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Doris Margaret Osborne (1906–1977)

by Gavin Souter

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Doris Margaret Osborne (1906-1977), schoolteacher and campaigner for equal rights for women, was born on 22 October 1906 at Glen Innes, New South Wales, only daughter and eldest of three children of native-born parents Herbert Osborne, farmer, and his wife Nellie Winifred, née Souter. Doris grew up on her parents' cattle property and boarded with relations in the town during school weeks. On leaving Glen Innes Intermediate High School, she entered the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1927; Dip.Ed., 1928). She taught mathematics and physics successively at Yass, Tamworth, Broken Hill and Glen Innes high schools for the next ten years, and was a leading member of the Secondary Teachers' Association of New South Wales.

Later appointments in Sydney led to her first senior promotion (deputy-headmistress, Fairfield Girls' High School, 1955) and also allowed her to become more active in the New South Wales Teachers' Federation, on whose council she served almost continuously from 1951 to 1968. By the late 1940s the federation was pursuing the goal of equal pay for men and women teachers. At her first meeting as a member of its equal pay committee, Osborne remarked that, although she was deputy-headmistress of a girls' high school, she could not return to her old co-educational school at Glen Innes—except as a lower paid assistant—because women could not be appointed to senior positions at boys' and co-educational schools. Teachers like herself, she said, were professionally ten years behind men with whom they had trained at Teachers' College. At a federation meeting in 1951 she successfully moved that the words 'and opportunity' be inserted after 'equal pay' in a resolution being moved by Lucy Woodcock and Vera Leggett.

Miss Osborne worked assiduously towards both objectives, writing and presenting radio talks. She represented the federation at seven Australian Council of Trade Unions' congresses and, in 1957, on a deputation to the premier, J. J. Cahill, concerning equality of pay and opportunity. She was senior vice-president (1954-57) of the federation and in 1961 was accorded life membership. As a result of the federation's campaign, supported by other unions, the Industrial Arbitration (Female Rates) Amendment Act (1958) provided, by annual increments over five years, equality of pay for women doing work of the same nature, range and volume as men. Equality of opportunity was also partially introduced by negotiation between the federation and Public Service Board. In 1965 Osborne travelled abroad.

Headmistress (from 1959) of Blacktown and (from 1961) of Strathfield girls' high schools, Osborne was appointed in 1966 the State's first woman principal of a co-educational high school (West Wyalong)—an equality of opportunity slightly tarnished by the absence of a vested residence which had formerly gone with the position. She was a tall, handsome woman with a sociable, generous manner. At the local Methodist Church on 21 June 1968 she married Harold Helyar, a 69-year-old storekeeper and a widower. That year Mrs Helyar was appointed to the board of the Wyalong and District Hospital. In 1974, three years after retiring from teaching, she topped the poll for Bland Shire Council. Survived by her husband, she died of coronary artery disease on 27 June 1977 at her West Wyalong home and was cremated with Uniting Church forms.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Phelan, Women in Action in the Federation (Syd, 1981)
  • J. O'Brien, A Divided Unity! (Syd, 1987)
  • Education, 12 Apr 1961
  • West Wyalong Advocate, 23 Sept 1974
  • M. Millar, Justice Versus Tradition: A History of the Campaign for Equal Pay for Equal Work by the New South Wales Teachers' Federation, 1918-1963 (B.A. Hons thesis, Macquarie University, 1993)
  • teachers records, Department of Education (New South Wales) archives.

Citation details

Gavin Souter, 'Osborne, Doris Margaret (1906–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

On education differences between genders
Australian Broadcasting Commission
29 November 1966

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Helyar, Doris

22 October, 1906
Glen Innes, New South Wales, Australia


27 June, 1977 (aged 70)
Wyalong, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.