Serving independent education

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Elizabeth Butt, OAM – May 29, 1928-August 11, 2019

Elizabeth Butt’s commitment and dedication to Fintona Girls’ School is well known in the Fintona community, but her service to and influence on independent education throughout Australia must also be acknowledged. Elizabeth Butt was an outstanding educational leader at a local, state and national level for many years. She inspired thousands of female students as well as her staff in her role as headmistress of Fintona Girls’ School, a position she held for 29 years. Elizabeth was always prepared to work diligently achieve the best outcomes for the education of students, especially girls, either directly or indirectly.

Elizabeth Mary Butt was born on May 29, 1928, to Charles and Cicely Butt. She began her education at Fintona in 1934 and left in 1946. During this time, she was an active participant in sports such as tennis and hockey, representing the school and captaining teams in her senior years. In addition, Elizabeth served as a prefect in her final year. After leaving Fintona, Elizabeth studied science at the University of Melbourne, where she majored in physics and mathematics.

Soon after graduating, Elizabeth took up a position of scientific officer at the Defence Standards Laboratories, working as a physicist, being one of the first women to be employed in this capacity in a field dominated by men. After travelling to the United Kingdom in 1952, Elizabeth began her teaching career at Heathfield School in Ascot, where she taught several of the aristocracy. Upon returning to Australia, Elizabeth took up a position for several years at Shelford Girls’ Grammar, teaching physics, mathematics and science, and always maintained a strong link with this school. Her connection and awareness of curriculum innovation was evident even then as she was a committee member and later, treasurer of the Mathematical Association of Victoria.

Two years after joining the teaching staff at Fintona, Margaret Cunningham, the principal, asked Elizabeth to become the headmistress of Fintona Girls’ School. Cunningham said: “It is a great delight to me that I have been able to find someone of Elizabeth Butt’s character, whose strength, integrity and idealism spring from her strong religious faith.” Given Cunningham’s reputation and her perseverance in establishing Fintona on its present site as well as making a gift of the school to the old girls by setting up the Fintona Company, this was a daunting task. From 1963 until 1991, Elizabeth served as headmistress with great dedication and distinction.