The ARC: Referencing the Past

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Marian Clarke 1913.

Ever since Abbotsleigh welcomed its first students in 1885, we have been looking to the future. Perhaps Marian Clarke wondered if Abbotsleigh would even have a future. Who would send their daughters to a school that taught Latin, Geometry, even Algebra! The curriculum was ahead of its time, looking to a future where women could be doctors, scientists, mathematicians, athletes and where they could realise their dreams in a way Miss Clarke could herself only imagine.

It is not only, of course, about personal achievements, but about the larger issue of education in general. The school Miss Clarke founded was intended to level the playing field for girls, give them the same education their male peers already enjoyed.

One of our first Old Girls, Agnes Bennett (AOG 1885-1887), whom we have previously lauded as a champion of women’s education – the first woman to graduate with honours in Science from Sydney University, a doctor working at Gallipoli, an inspirational and ground-breaking doctor in the field of women’s medicine – would have made Miss Clarke particularly have been so proud.

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Agnes Bennett seated at the front of this group of Abbotsleigh senior girls 1886.   

“[Agnes Bennett] was a consistent defender of women's right to higher education; in 1909 and 1914 she publicly opposed [the medical fraternity] who saw higher education as detrimental to women's maternal functions and hence to the human race.” (Ann Curthoys; Bennett, Agnes Elizabeth Lloyd from the Australian Dictionary of Biography vol 7 Melbourne University Press)

Looking ahead to the future was always a mainstay of Marian Clarke’s educational philosophy.

“The successes of the School in the Public Examinations were the least of her claims, but at the back of these was the sound and thorough instruction, of which they were one comparatively inconsiderable result. And it was not mere instruction; it was education in the best sense of the word.” (Sir Mungo MacCallum, Miss Clarke of Abbotsleigh – a woman of note, In Memory of Marian Clarke, 1933).

Another way Marian Clarke inspired her girls to follow their dreams was to provide a library, initially only available to House girls (boarders). When the School relocated to Wahroonga in 1898, Marian Clarke’s sister Emily was in charge of the library, which was in a small room within School House.

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 Abbotsleigh Library, c1929.


When our second Headmistress, Margaret Murray, retired in 1924, she and teacher Edith Warlow Davies between them gave nearly 100 books to form the nucleus of a reference library. This welcome increase in books put too great a strain on the small library, so in 1925 the old school dining room (now part of Reception) was converted to a library. In 1927 there were sufficient books for the library to be made available to day girls as well as boarders. As the number of books increased, the library outgrew its accommodation, and a restless existence ensued for several years as the collection was spread throughout the School.

In 1937, the library migrated into the ballroom of the newly purchased Adams House (which stood approximately in the position occupied by today’s flagpole). When Old Girl Thurles Thomas (AOG 1921-1926) was appointed as the first full-time librarian in 1939, the library took on a new lease of life, and for the first time had a properly organised cataloguing system.

When Thurles Thomas left to join the war effort, staffing and financial difficulties hindered the normal development of the library until, in 1945, Yvonne Richardson was appointed Teacher Librarian and progress resumed. Planning for a purpose-built library began.
The new Library Wing opened in 1960, housing a pleasant, spacious, well-lit library that seated 60 girls. The Library Wing was ‘a beautiful modern one which extends over the whole of the top floor, an addition which will prove a boon to hard-working girls who have previously found the old library too cramped and too noisy’. (The Weaver, 1960)

Betty Archdale, Abbotsleigh’s sixth Headmistress (1958-1970) was a formidable intellect and wildly forward-thinking, and so it was perfectly fitting that the next-generation library was named the Betty Archdale Library. Opened in 1971, this new library seated 105 girls and was luxuriously carpeted and furnished.


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 The Library in 1971.

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The Library extension in 1984.               


The Centenary in 1985 celebrated the culmination of Marian Clarke’s vision. One hundred years of educating and empowering young women, a wondrous achievement for a school which was founded in such capricious times and with such a vision. Indeed now, who wouldn’t send their daughters to a school that teaches Latin, Geometry and Algebra?

The construction of the ‘Centenary Building’ in 1983 allowed for the library to again grow. This time, seating space and shelving were increased, a pleasant casual area containing the fiction collection overlooking the courtyard garden was created, and our studious Year 12 students were gifted their own study area.

Which brings us to 2006, and the finalising of a vision for the research hub of the School: the opening of a stand-alone library, which also contains the Thurles Thomas Archives, AbbSearch and the Director of Research and Innovative Learning, along with the Visual Arts Centre, in the building we know as the Abbotsleigh Research Centre (ARC).



Kathleen McCredie cutting the ribbon on the Centenary Building Library extensions, July 1983.          


This year, 2016, is a celebration of this belief in Abbotsleigh’s vision for the future. Used daily by the Abbotsleigh community, the ARC stands for all that Abbotsleigh has been (with the archives), all that Abbotsleigh is (with the library and the visual arts) and all that Abbotsleigh can be (with our innovative learning). It is a true celebration of all things Abbotsleigh, and so much more than Marian Clarke could have possibly imagined.



The Arc, 2016.              

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