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Banks, Elizabeth Lindsay (1849–1933)

by Mary Walker

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Elizabeth Lindsay Banks (1849-1933), kindergarten mistress, was born at Dundee, Scotland, daughter of James Banks, schoolmaster, and his wife Elizabeth, née Lindsay. She trained as a kindergarten teacher in Scotland and under a pupil of Froebel in Germany. With no intention of staying or of teaching in Australia she accompanied an invalid sister to Sydney. There her sister's health improved so greatly that Elizabeth decided to apply for a teaching position with the Department of Public Instruction. In 1886 she was appointed infant mistress at the newly established Public Kindergarten Infants School at Riley Street, Sydney.

The 'Kindergarten System' had aroused some interest in New South Wales but an experiment with 'pure' kindergarten had not been well received and the Department of Public Instruction was only tentatively introducing kindergarten 'exercises' and 'materials' in infant schools. Elizabeth's concept of kindergarten fitted very well into this pattern and her work at Riley Street profoundly influenced both the development of infant schools and the training of infant school teachers in the colony. For the next fifteen years she was regarded as the authority on kindergarten methods.

Despite the difficulties of poor accommodation and lack of equipment the work at Riley Street quickly won recognition. In 1887 examples of the children's work gained a diploma and bronze medal at the Adelaide Jubilee International Exhibition and next year a gold medal at the Centennial International Exhibition at Melbourne. In October 1888 Miss Banks gave the first public demonstration of kindergarten methods when she took some 150 children to the Women's Industries and Centenary Fair, Sydney, to display their 'games, exercises and singing lessons'. Not the principles of Froebel, but the formal activities of the kindergarten were demonstrated by Miss Banks. This method of sense training was considered a valuable foundation for work in the primary school, even though the department approved the setting aside of only one day each week for 'kindergarten instruction'.

In 1889 Miss Banks was appointed to Fort Street Model School as a special instructor in kindergarten. As well as demonstrating kindergarten methods in the infant school her duties included training student teachers in the theory and practice of kindergarten. All students spent one hour a week in the kindergarten, and 'Kindergarten Principles' were included in the normal course of study. In 1891 Miss Banks was also appointed to lecture in kindergarten methods to women students at the Hurlstone Training College. The modified system of kindergarten gained in popularity and the revised code of proficiency for infant schools, issued by Chief Inspector Frederick Bridges in 1898, included a subject called kindergarten exercises. In connexion with this revision Bridges approved the Handbook for Teachers of Infants Schools and Junior Classes (Sydney, 1898); Miss Banks was credited with providing the drawing lessons and, although no author is named for the handbook, it is closely modelled on the work at Fort Street and reveals her influence. In 1901 after nine months leave Miss Banks was reappointed infants' mistress at Fort Street but apparently she did not continue her work at Hurlstone. In 1912 she was awarded a 1B classification for good service; she remained at Fort Street until her retirement in September 1917. Aged 84 she died on 1 September 1933 at her home, Avalon, in Cremorne, and after a Congregationalist service was cremated at Rookwood cemetery. Her small estate was left to her nephews and nieces, with special bequests to several institutions for children.

Select Bibliography

  • E.M., ‘The work of Miss E. L. Banks’, in The Story of Kindergarten in New South Wales (Syd, 1898)
  • Minister for Public instruction, Annual Reports, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1886-92, 1899
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Oct 1888
  • records (Department of Education, New South Wales).

Citation details

Mary Walker, 'Banks, Elizabeth Lindsay (1849–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/banks-elizabeth-lindsay-2928/text4235, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 26 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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