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Irvine, Alice Christina (1879–1940)

by E. A. McLeod

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Alice Christina Irvine (1879-1940), domestic science teacher and cookery book author, was born on 12 May 1879 at Mathinna, Tasmania, third daughter of Peter Irvine, mine manager, and his wife Flora, née McLaurin. Educated at Mangana State School, Alice began her teaching career on 1 April 1897 as a paid monitor at Mathinna School. She was transferred in March 1898 to West Zeehan State School and in 1902 to Burnie, where the head teacher described her as 'a most powerful and painstaking teacher' and an inspector commended her 'great skill and . . . most unremitting labour'. She was promoted to class IV teacher in 1904.

In 1906 she was a cookery student-teacher at the Melbourne Training College. On her return she was sent to Launceston, where she was briefly at Glen Dhu and then Charles Street, before being appointed head of the cookery school at Wellington Square in November 1907. Irvine was at the Hobart cookery school in 1914-15 then held her former position at Launceston until the end of 1925. During this period a new cookery school was established as part of Launceston High School, the move from Wellington Square occurring in May 1921. She was granted leave to attend the Emily MacPherson College of Domestic Economy in Melbourne for a year in 1926.

Back in Tasmania, Irvine was mistress of domestic science in charge of the State High School's cookery school in Hobart (1927) and then at the Domestic Arts School, housed in the Central School in Murray Street, from 1928 to her death. She also supervised cookery schools throughout the State and trained student-teachers in domestic science subjects. In July 1928 she received departmental permission 'to deliver six weekly lectures on Cookery through the Wireless'; in February 1930 the department notified her that there was 'no objection' to her becoming a member of the National Council of Women. Two years later she received permission 'to assist the Hydro-Electric Department by giving demonstrations in connection with the use of electric stoves'. A determined and dominant woman, Irvine was physically large as well as professionally imposing. She pioneered domestic science teaching in Tasmania, creating a forceful pattern and a lasting tradition that was followed by other domestic science teachers.

Irvine's Central Cookery Book (1930) became the definitive text for cookery teaching in Tasmanian schools. By its sixteenth edition (1991), it was more than simply a basic text for schools and was widely used in homes throughout the State; as the preface stated, 'it has become an institution'. One devotee wrote in 2002 that Irvine's dishes were 'models of simplicity and testimony to the days when no ingredient foreign to solid English fare was allowed within oven range'. Miss Irvine died of cancer on 12 November 1940 in St John's Hospital, South Hobart, and was buried in the general cemetery at Fingal. Over sixty years later she was still well known in Tasmania, for her cookery book, the ubiquitous Central.

Select Bibliography

  • Educational Record, 15 Jan 1940, p 24
  • Examiner (Launceston), 13 Nov 1940, p 2
  • Mercury (Hobart), 14 Nov 1940, p 9, 1 June 2002, p 27
  • ED 2/20 (1896-1904), ED 13/106, 121, 191, 243, 268, 273, 285/1, 289, 294, 300, 304, 309, 318, ED 10/1054 1926 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • private information.

Citation details

E. A. McLeod, 'Irvine, Alice Christina (1879–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/irvine-alice-christina-13002/text23503, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 18 October 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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