Woman Willard, Myra (1887 - 1971)

Educationist and Historian

Written by Sharon M. Harrison, The University of Melbourne

Born in 1887 Myra Willard became a pupil teacher at Greta public school in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney in 1904 and in 1908 was awarded a scholarship to Sydney Teachers College. Allowed by the Education Department to enrol at the University of Sydney, she studied under George Arnold Wood, the first Challis professor of history. An Oxford man and a liberal radical, Wood instituted a syllabus concentrating on European culture and British heritage. Willard won several prizes including Venour V. Nathan Prize for Australian or Imperial History in 1920 and graduated with First-Class Honours in 1917, alongside Marjorie F. Barnard, another prominent pupil of Wood's Sydney School of History.

In May 1920 the Senate of the University of Sydney awarded Willard the Frazer postgraduate scholarship in history. Wood supervised Willard's postgraduate study of migration to Australia and describing her as 'an excellent research scholar'. At his instigation she wrote a prize-winning essay, which in 1923 became the first book published by Melbourne University Press. The History of the White-Australia Policy to 1920 was awarded the Harbison-Higinbotham Research Scholarship, by the University of Melbourne. While Willard's study suffered from lack of access to departmental files, it nevertheless presented a perceptive analysis of how the policy emerged and of the system of indentured labour and became the standard work of its subject, republished in 1967 with minor corrections by the author, and again in 1974.

Willard returned to teaching first at Fort Street Girls High School, then from 1928 as assistant examiner at the head office of the Education Department. Regrettably, she wrote no more history. She died in 1971.

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