Woman Allen, Margaret Ellen (1947 - )

15 August 1947
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Written by Sharon M. Harrison, The University of Melbourne

Margaret Allen is a leader in the history profession, who has contributed to the establishment of women's studies in South Australia.

Allen was born in Adelaide on 15 August 1947 to bank officer George William Allen and Marjorie Ada (née Knight), home duties. Her mother died tragically when she was almost one-year-old. Her father re-married and she, her three older siblings and her half-sister were raised by Mum (her step-mother), Helen Ladbury Allen (née Baylis).

After completing her primary schooling at Walkerville Primary School, Allen attended Adelaide Girls High School from 1960 to 1964. The school was unusual for its time in South Australia, being a state girls' high school offering an academic program, which could lead to further study at university and teachers' college. Allen took up an Education Department Scholarship, studying Arts at the University of Adelaide and majoring in history. The first member of her family to go to university, she graduated with BA (Hons) 2A in 1969 with a thesis on The Jews in the French Revolution and proceeded to a Dip. Ed (1970). Allen combined an appointment at Salisbury Teachers College, with part-time study. She was awarded an MA from the University of Adelaide in 1975 for her thesis Salisbury (South Australia) in transition. In 1977-1978 she had study leave and did an MA (Social History) at the University of Essex. She studied with Trevor Lummis, Mary McIntosh and Lenore Davidoff, who supervised her thesis, Woman's place and World War Two (1979). In c 1981 Allen enrolled for a PhD on a part-time basis at University of Adelaide, later transferring her studies to Flinders University under the supervision of Anna Yeatman and Susan Sheridan. In 1992 She was one of the first students to get a Flinders PhD in Women's Studies, with a thesis entitled, Three South Australian Women Writers, 1854-1923: Matilda Evans, Catherine Spence and Catherine Martin. She explored ideas about class, race, gender, religion and colonial society through the lives and work of these writers.

Allen became involved with Women's Liberation Movement in Adelaide in the 1970s and her interest in Women's History grew. She began introducing topics on women within the subjects she convened. In 1975, with colleagues she ran a program for International Women's Year in the Northern Suburbs and in Adelaide. In 1975, she taught a non-assessed enrichment elective on 'Women in History'. At the suggestion of her head of department in 1979, she introduced a subject, 'Women in History', which she ran in various guises and finally as 'Gender and Race in Australian History' until retirement. It was taught at undergraduate and postgraduate levels and both in on-and off-campus mode. Later she also developed the subject, 'Life Stories: Australia 1850-1980'. She was a founding member of the Women's Studies Course team (1978) at Salisbury campus, which developed a Graduate Diploma and then an MA degree in Women's Studies, teaching the core topic 'Feminist Theory'. In c 1984 this team also developed an Associate Diploma in Women's Studies, which allowed women graduates from a TAFE certificate course in Women's Studies to proceed to tertiary study. In 1980, with Sandra Holton, Allen prepared a bibliography on research in Women's Studies for the Women and Labour Conference held in Melbourne. She was on the Paper and Publications Collective of the Third Women and Labour conference in Adelaide 1982, and a co-editor of the conference collection, All Her Labours (1984).

Allen became active in union activities and became President of the South Australian College of Advanced Education Staff Association in 1982 when the amalgamation of the SA Teacher's Colleges meant that many contract staff were losing their employment. She was a member of the Federal Executive and of the Affirmative Action Committee of Union of Australian College Academics (UACA), which she convened as Federal Vice-President (Affirmative Action). She was on the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) Transitional Federal Executive with the amalgamation with FAUSA, but retired from union activities in 1994. With Tanya Castleman and Patrick Wright she won an ARC grant to research women's employment in universities, which led to Limited Access: Women's Disadvantage in Higher Education Employment, with Tanya Castleman, Wendy Bastalich and Pat Wright (1995).

Promoted to Lecturer in 1972 and Senior Lecturer in 1987 at the Salisbury Teachers College, following the Dawkins' restructuring of the tertiary sector, she became an employee of University of Adelaide from 1991, and became Associate Professor in 2002 and Professor in 2007. Following her retirement in 2010, the University of Adelaide appointed Allen Professor Emerita. In 2011 a celebratory conference was held at the University of Adelaide in her honour. The proceedings of this conference were published in a festschrift in Australian Feminist Studies in 2012. Allen continues to be active as a researcher and writer.

Allen has published many journal articles and book chapters. She is the co-editor of: Intersections: Gender, Race and Ethnicity in Australasian Studies, with Rajinder Kumar Dhawan (2007); and Women's Activism: Global Perspectives from the 1890s to the present, with Francisca de Haan, Krassimira Daskalova and June Purvis (2013) She has also edited or co-edited a number of journal issues. As part of an initiative of the South Australian Women's History Task Force, she helped research and write a documentary history of South Australian women, Fresh Evidence, New Witnesses: Looking for Women's History, with Mary Hutchison and Alison Mackinnon (1989). She became interested in historical approaches to women and religion and was a Chief Investigator on an ARC project, Quaker Families and the Construction of Social Difference, 1995-1997, with Sandra Holton and Alison Mackinnon. As part of this project the group ran an Academy of Social Sciences Workshop on Women Religion and Spirituality in 1998. In the late 1990s, she became interested in transnational history and specifically links between India and Australia, c 1880-1940 and has published a number of papers on Australian women missionaries, and on Indian men negotiating the White Australia Policy etc. She developed links with Indian feminist historians and was awarded an ARC grant to further this work (2004-2007) working with Jane Haggis from Flinders University on missionary women, emotions and relations between Indian women and the missionaries. She was co-ordinator of the Australian Women's History Network (c 2000-2004) and in 2000 convened a conference, Gender in the Contact Zone (see special issue Australian Feminist Studies, 2001). She was a Chief Investigator on the ARC funded Australian Women's Archives Project from 2003.

Allen is a member of the Australian Historical Association and has been a member of the Australian Critical Race and Whiteness Studies Association from its inception. She was founding secretary of the Historical Society of South Australia (1974) and chaired the history sub-committee for the Centenary of Women's Suffrage in SA during 1994-1995. She was a Board Member and Newsletter Editor International Federation for Research on Women's History (2005-2010). Between 2001 and 2007, Allen was a Board Member of the History Trust of South Australia. Since 2005 she has been a member Australian Dictionary of Biography SA Working Party. She is a member of the Advisory Committee of the Fay Gale Centre for Research on Gender at the University of Adelaide. For many years she worked on committees on the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia to introduce more material on women to the history curriculum. She was also part of the author team for a series of textbooks by Cambridge Education for the new national history curriculum, under editorship of Angela Woollacott.

She married George Lewkowicz in 1973; they have two daughters, Anna (1976) and Eva (1979).

Additional sources: Personal communication between Margaret Allen and Patricia Grimshaw 2013.

Published Resources

Book Sections

  • Allen, Margaret, 'Eleanor Rivett (1883-1972): Educationalist, Missionary and Internationalist', in Davis, Fiona, Musgrove, Nell and Smart, Judith (eds), Founders, Firsts and Feminists: Women Leaders in Twentieth-Century Australia, The University of Melbourne: eScholarship Research Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, 2011, pp. 45-63. http://www.womenaustralia.info/leaders/fff/pdfs/rivett.pdf. Details


  • 'Australian Feminist Studies', Gender in the Contact Zone, vol. 16, no. 34, March 2001. Details
  • 'Australian Feminist Studies', Living in Connection: Colleagues Celebrate Margaret Allen, vol. 27, no. 73, September 2012. Details

Online Resources

See also