Woman Magarey, Susan Margaret


Written by Sharon M. Harrison, The University of Melbourne

Susan Magarey is a leader in the history profession, who has made a significant contribution to Australian history and Women's Studies.

Susan Margaret Magarey was born on 23 April 1943 in Brisbane. Her parents, South Australian couple Catherine Mary Gilbert and James Rupert Magarey, married in April 1940. At the time of her birth, Magarey's father was serving as a surgeon with Australian Imperial Forces on the Kokoda Trail. Her mother had moved to Brisbane to be closer to her husband.

Magarey was educated at the Wilderness School in Adelaide where she was elected Head Prefect in 1960. Attending the University of Adelaide from 1961 to 1964, Magarey graduated with a BA (Hons), with Second-Class Honours in English Literature, and subsequently completed a Diploma in Education in 1965. After marrying in 1966, she moved to Canberra with her husband, Christopher Eade, and gained two further degrees from the Australian National University (ANU): an MA in History for her thesis 'A study of Catherine Helen Spence, 1825-1910' (1972); and a PhD in History for her thesis titled 'The reclaimers: a study of the reformatory movement in England and Wales, 1846-1893' (1976). Magarey separated from her husband in 1978.

After completing her doctoral studies, Magarey was appointed to a Tutorship in History. In 1978 she was seconded to run ANU's newly established Women's Studies course. Magarey developed this single course into a full sub-major of two second/third-year full-year courses and an honours year, constituting what then became the Women's Studies Program. A year later, in 1979, she was appointed Founding Lecturer-in-Charge of the Program. In 1983, Magarey returned to her home town of Adelaide, where she was appointed Founding Director of the new Research Centre for Women's Studies at Adelaide University, a position she held until 2000. From 1997 until 2000 Magarey also served as Director of the Adelaide Research Centre for Humanities & Social Sciences. Magarey held a joint appointment as Associate Professor in the Departments of English and History from 2001 to 2003. She has been an Adjunct Professor in the History Discipline in the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, the University of Adelaide since 2004. Following her retirement, Magarey was appointed Professor Emerita at the University of Adelaide.

Magarey's publications include Roma the First: A Biography of Dame Roma Mitchell, with Kerrie Round (2007/revised imprint 2009); Looking Back Looking Forward: A Century of the Queen Adelaide Club 1909-2009 (2009); and Passions of the first wave feminists (2001). Magarey received the 1986 Walter McRae Russell Award from the Association for the Study of Australian Literature for Unbridling the tongues of women: a biography of Catherine Helen Spence (revised edn 2010). She is also the editor of several publications including: Ever Yours, CH Spence: Catherine Helen Spence's An Autobiography (1825-1910), Diary (1894) and Some Correspondence (1894-1910), with Barbara Wall, Mary Lyons and Maryan Beams (2005); Living History: Essays on History as Biography, with Kerrie Round (2005); Dame Roma: glimpses of a glorious life (2002); Human Rights and Reconciliation (1999); and Social Justice: politics, technology and culture for a better world (1998); Women in a Restructuring Australia: work and welfare, with Anne Edwards (1995); Debutante nation: feminism contests the 1890s, with Sue Rowley and Susan Sheridan (1993); Writing lives: feminist biography and autobiography, with Caroline Guerin and Paula Hamilton (1992). In 1994 Magarey, with Susan Sheridan, received the Barbara Polkinghorne Award for Debutante Nation. Magarey is currently writing a history of the Women's Liberation Movement in Australia.

Magarey has a particular interest in biography and in 2004 established the Magarey Medal - not for football, but - for Biography, which is awarded biennially to the woman who has published the work judged to be the best biographical writing on an Australian subject.

As a leader in establishing the rights of individuals to live in open and publicly-recognised lesbian relationships, Magarey appeared in the television program The Making of a Modern Australia, broadcast on ABC-TV in August 2010. A print version of the program was written by William McInnes and published by Hachette.

Magarey has made major contributions to Women's Studies through the establishment of Women's Studies programs, journal editing and her involvement in various committees and national and international Women's Studies networks. One tribute to her work declares that with her Research Centre and her journal, she 'has helped us through Kristeva and Irigaray, Spivak and Butler, through corporeal feminism and post-colonial multi-cultural feminism, through post-structuralism and queer theory' - all major influences in the intellectual formation of Women's Studies. In 1985 she founded the journal Australian Feminist Studies, serving as Editor until 2005. She continues to be a member of the journal's Editorial Board and a member of the Editorial Boards of Gender & History and the Journal of Historical Biography. Magarey acted as an advisor on the development of courses in the Gender Concentration Area in the Division of Humanities at Griffith University (1986) and on the establishment of a Women's Studies Centre at the University of Melbourne (1987).

In the community beyond universities, Magarey was appointed by the South Australian Government as a member of the Women's Suffrage Centenary Steering Committee, and Chair of its History Sub-Committee (1993-1994). She has served on a number of committees and boards, including: Executive Member, Women's Studies Resource Centre, Asia & the Pacific (1991); Executive Committee Member, Network for Research in Women's History (1992-1995); Convenor, Network for Research in Women's History (1992-1996); Convenor Sixth International Interdisciplinary Congress on Women (1992-1996); Founding Member of the Worldwide Organisation of Women's Studies (1996); Founding Member of Emily's List; Member of the Board of Directors of the National Foundation for Australian Women (2000-2003); Member of the Advisory Board of the Fourth Feminist Research Conference, Bologna, Italy (2001); Member Premier's Council for Women, South Australia (2005-2007); Board Member History Trust of South Australia (2005- ); and President of the Friends of the University Adelaide Library (2006-2008). At the end of 2012, Magarey was appointed a member of the Panel assessing Historical and Non-Fictional Entries for the Prime Minister's Literary Awards for 2013.

Magarey has received a number of awards in recognition of her pioneering work in establishing Women's Studies as a scholarly discipline, as well as her contribution to the advancement of women. In 1985 the Committee on Post-Secondary Education of Women and Girls of the Tertiary Education Authority of South Australia made Magarey an award for Meritorious Contribution to the Advancement of the educational and career achievements of other women and involvement in the wider community. In 2005 Magarey was appointed a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. In 2006 she was appointed a Member of the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM) for pioneering Women's Studies as an academic field.

Her partner is Susan Margaret Sheridan.

Additional sources: Papers of Susan Magarey, c. 1970 - c. 2007, MS Acc09.114; National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection; Susan Magarey interviewed by Sara Dowse, 17 November 2008, ORAL TRC 6028; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection.

Archival Resources

National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection

  • Papers of Susan Magarey, c. 1970 - c. 2007, MS Acc09.114; National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection. Details

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Susan Magarey interviewed by Sara Dowse, 17 November 2008, ORAL TRC 6028; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

Published Resources

Book Sections

  • 'Susan Margaret Magarey', in Who’s Who in Australia, Crown Content, Melbourne, Victoria, 1927-. Details
  • 'Susan Margaret Magarey', in Andrea Lofthouse (ed.), Who’s Who of Australian Women, Methuen Australia, Sydney, New South Wales, 1982. Details

Online Resources