Miss Betty Archdale

Betty in full flow, 1934

Betty Archdale, 25, (1907-2000),  daughter of a famous mother Helen Archdale, was on the verge of launching her own successful career as a barrister, campaigner, headteacher, leader and international cricket captain. After WW2 she settled in Australia, eventually being named a “national treasure” in Australia and one of the first ten women to be elected an honorary life member of Lord’s by the MCC.

Seated Beside

My suggested plan for the table: Abbott, Slimon, McFarlane, her mother Helen Archdale, Mayo, Marsh, Betty, and Moore would allow her to compare notes with Millie Moore on how she invaded the male dominated citadel of the accounting profession and to chat with the poster-girl Charlie Marsh about the days of suffrage revolution – and perhaps a tale or two of what her mother got up to then. Charlie was then flying the WSPU flag and smashing windows, just as Betty was making her own disruptive noises in her first year on Earth. It is however possible that she already knew all there was to know about her mother’s derring-do – to quote Betty’s obituary in The Guardian “Her godmother was Emmeline Pankhurst. The memory of visiting her own mother, imprisoned in Holloway after a demonstration, was a lifelong inspiration”.[1]

What’s On Her Mind?

Quite possibly she was anticipating the weekend when, on the Saturday, her older brother Alexander Mervyn Archdale, actor, was going to marry the “pretty 25 year old actress Miss Lilian Patricia Dysart Wolseley”, daughter of a retired sugar planter, in a quiet Henrietta Street registry office wedding.[2][3] But before then, perhaps some more networking with the leading women of her time.


Helen Elizabeth Archdale, Betty, was born on 21st August 1907, at 59 Oxford Terrace, Bayswater, Paddington, London, the daughter of Helen Archdale née Russel and Theodore Montgomery Archdale. Her father died in 1918, when she was eleven, his ship being torpedoed off the Irish coast. She will have known Lady Rhondda and her circle for most of her life, having moved with her mother to live with her in Chelsea, after her father died, and spending school holidays at Lady Rhondda’s Kent home. She was educated at Dunhurst from 1914, the junior school to Bedales School, (1918-1920) Hampshire, and at St Leonards School, St Andrews (like her mother, Lady Rhondda, and Evelyn Whyte – the latter also making the world of education her career), and McGill University in Montreal – where she graduated in economics and political science – and London University, where she read law. At St Leonards her size made her rather frightening to other girls and the younger girls did not like her bowling against them.[4] 

In 1931 Betty was residing at Crosby Hall, Cheyne Walk, where Claribel Spurling was in charge. From 1932 to 1937 two of her flat mates (or more accurately, residents in the same accommodation) were Coleen Margaret Martin, born 17.8.1901, in 1939 an advertising representative, and Dorothea Minna Vaughan, 1907 – 1986, an accountant and almost exact contemporary of Betty (born 23.4.1907, four months earlier). In 1937 Dorothea married Magnus Pyke, later well known as a lively science TV personality. In 1932 to 1933 Betty, Coleen and Dorothea all lived at Swan House, Black Raven Alley, Upper Thames Street and in 1936 the three were living at 25a St Peter’s Square, Hammersmith, not far from St Peter’s Road where Betty lived with her younger brother George in 1938.

As Hon. Political Secretary of the Six Point Group, in 1930 she was signatory to a letter from women’s organizations calling for British and Indian women to be included in the round-table conference on India, and in 1933 took part in a deputation to the Lord Chancellor on the nationality of women married to men of other nationalities. In response to contemporary unemployment, she became a socialist, took an Intourist trip to Russia in 1932, and became a part-time private secretary to Labour MP Ellen Wilkinson (one of the three women to have sent their apologies for not being able to attend the dinner).[5]

In 1932/33 Betty was also out demonstrating with two other table members, Florence McFarlane (centre) and Frances Slimon (right).  Betty is second from left, the other being three suffragists, Monica Whately (far left), Ruby Rich (after Betty), and the American Betty Gram Swing, second from right).  They are demonstrating against the car maker Sir Herbert Austin’s views that women should go back to the home (see Frances Slimon’s page for the full story).



Betty’s career was very much ahead of her. We can start with a picture from 1934, in full flow, clearly intent on breaking boundaries. However captaining the first women’s cricket tour to Australia in 1934-35, she also was on a mission for restoring good relations, as the infamous “bodyline” tour led by Douglas Jardine had taken place in 1932-33 (and perhaps was a dinner topic?). That said, beating the women down-under may have been rubbing the salt in the wound?

Betty in 1934
Betty in uniform

Betty in the nets[6]
She followed in her mother’s footsteps in various ways: she served as Hon. Political Secretary and Chairman (in 1936) of the Six Point Group, was Hon. Sec. of the Equal Rights Committee, and was a member of the Open Door Council.[7] Called to the Bar in 1937[8] she was a lawyer, an educationalist and she captained England’s first women’s cricket team to visit Australia – the team won too.[9] [10] [11]

In 1937, when chairman of the Six Point Group, she supported a bill in India’s legislative assembly providing that Hindu women should not, on account of their sex, be excluded from owning or inheriting property. She was involved in the drafting of the British Nationality and Status of Aliens (Amendment) Act (1937). At a dinner in February 1939 presided over by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence to celebrate the twenty-first anniversary of women’s enfranchisement, Betty was among those selected to represent the careers opened to women after the gaining of the vote, in her case the law.[12] Perhaps, that evening, she recalled the dinner at the suffragette table at the Rembrandt Rooms of six years’ earlier.

