Dorothy Southwell one amazing woman

QUIET ACHIEVER: Dorothy Southwell.
QUIET ACHIEVER: Dorothy Southwell.

WHAT makes a feminist?

Perhaps we initially think of Mrs Pankhurst and the early days when women were demonstrating to obtain the vote, or perhaps Germaine Greer in more recent times.

However, there is another kind of feminist - one who goes through life quietly, showing by example how life should be lived, with strong views and determination to achieve her aims and make the most of what life has to offer.

This is a woman to be respected for her quiet dignity and whose achievements are known usually only after she has died. Such a woman was Dorothy Maude Southwell of Ballina.

She was born at Sydney in 1911 to Harold and Maude Farmer. Her father was a draughtsman in the Lands Department. She had an older sister. As a small child, her father's job took him to several towns in the country. She started school at Goulburn and later moved to Dubbo.

Her mother wished the two daughters to have a good education and so a transfer was obtained to return to Sydney, where Dorothy enrolled at Sydney Girls High School.

Here she had an excellent academic record, was a prefect, won a hockey blue, and was awarded both an exhibition to Sydney University and a scholarship to teachers' college. She was one of very few women to achieve this double feat.

At Sydney University she majored in history and Latin, graduating with Honours in History. She then completed her training at Sydney Teachers College, but graduating in the middle of the Great Depression meant teaching positions were scarce.

In mid-1933 she accepted a position at Bankstown teaching a third class of more than 50 pupils. Never fazed, she continued there for four years before being offered a position of history, French and Latin teacher at Murrumburrah High School. It was here she met her future husband, Bert Southwell.

After two terms there, however, she was seconded to Armidale Teachers College as an acting lecturer in history.

In 1938 she married Bert Southwell, also a teacher. At her marriage she was one of the first women to refrain from pledging to "obey" her husband. She preferred to "cherish" him. In this she showed her continued quiet belief in the rights of women.

However, as a married woman her teaching career was over. Instead she began her journeying around the state to various schools and eventually to the NSW north coast and Ballina, where the couple were to retire.

Apart from the usual duties of a housewife, as a school master's wife she had certain extra tasks to fulfil, including teaching weekly sewing classes. She had always been interested in craftwork so this was never irksome.

She always remained interested in history, however, and soon became fascinated by family and local history.

As an avid reader she was a great supporter of the public library system. She was a foundation member of the Richmond-Tweed Librarians Association established in the late 1960s and obtained part-time work at Ballina Public Library. She even studied to become a professional librarian and was later appointed the local history librarian at Ballina, where she built up a magnificent collection.

Dorothy Southwell was an active member of many local organizations, including the CWA and the local Family History Association. She was an amazing woman who made every moment count. She was a wonderful friend and counsellor. She was a true feminist.

She died in 2006 aged 95.

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