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Ailsa Margaret O'Connor (1921–1980)

This article was published:

Ailsa O'Connor, by John Ellis, 1975

Ailsa O'Connor, by John Ellis, 1975

University of Melbourne Archives, 11343/76349

Ailsa Margaret O'Connor, née Donaldson (1921-1980) teacher, artist, social activist, feminist and Communist 

Birth: 3 February 1921 at East Malvern, Victoria, daughter of native-born parents Ralph Charles Donaldson (1888-1965), labourer, and Margaret Flora, née David (1888-1968). Marriage: 1941 at St Kilda, Victoria, to Victor George O'Connor (1918-2010). They had one daughter and one son. The marriage ended in divorce. Death: 3 February 1980 at East Melbourne; usual residence Broadway, Elwood, Melbourne. 

  • Spent childhood in Portland, Victoria. Developed interest in drawing and won four-scholarship to Melbourne Technical College, 1937, but was able to attend only two years of night school.
  • Spent further year at Teachers Training College, then commenced teaching, aged 19. Subsequently attended Saturday afternoon classes at George Bell's studios, studying modernist art and meeting her future husband.
  • In pre-war years she identified strongly with anti-fascist cause. One of only two women participants in 1942 Anti-Fascist Art Exhibition. She won the ‘Women in Industry’ section of 1945 Australia at War art exhibition.
  • Joined Communist Party of Australia in 1944. In 1940s and 1950s continued painting and exhibiting with the Socialist Realists, winning 1952 May Day art competition.
  • In 1953, was secretary of Union of Australian Women and delegate to World Congress of Women in Copenhagen. On her return, she co-founded Asian-Australian child art exchange to counter Menzies government's anti-Asian stance.
  • Returned to full time teaching 1955. Also completed a three-year diploma of sculpture.
  • Retired from teaching 1970, but continued to sculpt and draw from her home studio. Also produced many posters for left causes, particularly during the Vietnam war.
  • Cause of death: cancer of uterus (8 years) and peritoneal metastases (2 months).

(Sydney), 5 March 1980.

Additional Resources

  • tribute, Tribune (Sydney), 5 March 1980, p 13

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'O'Connor, Ailsa Margaret (1921–1980)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 17 July 2024.

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