Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Pye, Emmeline (1861–1949)

by J. Factor

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Emmeline Pye (1861-1949), teacher and lecturer, was born on 13 December 1861 at Buninyong, Victoria, third child of William Marsland Pye, teacher, and his wife Joanna Saunders, née Edwards, both English born. Hugh Pye was her brother. She is said to have devoted herself to music and painting as a young woman. A primary-school teacher from 1882, she was one of the first to train as a senior infant mistress under Eva Hooper, who came to Melbourne from England in 1900 under a three-year contract with the Victorian Education Department to establish kindergarten classes in primary schools and to train local teachers in kindergarten methods.

When Dr John Smyth became principal of the Melbourne Training College in 1902, he recruited Emmeline Pye to assist with lectures to students undertaking the Infant Teachers' Certificate, and to demonstrate kindergarten methods at Central Brunswick Practising School, where she was in charge of the infants department from 1904. She was considered a most gifted and innovative teacher, introducing free activity periods, encouraging children's individuality, and training student teachers in child-study methods and experimentation in accordance with Froebelian concepts. 'She anticipated the Montessori devices and materials by inventing her own'.

Emmeline Pye opened the first state kindergarten in Victoria at Albert Street, Brunswick, in 1907. That year she demonstrated kindergarten methods with classrooms of children at the Australian Exhibition of Women's Work in Melbourne and 'the hall was beset all afternoon by hundreds unable to obtain admission'. In 1908 she became an official member of the staff of the Melbourne Teachers' College (mistress of method) while continuing as training supervisor at Central Brunswick. She was an instructor with Frank Tate and Smyth at summer schools held by the college at Portsea in 1909 and 1910. In 1915 she planned for the Victorian Education Department the first honours course (three years) for infant teachers, conducted at the Teachers' College. Her encouragement of mothers to observe and assist their children in the infant department at Princes Hill school, Carlton, in 1916 led to the development of a mothers' club (the Princes Hill Story Telling Club) and later (1925) the establishment of the Victorian Federation of State School Mothers' Clubs. She retired from the Teachers' College in August 1918.

Undoubtedly Emmeline Pye was one of the pioneers of kindergarten education in Victoria. Smyth wrote of her that 'in her use of Australian materials for the kindergarten, in the linking up of the work to the home, the neighbourhood, and the more formal work of the infant-room, Miss Pye displayed her originality'. She was a member of the supervision committee of the Free Kindergarten Union until 1915, and supported Smyth's efforts to consolidate all kindergarten-infant training at Melbourne Teachers' College. The 'dual' system, with kindergarten teachers trained by the F.K.U. and infant teachers by the M.T.C., was briefly unified at the latter in 1914, but disintegrated 'amidst mutual recrimination' in 1915-16.

During her time at Central Brunswick school, Emmeline Pye wrote a series of early primers—Federal Readers—including First Steps at School, The Federal Primer or Second Steps at School, First Infant Reader and Second Infant Reader. She also co-authored the Austral Primers with Smyth in 1906. She was an original member (1912) of the Lyceum Club in Melbourne.

Emmeline Pye died unmarried at her Toorak home on 20 April 1949 and was buried in Boroondara cemetery, Kew.

Select Bibliography

  • Education Dept (Victoria), Vision and Realisation, vol 1, L. J. Blake ed (Melb, 1973)
  • D. S. Garden, The Melbourne Teacher Training Colleges (Melb, 1982)
  • L. Gardiner, The Free Kindergarten Union of Victoria, 1908-80 (Melb, 1982?)
  • E. Sweetman et al, History of State Education in Victoria (Melb, 1922)
  • Education Gazette (Victoria), Nov 1907, p 77
  • Education Gazette and Teachers' Aid (Victoria), 20 Aug 1918, p 254
  • Argus (Melbourne), 21, 23 Apr 1949
  • D. E. Edgar, The Educational Ideas and Influence on Victorian Education of Dr John Smyth (M.Ed. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1967)
  • private information.

Citation details

J. Factor, 'Pye, Emmeline (1861–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/pye-emmeline-8137/text14217, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 26 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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