Maybanke Anderson

In 1895, Maybanke Anderson established Australia's first free kindergarten.

Honour Roll

Maybanke Anderson was born on 16 February 1845 in Kingston-on-Thames in England and arrived in Sydney in 1855 with her family. She studied to be a teacher and in 1867 married Edmund Wolstenholme, a timber merchant. By 1882, they had seven children, but only three boys reached adulthood as four infants died of tuberculosis-related diseases. They built a large home, Maybanke, in spacious grounds near Marrickville.

Around 1884, Edmund became a drunkard and deserted the family, so she took in boarders then turned the house into Maybanke College which gained a good reputation as a girls' school. In the 1890s, Maybanke was involved in the Womanhood Suffrage League of New South Wales as President and Vice President, the Women's Literary Society (the first group of Sydney women to meet in the evenings) and the Australian Home Reading Union.

In 1894, she published and edited her own fortnightly paper, The Woman's Voice, a venture that lasted for eighteen months. Through this vehicle she hoped to spread the message of reform according to her ideals. Its motto was 'Democratic but not revolutionary, womanly but not weak, fearless without effrontery, liberal without licence'. The following year her son Arthur drowned and soon afterwards she stopped producing the paper.

In 1895, she helped found the Kindergarten Union of New South Wales and the following year assissted in the establishment of the first free kindergarten at Woolloomooloo. This initiative was soon followed by others and included inner-city slum areas. From her own experience she knew that childcare was an issue for working mothers. Maybanke stayed involved in the Kindergarten Union until the 1920s.

In 1908, she started the Playgrounds Association which aimed to build safe parks for children in slum areas. From 1895 to 1927 Maybanke tried to assist children of the poor, travelling widely and giving advice on setting up new kindergartens and play areas, in order to keep them from getting into trouble or danger on the streets. In 1899, she married Sir Francis Anderson, the Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney and became involved in campus activities such as the Women Evening Students' Association. Together they strove for educational reform and were involved with the Workers' Educational Association.

Maybanke also worked as a journalist, penning articles under the name 'Lois' for the Sydney Morning Herald. In 1919, she published Motherlore, a handbook on educating babies and young children. She died in Paris on 15 April 1927 while travelling with her husband. Her work for the welfare of women and young children was honoured at the time of her passing, but her contribution appears to have been forgotten.

At the time of her death there were fifteen free kindergartens in Sydney, including one called the Maybanke Free Kindergarten in Pyrmont. One of her colleagues wrote: "Indeed it was impossible not to feel that inspiration came from her heart and soul'.