Theme History

Written by Patricia Grimshaw and Sharon M. Harrison, The University of Melbourne and Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

The numbers of Australian women who have assumed leadership in the writing of history throughout the 20th century have been impressive. We focus this entry primarily upon the women who contributed to the discipline through their employment as academics in universities. While we acknowledge the important intellectual influence of the many women who researched and wrote history outside of academia, women employed in the tertiary sector have been in a position to exert leadership in many significant ways. In addition to research and publication, they assumed a wide range of responsibilities through which they expanded the impact of history within and beyond the academy. They were active in undergraduate teaching, the supervision of postgraduate students, and the administration of history programs in departments, centres and faculties. They mentored early-career historians and nurtured the discipline through networks of scholars in Australia and, increasingly, abroad. They organised seminars and conferences, served on committees of professional associations, assessed grant applications, edited academic journals and collections and promoted the interests of archives and research libraries. They engaged in outreach projects with schools, local historical communities and interested publics, and they performed all these duties with remarkable dedication. Their leadership in the discipline flowed from these multi-faceted engagements.

There has been no previous study at a national level of women and leadership in the history profession. There is an insightful essay by Susan Magarey on the writing of women's history in Australia in the Companion to Women's Historical Writing edited by Mary Spongberg, Barbara Caine and Ann Curthoys for Palgrave Macmillan in 2005. In the same collection, two of the authors of this entry, Patricia Grimshaw and Shurlee Swain, traced the historical writings of women in British Dominions, including Australia, from 1901 to 1960. The emphasis in both contributions was on themes, substance and approaches of the writings rather than on the writers themselves. Individual female historians have earned inclusion in historical biographical dictionaries and encyclopedias and a few have received sustained treatment in book-length biographies. To all such studies, including the single entries on historians that Charles Sowerwine, Susan Foley and co-author Sharon Harrison, among others, prepared for this eEncyclopedia, we have been indebted in this wider task.

The entry of women historians into the academic profession, slow in the first half of the century, picked up pace in the postwar period until, by the end of the century, women had assumed a respected and assured place. The entry begins with the women historians who were prominent in the first six decades of the century, when gifted independent scholars abounded but few women had a place in the academy. Second, we assess the leadership of the many talented women whose entry to the profession in significant positions resulted from the postwar expansion of the tertiary sector and the challenges to gender discrimination of the 1970s and 1980s. Third, we note more briefly the women who emerged as leaders in the final decade of the 20th century, and are carrying on their leadership impressively into the 21st.

The 'New Woman' and the History Profession

The majority of women who wrote history in the first half of the 20th century were independent scholars who were remunerated, if at all, through publishers' royalties. Given that writing was an acceptable occupation for middle-class educated women, others ventured into the history field where they often focused on women's experiences of the past. The first notable work of the century may be Australia from a Woman's Point of View in 1913, written by the college-educated American, Jessie Ackermann (Tyrrell, ADB). An emissary of the World's Woman's Christian Temperance Union and founder of the organisation's Australasian colonial branches, she lived for many years in Australia facilitating their activities before deciding to fill an historical gap. Perhaps the first woman to publish a scholarly work written in an academic context was Myra Willard (1887-1971), whose History of the White Australia Policy of 1923-incidentally the first book published by Melbourne University Press, which republished it twice, in 1967 and 1974-grew out of a Master of Arts thesis undertaken at the University of Sydney under the supervision of Professor George Arnold Wood. Her book was widely respected but Willard wrote no more; she pursued a career in school teaching.

In volumes celebrating centenaries of states and the nation, independent scholars collaborated with literary figures to bring women's history into the national story. The creative pair, Marjorie Barnard (Roe, ADB) and Flora Eldershaw (Dever, ADB) (writing under the pseudonym Marjorie Barnard Eldershaw), published My Australia in 1939, a white settler narrative framed around white male endeavours. The previous year, Barnard and Eldershaw had acknowledged white women's part in that story in the commemorative volume they co-edited, The Peaceful Army: A Memorial to the Pioneer Women of Australia 1788 to 1938. They collaborated in this with such literary figures as Kylie Tennant, Dymphna Cusack, Miles Franklin and Eleanor Dark to register white women's significance in the establishment of the British colonies and the new nation. They drew attention to the 'pioneer women', who endured hardships alongside men in the task of breaking in the land for European ventures, and the brave 'new women' of the 20th century who were forging a place for women in so many arenas once the province of men. They tracked advances in girls' and women's education; women's entry to citizenship, to novel areas of employment and trade unions; and lauded the appearance of women in science, medicine, law and the field of social welfare. After World War II, short histories of Australia written by women emerged from the pens of Kylie Tennant (Grant, ADB; Lemon, 'Tennant', AWR), who in 1953 published Australia: Her Story, and Helen G. Palmer (Heywood, 'Palmer', AWR) and Jessie MacLeod, who published The First Hundred Years in 1954.