In 1938 Betty was living with her younger brother George Montgomery Archdale at 2, St Peter’s Road, Hammersmith (now housing an orthopaedic clinic).

Betty’s Wartime Medals and her MBE. Image ©Abbotsleigh Archives reproduced with permission.[13a]
Betty served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service in WW2, – aka the Wrens – a choice made through one of her mother’s connection. She served in the Far East and then and settled in Australia.

In 1946, Betty became principal of the Women’s College of Sydney University, in her own words an administrator with an academic bias, where she encouraged students who came from all sorts of backgrounds – and from Europe and the United States.

Betty Archdale at her school desk, which once belonged to her grandfather Alexander Russel and sued by him when he was editor of The Scotsman.  Image Abbotsleigh Archives reproduced with permission.
Betty Archdale at her school desk, which once belonged to her grandfather Alexander Russel and used by him when he was editor of The Scotsman. Image ©Abbotsleigh Archives reproduced with permission. [13b]

She played a similar role as headmistress of Abbotsleigh, the exclusive Sydney school for girls, from 1959 to 1970. The pupils, unusually for the time, were given sex education. She reformed the curriculum, introducing physics and cutting back on British, in favour of Australian, history.[14]  Julie Daly, Abbotsleigh School Archivist, writes to The Dinner Puzzle: “Betty was a towering personality here at Abbotsleigh, and we honour her memory in many ways, not least through the Betty Archdale Library in our Senior School, and the Archdale Cup which is a debating competition held annually between independent girls’ schools in Sydney and much prized.”[15] 
Betty's portrait by Edna Garran Brown, a finalist in the 1974 Archibald Prize - Australia's preeminent prize for portraiture.  Abbotsleigh Archives, reproduced with permission
Betty’s portrait by Edna Garran Brown, a finalist in the 1974 Archibald Prize – Australia’s preeminent prize for portraiture. ©Abbotsleigh Archives, reproduced with permission [13c]

Her association with the University continued when she was elected to the Senate in 1959. She founded the Australian branch of the International Law Association in 1958, and chaired the NSW Branch of the Australian Institute of International Affairs (1960-1962) and the Arts Council in NSW (1972-1974).In 1999 the MCC elected her as one of the first ten women honorary life members of Lords. Why didn’t they at least select a full team of 11? As she was then in her early nineties she had less than a year to enjoy that “honour”. But perhaps breaking the boundary at Lord’s may well have been the most important thing.The Guardian remarked: “She adored appearing on television and radio, and two years before her death was voted a ‘living national treasure’” by the National Trust in Australia.[16]

Betty painted by Rev Donald Begbie (Abbotsleigh parent, School Chaplain, member of School Council), 1969, the School's official portrait.  Abbotsleigh Archives, reproduced with permission.
Betty painted by Rev Donald Begbie (Abbotsleigh parent, School Chaplain, member of School Council), 1969, the School’s official portrait. ©Abbotsleigh Archives, reproduced with permission.[13d]

She and her brother Alexander (he who was married the weekend after our dinner and left the UK in 1951) built a house together in Australia where they both lived – Alexander’s divorced wife Lilian died in August 2001, in London.Betty died in Australia on 11th January 2000 – possibly the only person at the dinner to see in the Third Millennium (we cannot speak for the mystery guests).Betty’s life can also be followed in her autobiographical “Indiscretions of a Headmistress”, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1972, and in Deirdre MacPherson’s, “The Suffragette’s Daughter, Betty Archdale: Her Life of Feminism, Cricket, War and Education”, Rosenberg Publishing, 2002.


[1] The Guardian, 16.2.2000

[2] Western Daily Press, 27.3.1933

[3] Ailsa McPherson, Alexander Mervyn Archdale, 1905-1986 Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol 17, MUP 2007, accessed 15.5.2018

[4] My thanks to Dinner Puzzle contributor Jane Claydon for this last insight, from her own conversations with Anne Robson, Betty’s “fag” at school.  Anne Robson died this year, 2020, aged 108.

[5] Frances Burton, Archdale, Helen Elizabeth [Betty] (1907–2000), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 8th November 2018, accessed 30.3.2019

[6] National Library of Australia

[7] The Times 21.9.1936

[8] Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 3.6.1937

[9] Angela V. John (2013), Turning the Tide, Cardigan, Parthian, p41, 241-2 and others.

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betty_Archdale

[11]  https://www.theguardian.com/news/2000/feb/16/guardianobituaries3

[12] Quoted from Frances Burton, Archdale, Helen Elizabeth [Betty] (1907–2000), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 8th November 2018, accessed 30.3.2019

[14] The Guardian, 16.2.2000

[13 a b c d] With many thanks to Julie Daly and Abbotsleigh School for permission to reproduce these pictures of the “towering” headmistress and of her wartime medals from the school archives.  All ©Abbotsleigh Archives.

[14] The Guardian, 16.2.2000

[15] Communication from Julie Daly, School Archivist, Abbotsleigh Archives, October 2020.

[16] The Women’s College of Australia, accessed online 30.3.2019, adapted from an article in The Independent, London, by Robin Fitzsimons.

One thought on “Miss Betty Archdale

  1. Hallo

    This is a wonderful website.

    I tried to add to your information about Betty and Helen so but my comments disappeared!

    Please respond to my e mail address and I can give you a bit more information


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