Woman Matthews, Jill Julius (1949 - )

Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Written by Sharon M. Harrison, The University of Melbourne

Jill Matthews is a leader in the history profession, who has contributed to Australian cultural, social and gender history, especially histories of popular culture, modernity, sexuality, pornography and silent cinema. She was born in Adelaide in 1949 and attended Grange Primary School before proceeding to Methodist Ladies College in Adelaide on a scholarship. She commenced a law degree at the University of Adelaide in 1966 and later switched to a combined arts/law degree. She completed Honours in History in 1969, writing her thesis Newspapers and their diffusion of cultural norms, under the supervision of leading military historian Trevor Wilson. Having decided not to finish her law degree, she graduated from with a BA (Hons) in 1970.

In 1970 Matthews took up a three-year tutorship at Flinders University in South Australia, then under the headship of George Rudé who had previously been a Professor at the University of Adelaide. In 1972 she commenced her PhD in History at the University of Adelaide under the supervision of Hugh Stretton. Her thesis Good and Mad Women. A study of Gender Order in South Australia 1920-1970' was completed in 1978. Between 1973 and 1978 Matthews worked as a part-time Tutor and occasional lecturer in history, sociology, political science, medicine and women's studies at the University of Adelaide, Flinders University, the South Australian Institute of Technology, Adelaide, Sturt and Hartley Colleges of Advanced Education and the South Australian Department of Further Education. She taught the first Women's Studies course in the Politics Department at University of Adelaide and in 1975 and 1980 was a member of the Collective for Refractory Girl, women's studies journal.

In 1978 Matthews moved to Sydney and took up a position as Research Assistant to Gavin Souter at Fairfax Limited, working on the sesquicentennial history of the Sydney Morning Herald. From 1979 to 1980 she held a fixed-term appointment as a Lecturer in the History Department at the University of Sydney and was also a member of the Scarlet Woman and the Gay Information Collectives. From 1981 to 1982 Matthews was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the History Department in the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University. In mid-1983 she was appointed to a Lectureship in the History Department at the University of Wollongong but in the following year she moved back to Canberra, taking up a three-year appointment as a Lecturer in the Women's Studies Program, securing an ongoing appointment in 1986.

In 1993, Matthews was co-Convenor of the 'Sexualities and Culture' program at the Humanities Research Centre. Appointed to the Women's Studies Program, she became inaugural Director of the Centre for Women's Studies in 1995. In 1997, she took up an appointment in the History Department. From 2008 to 2010, she was Head of the School of Social Sciences and from 2011 to 2013 she was Head of the School of Cultural Inquiry, Research School of Humanities and the Arts. Matthews stepped down from this position in 2013 and is currently attached to the Humanities Research Centre. Between 1989 and 1991 Matthews was Inaugural President of the National Foundation for Australian Women. She was also a Convenor of the Australian Network for Research in Women's History and a Ministerial appointee to the Board of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NSFA) from 2008 to 2011. In 2010 won an award for excellence in supervision from the College of Arts and Social Sciences.

Matthews became involved in radical politics during her student days in Adelaide. In 1970 she was a member of the fledgling Women's Liberation Movement. She was also active in the anti-Vietnam War Movement and was arrested while participating in the 1970 Moratorium demonstration but successfully defended herself in court. She became involved in the fledgling Gay Liberation Movement in 1971. In 1981 Matthews laid a wreath at the Australian War Memorial as part of the Women Against Rape in War protest. While working in Wollongong, Matthews became a member of the Wollongong Women's Pine Gap Protest contingent.

Matthews is the author of Dance Hall and Picture Palace. Sydney's Romance with Modernity (2005), which was awarded the inaugural award for best monograph from the Film and History Association of Australia and New Zealand, and was short-listed for the Queensland Premier's Literary Award for History, and Good and Mad Women. The Historical Construction of Femininity in Twentieth Century Australia (1984). Good and Mad Women, a major re-working of Matthews' doctoral thesis, remained in print for twenty years and was one of the publisher, Allen & Unwin's, top-selling Women's Studies titles. She is also the editor of Sex in Public. Australian Sexual Cultures (1997); Jane Gallop Seminar Papers. Proceedings of the Jane Gallop Seminar (1994); and a special issue of Media Information Australia on 'Body's Image', with Elizabeth Jacka (1994). In 1999 Matthews was awarded an Australian Research Council (ARC) grant for her project Americanization, Popular Culture and Modernity in Australia 1915-1930. Matthews also worked with a multi-university team on the ARC funded project, Mapping the Movies: the changing nature of Australia's cinema circuits and their audiences 1956-1984(2008-2012).

Archival Resources

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Interview with Jill Matthews, academic [sound recording] / interviewer, Biff Ward, 15 February 2000, ORAL TRC 3967; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

Published Resources

Online Resources

See also