SHIRLEY JONES: 1927-2021
Shirley Jones is best remembered for her role in founding the first women’s library in Australia – the Jessie Street National Women’s Library. This was a legendary effort when co-founder Lenore Coltheart remembered it and created one of the ‘basic necessities for a woman’s independent thinking and writing’.
However, it was only one element of Shirley’s life and perhaps not the most significant contribution her vision made to Australian society. She built networks of people and became a leader in many critical social and cultural issues, especially for women.
This dedication and her determination and perseverance in moments when most people would have despaired were astounding. Friends remember her editing and indexing of revolutionary material and showed writers how their words not only had unintended political effect but showed their flashing mindset to the whole world.
Jones spent his life working, and saw all kinds of work as of equal value, whether it was picking fruit, helping as a nursing assistant, delivering cars to dealers around the country, teaching or editing. What mattered was the service it provided.
Shirley Jones was born in 1927 in Napier, New Zealand, to returned serviceman, Charles Hannah. Her parents encouraged her to think independently. Her mother, Elizabeth (nee Watt), a schoolteacher who promoted education for girls, drew Shirley’s attention to women’s rights. Shirley’s great-grandmother, Ann Watt, was a supporter and signer of the New Zealand 1893 petition for women’s suffrage. Reading was always essential for Shirley, her room was always full of piles of books waiting to be read. She flourished in school, fortunate enough to attend Hastings High School, as her head encouraged boy and girl students to stay in sixth grade, to sit units for university degrees, and to exercise initiative and leadership in school affairs.
She was Dux and then the only student in her year to go to university and study at Otago, where her hopes of studying medicine were frustrated by the number of men returning from the war, so she ended up with a science degree in 1949 She moved to Auckland and married in 1951 a university history teacher, Gwynne Jones.
Accepting the cultural assumption that her husband’s career came first, she turned her energy to working as a teacher, first in Gisborne north of Melbourne and then in Oxford, to raise the money that would enable her husband to take his doctorate in Oxford.
Traveling around the world during this period was a compensation she found more than fulfilling, she made friends no matter where she went, no matter what language was spoken. Later sabbaticals at university were also vital periods that expanded her understanding of world culture.