Woman Hetherington, Penelope


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

Penelope Loveday, who became a leader in African history, was born in Rose Park, South Australia, in 1928, into a working-class family. In the year of her birth, her father took on a soldier-settlement farm, so Loveday enjoyed a classic rural childhood. At the age of nine, she suffered an attack of rheumatoid arthritis. Hospitalised and pampered as an invalid, she developed a great interest in literature and a sensitivity to social issues. The farm failed and her father began working as a fitter and turner.

Educated at the local Normal School, she went to the University of Adelaide, receiving her BA in 1950. She married and assumed her husband's name, becoming Penelope Hetherington. For the next ten years, she taught at girls' technical schools and raised three children. In 1961, she returned to the University of Adelaide for her Honours degree in History (1966). She went on to study history at UWA, where she was awarded an MA in 1972; her thesis was published under the title, British paternalism and Africa, 1920-1940 (1978). American Historical Review, 84 (1979): 170-1, called it 'a weighty two-fold contribution to British imperial history as it concerns Africa'.

In 1970, she was appointed lecturer in history at UWA. After teaching European history for a decade, she devoted herself to African history from 1981. Her feminist engagement led her to study the construction of the family and of sexuality in Africa and in African historiography, most notably in the difficult area of female circumcision: 'Generational Changes in Marriage Patterns in the Central Province of Kenya, 1930-1990', Journal of Asian & African Studies 36 (2001): 157-180, and 'The Politics of Female Circumcision in the Central Province of Colonial Kenya, 1920-30', Journal of Imperial & Commonwealth History 26 (1998): 93-126. Turning subsequently to Australian women's history she published Childhood and society in Western Australia (1988) and, with P. Maddern, Sexuality and gender in history: selected essays (1993). Retiring in 1993, she turned to aboriginal history, publishing Settlers, servants and slaves: Aboriginal and European children in nineteenth-century Western Australia (2002) and Paupers, poor relief and poor houses in Western Australia, 1829 to 1910 (2009), which won the Western Australian Premier's Book Award. She was awarded a D.Litt from UWA in 2004. Her autobiography, Twentieth century woman, appeared in 2007.

Additional sources: American Historical Review 84 (1979): 170-171.

Published Resources


  • Hetherington, Penelope, Twentieth century woman: an autobiography, Access Press, Bassendean, Western Australia, 2007. Details

See also