Woman Weekes, Clara (1852 - 1937)

Bristol, England
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Equal pay campaigner, Feminist, Pacifist, Suffragist, Teacher and Trade unionist

Written by Deborah Towns, Swinburne University

Clara Weekes was born in Bristol, England in 1852 and migrated to Melbourne with her family in 1867, aged six. In 1867, aged 16, she began teaching with her older married sister, Lucy Tisdall, another sister, Alice and brother-in-law, Henry Tisdall, who was the head master of Walhalla School. In 1875, after studying while working, she was promoted to head teacher of Gower Creek, later known as Glenmaggie State School where she employed her mother and younger sister, Edith, to assist her. One of her pupils was Mary Fullerton who went on to be a writer and in later years, she and Weekes worked together on feminist campaigns.

Weekes gained further qualifications and promotions to Colac, Bendigo, North Melbourne, Toorak, Burnley, and Prahran State Schools. Her last school was Rathdowne Street State School, Carlton, which was Victoria's largest school when she taught there in the years before World War One. Here she was interviewed in 1910 by the Weekly Times as she had gained the most senior position a woman teacher could hold in the Victorian Education Department. As Infant Mistress of a large school she held a non-teaching position. In 1913, she retired after forty three years in the Victorian Education Department.

Throughout most of her life Weekes combined teaching with other educational responsibilities and community activism. In 1899 she and her sister Alice were on the Department's Swimming Committee of Management. Weekes was one of six women on the Department's Committee of seventy which organised the major State Schools Exhibition, held in the Exhibition Buildings, Carlton, in 1906. At this time women made up 50 per cent of the teaching service. The following year she was an organiser of the Australian Exhibition of Women's Work, also held in the Exhibition Buildings, which attracted state, national and international exhibits and visitors. Since 1884, when The Victorian Lady Teachers Association (1884-1917) began, Weekes and her sisters were leaders of this feminist association. They advocated women's suffrage, equal pay and equal promotion opportunities. From 1901, Weekes worked with Vida Goldstein on equal pay campaigns and as a member of the Women's Political Association. During World War One Weekes had retired in 1913 and she was an activist in the Sisterhood of International Peace. She was also a long standing member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union and in 1916 was a speaker at the Women's Social Evil Convention. In 1919 she publicly criticised the government's White Australia policy. In 1928 her letter in The Age supported Julia Flynn's promotion to Chief Inspector of Secondary Division in the Department. In her early eighties, she wrote to the Malvern City Council about protecting girls' morality.

Clara Weekes died in Melbourne in 1937. Her name lives on in the Clara Weekes Education Project, Victorian Trades Hall Council.

Published Resources

Journal Articles

  • Towns, Deborah, '"Youth and Hope and Vigour in Her Heart": Clara Weekes, a "Born Teacher" and First-Wave Feminism', Victorian Historical Journal, vol. 79, no. 2. Women's Suffrage Centenary Issue, 2008, pp. 277 - 295. Details

Online Resources