Woman Dixson, Miriam Joyce


Written by Susan Foley and Charles Sowerwine, The University of Melbourne

Miriam Dixson was born in Melbourne in 1930. Her father was a taxi driver. She studied history at the University of Melbourne, receiving her BA Hons in 1950 and her MA in History in 1957, with a thesis on 'The strike of waterside workers in Australian ports, 1928, and the lockout of coal miners on the northern coalfield of New South Wales, 1929-30'. After a period of school teaching, Dixson undertook a PhD at the ANU, submitting her thesis in 1965: 'Reformists and revolutionaries: an interpretation of the relations between the Socialists and the mass labor organisations in New South Wales 1919-27, with special reference to Sydney'. A revised and expanded version of the thesis was published as 'Greater than Lenin? Lang and Labor 1916-1932' (1977).

Named a Lecturer at the University of New England, she immediately began to work on issues of women and identity, making herself a leader in history and in feminism. In 1975 she offered Australia's first course on the history of women. And in 1976 appeared her groundbreaking book, 'The Real Matilda: women and identity in Australia 1788-1975', in which she demonstrated that the degrading conditions to which women were subjected when transported to Australia were at the origin of Australian society's continued misogyny. Twenty years later, a major colloquium celebrated the appearance of the 'four key texts' in Australian women's history published at that time: Beverley Kingston's The Real Matilda, My Wife, My Daughter, and Poor Mary Ann, Edna Ryan and Anne Conlon's Gentle Invaders: Australian Women at Work, 1788-1974, Anne Summers' Damned Whores and God's Police: The Colonization of Women in Australia, and Dixson's Real Matilda. And in 2000, Australian Historical Studies noted, 'Dixson's haunting classic continues to resonate with a power and force which continues to have relevance today'.

In 1978, as a senior Fulbright scholar, and in 1986, as an honorary fellow at Harvard University, she studied the comparative history of women and identity in the United States. She was a member of the Australian Commission for the Future. In 1997, the University of New England awarded her a D. Litt Honoris Causa. Continuing her study of identity, she published The imaginary Australian: Anglo-Celts and identity, 1788 to the present in 1999.

Additional sources: Correspondence with Miriam Dixson.

Published Resources

Book Sections

  • Doyle Helen, 'Dixson, Miriam', in Davison, Graeme; Hirst, John and Macintyre, Stuart (eds), The Oxford Companion to Australian History, Oxford University Press, 2001. Details

Journal Articles

  • 'Book notes', Australian Historical Studies, vol. 31, no. 114, 2000, p. 197. Details
  • Curthoys Ann, 'Visions, nightmares, dreams: Women's history, 1975', Australian Historical Studies, vol. 27, no. 106, 1996, pp. 1-13. Details
  • Magarey Susan, 'What is happening to women's history in Australia at the beginning of the third millennium?', Women’s History Review, vol. 16, no. 1, 2007, pp. 1-18. Details

See also