Joan W. Allsop was born in the Australian state of Queensland in 1912. She was educated at the Brisbane Girls Grammar School and the University of Queensland. Her early professional career was as a school teacher.
In 1946, she moved to the state of New South Wales (NSW), when she was appointed to the academic staff of the Department of Tutorial Classes [later Adult Education and then the Centre for Continuing Education] in the University of Sydney. Initially she was located in the Department’s Newcastle Office. Newcastle is NSW’s second city and the centre of the Australian iron and steel industry. In 1960, she relocated to the university’s main campus in Sydney. She retired, as a Senior Lecturer, in 1977. Over her long career, she made a number of significant contributions to the field of adult education.
As one of the first Australian women appointed to a tenured position in adult education, Allsop was an important pioneer for woman’s education and promoted the study of women’s issues in the university’s adult education program. In the early 1950s she began residential adult education courses for mothers and children.
A firm proponent of the significance of the role of professional associations in the advancement of adult education, Allsop served, as a long time elected member representing professional adult educators, on the National Executive of the Australian Association of Adult Education (AAAE). She was the editor of the Association’s journal, the Australian Journal of Adult Education [AJAE]: joint editor from 1969 to 1972 and sole editor 1973 to 1976.
A committed internationalist, Allsop represented Australian adult education at a number of important international events including: the first conference of the International Congress of University Adult education (1965) and the Third World UNESCO Conference on Adult Education, Tokyo, 1972. She was the Editor of the ASPBAE Courier, newsletter of the Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education, in the 1970s.
A great advocate of formal education for adult educators, Allsop wrote the first post-graduate courses in Adult Education to be offered by the University of Sydney in the early 1970s. Her longstanding research interests included the study of the discussion group method in adult education, international adult education, and the history of the city of Newcastle.
Allsop’s proudest achievement was that in 1957, she was admitted to, what is generally believed to be, the first doctoral degree in Adult Education awarded to an Australian (Doctor of Education, Columbia University).
Many younger educators, who visited Allsop in her retirement, tell of her great hospitality and her wonderful stories of the past. These stories recalled the important events in the story of Australian adult education, highlighting the machinations of the “old boys” network that had run adult education in the past and detailed the progress that women had made through adult education.
Allsop was appointed in 1981 as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her services to the field of adult education. She continued her involvement with Adult Education, as a volunteer leader of groups for women, through the 1980s and 1990s. She died in 2000 at age 87.
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