HerStory

Florence Violet McKENZIE

Also known as: née Granville, Vi, Violet Wallace, Mrs Mac

Born: 28/9/1890

Died: 23/05/1982

Special Achievements:

Australia's first female electrical engineer, licensed woman amateur radio operator, and first female member of the Wireless Institute of Australia.

Additional Information:

Florence Violet McKenzie was Australia’s first female amateur radio operator (1922), first female electrical engineer (1923), first female certified radio telegraphist and the only female member of the Wireless Institute of Australia (1924). In 1922, F. V. Wallace (as she was then known) started the first radio shop in Sydney, “The Wireless Shop”, which operated for 18 years during the 1920s and 1930s.  She opened a Women’s Radio College and, later, the Electrical Association for Women where she provided technical and practical training for women in the use of electricity.  It was her firm belief that electricity could save women from domestic drudgery.  It was during this time that she wrote the first “all-electric cookbook”. 

Recognising the signs of an impending war, “Mrs Mac” as she was fondly called (having married fellow electrical engineer Cecil McKenzie in 1924) foresaw the need for trained female wireless telegraphists.  She established the Women’s Emergency Signalling Corps in 1939 and, overcoming a great deal of official resistance, campaigned successfully to have some of her female trainees accepted into the all-male Navy.  This was the start of the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service.  Some 3,000 women and 12,000 servicemen passed through her signal instruction school, acquiring essential skills in Morse, visual signalling and international code. 

The armed forces and civilian airlines relied on her services right up to the mid-1950s.  Apart from her successful electrical contracting and wireless supplies business between 1918 and 1934, all her work was voluntary.  She ran the school without any government grant and no fees were ever charged for tuition.

Later in life, she is recorded as saying, “It is finished, and I have proved to them all that women can be as good as, or better than men”.

Material sourced from the Dictionary of Sydney, http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/mckenzie_violet  and ABC Radio National Hindsight, Signals, Currents and Wires: the Untold Story of Florence Violet McKenzie, 16 March 2008, http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/hindsight/signals-currents-and-wires-the-untold-story-of/3287402.  Thanks to Nee Nee Ong, Chair, Women in Engineering National Committee.

Image courtesy of WRANS Naval Women's Association NSW.


Resources

  • Image - Florence Violet McKenzie

    Portrait of McKenzie. Part of an album of portraits of early members of WESC assembled by her.

    Wikimedia Commons: File:Florence Violet McKenzie in WESC uniform.jpg.


  • Image - Florence Violet McKenzie

    Images courtesy of WRANS Naval Women's Association New South Wales


  • References

    Clark, Terry.  (1979, December).  A Living Legend.  Amateur Radio, 34-36.

    Flynn, Greg.  (1978, 12 July).  Thank You Mrs Mac.  The Australian Women’s Weekly, 41.

    VK8.  (1991, January).  The Story of a Window.  Amateur Radio, 13.

    Margo, Jill.  Plaque honours WRANS’ 'mother.'  The Sydney Morning Herald.  31 March 1980:p. unknown.

    Ex-WRANS Association.  (1982, June).  Ex-WRANS Ditty Box – A Tribute to Mrs F V McKenzie OBE.  Sydney, New South Wales.

    Passing of WRANS’ “Founding Mother.”  Navy News.  May 21 – June 4, 1982:page unknown.

    Millgate, Moira.  (1985, November).  The Long Way Round.  Amateur Radio:48.

    (1982, September).  Our Tribute.  White Ensign, 29.

    Self Made Success.  Sunday Guardian.  October 20, 1929:9.

    (1986, May).  Mrs Florence Violet McKenzie OBE.  Amateur Radio, 46.

    Loft, Margaret.  (1984, October).  Mrs McKenzie.  Amateur Radio, 35.