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Jean Edna Blackburn (1919–2001)

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Jean Edna Blackburn, née Muir (1919–2001) educationist, Communist and feminist 

Birth: 14 July 1919 in Melbourne, Victoria, daughter of Leslie Allan Muir (1890-1991) and Clarice Edna, née Witt. Marriage: 1943 in Carlton, Melbourne, to Gerard ‘Dick’ Blackburn (1918-1999), an agricultural scientist. They had one son. Death: 2 December 2001 in Adelaide, South Australia. 

  • Educated at Lloyd Street Primary School; University High School, Parkville; Melbourne University, and Adelaide University.
  • Secretary of Labor Club at Melbourne University, fought to keep it socialist.
  • Joined CPA 1938. In 1941, research assistant at Department of Economics.
  • 1942 employed at Department of War Organisation of Industry, first woman in that department, paid the full male wage. Shop steward of clerks union.
  • Actively involved in Council for Women in war work for four years.
  • 1946 moved to Adelaide. President New Housewives' Association, held educative lunch meetings. Jessie Street was a speaker at one meeting, also had speakers from Australian Labor Party and CPA.
  • In 1950’s ALP banned ALP and CPA members from speaking on the same platform – her father-in-law, a Federal ALP member, was expelled for speaking at pro Russia meeting.
  • 1948 secretary of International Womens Day committee, a broad coalition of women’s groups, often attended meetings of Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. In 1949 New Housewives' Association supported coal strike and women’s auxiliary of the coal miners.
  • Left IWD in late 1950s when CPA disbanded New Housewives' Association replacing it with the Union of Australian Women. She was outraged by this non-consultative decision. Decades later, in 1974 and 1988 spoke at IWD events.
  • Late 1950s Peace Committee activist canvassing door to door for signatures for Ban the Bomb petition; executive member for many years.
  • In 1954, as Returned Services League pressured Education Department not to employ CPA members, she taught at Presbyterian Girls College which did not query her political activities. 1966 lecturer Western Teachers College.
  • Prominent in education reform in 1970’s, consultant in 1971 inquiry into education (SA).
  • Deputy chair, Australian Schools Commission, which produced Karmel Report in 1972. Visited UK and USA China in 1976 with group of educationalists 1974. Appointed founding chair of SA Women’s Suffrage Centenary Steering Committee. Revolutionized schooling in SA introduced innovative programs to tackle disadvantage, secured government funding.
  • 1980’s headed Victorian government review of schooling. Chair of the Victorian State Board of Education. Lobbied for establishment of research centre in Women’s Studies.
  • Awarded honorary doctorates from three Australian universities.
  • In 1990 first Chancellor of University of Canberra. 1995 made Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for services to the development of education – one of only four South Australians to be so honoured. In 1976 had rejected similar award because she was opposed to Imperial honors.

Oral History interviews by Allison Murchie and Kirstin Marks held in State Library of SA.

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Blackburn, Jean Edna (1919–2001)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 16 April 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012