Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Dumolo, Nona (1877–1966)

by Mary Walker

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

This is a shared entry with Harriet Alice Dumolo

Harriet Alice Dumolo (1875-1944), kindergarten teacher, and Nona Dumolo (1877-1966), headmistress, were born on 17 September 1875 at Ladybank, Tamworth, Warwickshire, England, and on 14 June 1877 at Glascote, near Tamworth, the elder daughters of John Thomas Dumolo, colliery proprietor, and his wife Alice (d.1944), née Hodgkinson. On 21 November 1881 John Dumolo arrived in Sydney in the Cuzco with his family, including his third daughter Elsie, and set up as a chemist and druggist, first at Waterloo, then at St Leonards. The three girls were educated at the Misses Lygons and at Arnold's College for Girls (later Redlands School) at Fitzroy Street, North Sydney, where they passed the junior public examination.

In 1897 Harriet, known to her family as Haddie, was one of the first five students to be awarded a kindergarten teacher's certificate by the Teachers' Association of New South Wales. In 1903 she was headmistress of St Philip's kindergarten, then entered the Kindergarten College, graduating in 1905. In 1907 she became director of three kindergartens at Newcastle and was in charge of training student teachers until 1909 when she joined the staff of the college. Next year she visited England and Europe. In 1912 she was appointed acting principal of the college, becoming principal next year.

A spirit of inquiry and experiment, linked to the ideals of community service and personal development were the outstanding features of Miss Dumolo's leadership. In training students she emphasized 'Froebelian theory and practice and John Dewey's interpretation of it'. Believing the community would benefit by spreading the principles of Froebel beyond the kindergarten, she offered special courses and training classes for Sunday school teachers of all denominations. In 1925 the college moved to its present site at Henrietta Street, Waverley, and was renamed the Sydney Kindergarten Training College. In Froebel House, for resident students, Miss Dumolo was able to express her gift for home-making and her belief that beauty was an influence for good. Zoe Benjamin admired her 'gracious and serene personality' and 'calm wisdom'. Following a visit to England and the United States of America in 1927, she incorporated new knowledge of child growth and development, making kindergarten programmes less formal.

Harriet Dumolo retired in 1932 and in 1935 was awarded King George V's silver jubilee medal. She had been a founder of the Parks and Playgrounds Movement of New South Wales, served on the council of Abbotsleigh Church of England School for Girls for eight years, and with her former students founded the Frances Newton Kindergarten. She died of cerebral haemorrhage on 3 February 1944 at the family home at Beaconsfield Parade, Lindfield and was cremated. In 1951 the Harriet Dumolo Memorial Room was opened at the Kindergarten College.

Nona, who suffered all her life from a double curvature of the spine, attended the University of Sydney (B.A., 1898). Her first post was as afternoon-governess to the daughters of the governor-general, Lord Dudley. She then joined Edith Badham's staff at the Sydney Church of England Girls' Grammar School and in 1911 became headmistress of its North Sydney day-school which opened in the parish hall of Christ Church, Lavender Bay. In 1916 it moved to new premises, Toongarrah, Bay Road. Known to her pupils as 'Dum' or 'Dummie', she believed in discipline but was never harsh. She was an excellent teacher of French and Latin. She resigned in 1923 and next year studied at the Sorbonne (Université de Paris), gaining its diploma.

In 1925 Nona was appointed headmistress of the New England Girls' School, at Armidale. In running a boarding school she made an indelible impression on the girls and staff and expected a very high standard. She effected several outstanding and modern staff appointments. Both art and music had a prominent place in the curriculum.

Tall (about 177 cm) 'with fair, wavy hair, rather spare frame and broadshouldered', Nona Dumolo had a well-modulated and resonant voice and 'a glorious sort of deadpan humour'; she nearly always wore tweed skirts, well-cut silk blouses, and brown-calf laced boots. After her retirement at Easter 1939, she took scripture classes at Lindfield Public School, ran a training class for Sunday school teachers and during World War II organized the Lindfield Welfare Workers to sew and knit. She died at her home there on 4 May 1966 and was cremated. Her estate was valued for probate at £47,069.

Their younger sister Elsie (1879-1963) was born on 19 November 1879 at Glascote. She studied elocution with Rose Seton in Sydney and later with Elsie Fogarty in London. A very handsome, dark woman, she taught speech and drama in many leading schools in Sydney including the Kindergarten College and S.C.E.G.G.S., North Sydney. Every year she visited N.E.G.S. to produce the school plays which were performed in the Armidale Town Hall. She died at the family home at Lindfield on 18 February 1963 and was cremated.

All three sisters were active parish workers for St Alban's Anglican Church, Lindfield. Harriet was treasurer of its Women's Guild. Memorials to Elsie and Nona are in the church.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Kindergarten Magazine, 1910-15
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Mar 1924, 5 Nov 1932, 11 May 1944
  • Annual Reports, 1912-34 (Kindergarten Union of New South Wales, Sydney)
  • Froebel House papers, 1913-32 (Sydney Kindergarten Teacher's College Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

Mary Walker, 'Dumolo, Nona (1877–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/dumolo-nona-6348/text10323, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 24 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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