Erin Mollenhauer, Team Leader – Library and Archives
The Samuel Marsden Archives contains one of the richest collections of primary source material on Protestant evangelicalism in Australia. As with many archives, women are underrepresented, despite their extensive involvement in the evangelical movement. As the first archivist employed by Moore College, it has been my task to appraise, describe and make available this extensive and growing collection. Being interested in women in church history, women’s names stood out to me whenever I encountered them in a record.
Of the 161 personal name entries currently in our archives catalogue, there are 21 women, but very few of these are the primary creators of a collection – the rest are associated with the records of their husband or male relative. Several organisational collections are sourced from female-only groups (Mothers’ Union, Moore College Women’s Auxiliary) or organisations focused on issues relating to women (for example, Equal but Different).
One of the few women in the archives, represented by her own collection, is educator Margaret Steel (1883-1963). As the admission of women to university degrees was only commencing in the late 19th – early 20th centuries, it is quite striking to encounter a female academic. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge and ever since I encountered Miss Steel’s papers, I have been inspired by her intelligence and tenacity in pursuing a career in tertiary education.
Margaret Steel graduated with an M.A. degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1905, having studied Latin, German, French, mathematics, education, history, moral philosophy, logic and metaphysics! After several tutoring appointments, she lectured at University College Southampton (now the University of Southampton). She taught education, logic and psychology, and gave regular public lectures at Workers’ Educational Associations and similar groups. In 1933, she attained the Lambeth Diploma in Theology.
Five years later, she took up the post of Headmistress of the Sydney Church of England Girls’ Grammar School (SCEGGS) in Moss Vale, NSW. Resigning in 1943 due to illness, she moved to Sydney and was appointed Lecturer in Psychology at Sydney University.
Moore College appointed her tutor for the University Entrance exam, a requirement for admission. This made Margaret the first woman on Moore College’s teaching staff. Many students were as young as 20 when they applied to attend Moore, and Margaret’s role was to prepare them for the Licentiate in Theology program.
After her resignation in 1951, she lectured in the Teachers’ Guild of NSW Training Course.
Margaret’s intellectual abilities combined with her warm personality attracted nothing but praise from her colleagues wherever she worked. Albert Cock, Professor of Education and Philosophy at University College Southampton, wrote in 1935: ‘Miss Steel was an extremely valuable member of my staff…lecturing in all branches of educational theory and practice…[she] has displayed considerable ability in lecturing, not only to academic audiences, but also to less technical audiences’. Moore College’s Committee was also deeply appreciative, recording in their minutes: ‘Her unsparing attention to the details of her work and her personal influence on the students have won the regard and esteem of all those acquainted with her work.’
Miss Steel’s influence on those Moore College students, and indeed all her pupils, is immeasurable. As with many single women devoted to Christian service, she leaves an enduring spiritual legacy which deserves greater recognition. This International Women’s Day, let’s be thankful for the women throughout history who chose to challenge expectations and use their gifts to benefit others and to glorify God.
Margaret Steel, 3rd from right, with staff and students of Moore College, 1945.
Copy of minutes 16/11/51, Moore Theological College Committee, Correspondence series 058-2, MJ Steel collection, Samuel Marsden Archives.
Cock, Albert to Steel, M.J. 28/2/1935, Correspondence series 058-2, MJ Steel collection, Samuel Marsden Archives.