Jean Arnot MBE

1955 - 1957 
BPW Australia President

1957-1957     BPW Sydney President
1953-1954     BPWA Senior Vice President

Jean Arnot (dec.) was an Australia librarian, trade unionist, activist for equal pay for women and feminist. She worked at the State Library of New South Wales from 1921 until her retirement in 1968.

Jean Arnot's career at the State Library of New South Wales began with the role of temporary junior library assistant in March 1921. She was acutely aware of the disparity of the wages earned by women, for example a male cleaner was paid considerably more than a female graduate library assistant when she joined the library staff. She became an active campaigner for equal pay for women from 1937 onwards.


In 1961, Jean Arnot was a member of the Australian delegation to the First International Conference on Cataloguing Principles, which was held in Paris.  Jean Arnot's contributions to the discussions are recorded in the conference papers.   She retired as head cataloguer in 1968 after a distinguished career of over 47 years of service.  In her retirement she held the voluntary role of honorary librarian of the Royal Australian Historical Society from 1969 to 1980.

Awards and Memorials

Jean Arnot received the Gold Medal of the Public Service Association of New South Wales in 1944. In 1963, she was recognised by her peers, receiving the distinction of Fellow of the Library Association of Australia. On 12 June 1965, Arnot was appointed as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (Civil) for her community services in the Sydney area.

Awards: Officer of the Order of the British Empire

Clubs:   BPW Kooroora Club (Sydney)

Legacies: Jean Arnot Memorial Fellowship

Key Organisations:

  • Australian Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs
  • Australian Freedom from Hunger Campaign
  • Business and Professional Women's Club of Sydney
  • League of Women Voters (NSW)
  • National Council of Women (NSW)
  • Pan Pacific and South East Asia Women's Association (NSW)
  • Public Service Association of NSW
  • Australian Institute of Librarians (NSW)
  • New South Wales Council of Action for Equal Pay
  • Australian Institute of Librarians (Federal)
  • Australian Dictionary of Biography (ANU)
  • Library Association of Australia (Federal)

For others the inherent unfairness of the system and their seeming powerlessness might have led to outer resignation and inner bitterness. For Jean the strategy was as crystal-clear as the injustice, and she became part of the movement for equal pay in the 1930s, as well as active in her own trade union, and, when it was established, her professional association. In 1937 she joined both the New South Wales Council of Action for Equal Pay and, as a foundation member, the Australian Institute of Librarians (later the Library Association of Australia and still later the Australian Library and Information Association). In both organisations her capacity to grasp issues and to articulate views would prove immensely valuable.

She would also play what would turn out to be a leading role in other organisations which were devoted to improving the situation of Australian women in business, the professions and in society generally. These included the National Council of Women, the Business and Professional Women's Club of Sydney, the Australian Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs, the League of Women Voters, and the Pan Pacific and South East Asia Women's Association.

The Jean Arnot Memorial Fellowship

The Fellowship is named in honour of Jean Arnot, MBE, FLAA, who was the Mitchell Librarian at the State Library of New South Wales. Jean retired as head cataloguer in 1968 after a distinguished career of over 47 years of service.  The Fellowship is awarded annually to a female librarian or female student of librarianship for an outstanding original paper of no more than 5000 words on any aspect of librarianship. The fellowship is a memorial to Jean and her achievements as a Librarian. The Fellowship is coordinated by the NSW State Library and funded by BPW Australia and National Council of Women NSW as Jean was President of both organisations.

.Jean Arnot Memorial Annual Luncheon

Jean Arnot's lifetime work to advance the status of women is now recognised at this Annual Luncheon held in her memory organised by the National Council of Women of NSW and the Federation of Business and Professional Women of Australia and supported by the State Library.

The Jean Arnot Annual Luncheon remembers Jean was a champion of women’s rights and played a crucial role in the fight for equal pay through her organisations and her Union, The Public Service Association of NSW. The family of Jean Arnot is delighted that this tradition is being continued so that The Jean Arnot Memorial Fellowship can act as a continuous reminder of Miss Arnot's contribution for all women. This Luncheon honours ladies in their 90th year or over 90 who have contributed in a variety of ways to their communities to improve the status of women.


Business and Professional Women Australia
Jean Arnot Award

This triennial Award is given to a member of the organisation at the National Conference who has served on the National Board in a capacity and has made a significant contribution to the organisation.


Jean Arnot Award Recipients

(LtoR) Ninette Trifiletti - BPW Geelong and previous awardee
Joan Heard - President of BPW Victoria and
Marie Schlemme - BPW Australia President

BPW Australia Board 1955 to 1957

President           Jean Arnot

Immediate Past President Mary Thomson

Hon. Secretary           Pauline Lobb

Hon. Treasurer    Audrey Johnson

Senior Vice President Marjorie Mulvey

Vice Presidents     M Fraser (Hobart), M Hogan (Bendigo), T Jarrett (Melbourne), Deva Levy (Perth), Patience Thoms (Brisbane)


Thank you to the women behind the BPW Australia Past President History Project:
Project Leader, Past President Marilyn Forsythe (2007-2013), 
Past President Kay Morrison (2004-2007), Margaret Tipper, BPWA Executive Secretary (2016+), Robyn Duncan (BPWA Public Officer), Trish Clifford (BPW Central Coast) and Jean Murray (Immediate Past BPWA Executive Secretary) for their assistance and research.  The Past President History will continue to expand as information becomes available about the National Presidents since 1947.  

Please submit further information and photos to secretary@bpw.com.au

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