. She died in 1996.

Published Resources

Book Sections

  • O'Brien, Avril and Trotman, Janina, 'Violet May Knowles talks to Avril O'Brien and Janina Trotman', in Lynne Hunt and Janina Trotman (eds), Claremont Cameos, Women Teachers and the Building of Social Capital in Australia, Edith Cowan University, Perth, Western Australia, 2002. Details

Online Resources