Four other notable independent historians who began writing history in the 1940s and 1950s and continued to do so through their long productive lives were, in order of birth date, Marnie Bassett (1889-1980) (Blainey, ADB), Alexandra Hasluck (1908-1993), Mary Durack (1913-1994) (Heywood, 'Durack', AWR) and Marjorie Tipping (1917-2009) (Heywood, 'Tipping', AWR). All published significant scholarly studies. In 1955, Alexandra Hasluck launched her fine biography, Portrait with Background: A Life of Georgiana Molloy. Her other major books, Unwilling Immigrants: A Study of the Convict Period in Australia (1959), Audrey Tennyson's Vice-Regal Days (1978)-written after her husband, Sir Paul Hasluck, served as governor-general (1969-1974)-and Portrait in a Mirror (1981), were very well received and continue to be read. Mary Durack, who grew up on a cattle station in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, began writing children's stories and newspaper columns in the 1930s. Kings in Grass Castles, which appeared in 1959, outlined graphically her family's settlement of the area; among other historical studies, she published To Be Heirs Forever (1976), a biography of an early settler, Eliza Shaw. Marjorie Tipping, who became the first woman president of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria from 1972 to 1975, published prolifically. Among her books were studies of the colonial artists, Eugene von Guerard (1975) and Ludwig Becker (1978), and Convicts Unbound: The Story of the Calcutta Convicts and their Settlement in Australia (1988).

Marnie Bassett was a transitional figure between the domains of independent scholars and academic historians. She was born Flora Marjorie Masson, daughter of the foundation professor of chemistry at the University of Melbourne. Educated at home by governesses, she did not undertake a formal tertiary degree but attended lectures by the professor of history at the University of Melbourne, Ernest Scott, who encouraged her to pursue research. First World War work intervened and, following the war, the demands of home and motherhood after her marriage in 1923 to an academic, Walter Bassett. She returned to her interest in history, however, and in 1940 she published her first book, The Governor's Lady, Mrs Philip Gidley King: An Australian Historical Narrative. In a work of social history on a larger scale, The Hentys: An Australian Colonial Tapestry published in 1954, she used a study of a Victorian pioneer family to open a panoramic view of colonisation. The book became a classic. It was followed by Realms and Islands: The World Voyage of Rose de Freycinet in the Corvette Uranie, 1817-1820 (1962) and Behind the Picture: H.M.S. Rattlesnake's Australia-New Guinea Cruise, 1846 to 1850 (1966). Bassett was awarded an honorary doctorate by Monash University in 1968 and another by the University of Melbourne in 1974. She was a member of the Australian Humanities Council and in 1969 became a foundation fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

The 'new women' of Australia's post-suffrage era who were able to exert leadership in history within universities by the 1960s were few but admirable in their commitment, range and personal generosity. Jessie Webb (1880-1944) (Fitzpatrick, ADB; Heywood, 'Webb', AWR) was among the truly notable early leaders in the academic profession. In 1908, Professor Ernest Scott, the mentor of Marnie Bassett, appointed the 28-year-old Webb, who held the degrees of Bachelor of Arts (Honours) and Master of Arts, to teach ancient history, a position she held until her death in 1944. The universities before World War II were small institutions in which the very few women academics carried burdensome workloads. Webb was notable as a teacher who kept well abreast of her field and, as senior lecturer, served frequently as acting head of department. She undertook serious research but had a modest publication output. Conscious of her privileges as a 'new woman', however, she was a founder of numerous organisations for women, including the University Women's College and the Lyceum Club; in 1923, she served as an alternate delegate to the League of Nations Assembly. She inspired her students, including such able women as Kathleen Fitzpatrick who would later write her entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick (1905-1990) (Patrick, ADB; Heywood, 'Fitzpatrick', AWR) and Marjorie Jacobs (1915-2013) were appointed to academic positions in the late 1930s and sustained a place as remarkable leaders in the profession for many decades. Marjorie Jacobs was first appointed to the University of Sydney as an assistant lecturer from 1938 to 1943. For two years during World War II, she was seconded to work with the Historical Section of the US Army in Australia. Awarded a tenured lectureship in 1945, Jacobs, who cared deeply about the preservation of records and archival collections, made a significant contribution to the building up of Australian archives. In the mid-1950s, she surveyed the state archives held at Sydney's Mitchell Library, and promoted the detaching of archives from the State Library in favour of the establishment of a separate archives authority. She became the University of Sydney's second woman professor when she was appointed to the Department of History's third chair in history in 1969. Long before the 21st century came to be regarded as the 'Asian Century', Jacobs argued for the importance of studying the region. During a career that spanned four decades, she offered students a world that included a new Asian perspective (Spies, Gower & Barnett). Many of Jacobs' students, including Jim Masselos, Christine Dobbin, Richard Gordon, Richard Cashman and Antonia Finnane (SHAPS, Melbourne, 'Finnane'), went on to become leading scholars in the field. In 1988, Jacobs was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for service to education, particularly in the field of Indian history.

In the History School at the University of Melbourne, Kathleen Fitzpatrick entered a community that came to support a number of female historians. She studied English and history at the University of Melbourne under Sir Ernest Scott and, with his support, proceeded to the University of Oxford where she graduated Bachelor of Arts in 1928. She held a temporary lectureship at the University of Sydney in 1929 and a tutorship in English at Melbourne, from which she resigned to marry Brian Fitzpatrick in 1932; the marriage proved a bar to full-time employment but, after the couple divorced in 1939, Scott's successor, Professor R.M. Crawford, appointed her lecturer in the History Department. Fitzpatrick proved to be a fine teacher and also carried substantial administrative responsibilities. Promoted to senior lecturer in 1942 and associate professor in 1948, in the early 1960s she did not apply for a second chair in history, disappointing her admirers. A foundation member of the Australian Humanities Research Council, she, like Bassett, became an inaugural fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1969. In 1957, she published Sir John Franklin in Tasmania, followed by a history of Presbyterian Ladies' College of Melbourne in 1975 and her very well received memoir, Solid Bluestone Foundations, in 1983. The University of Melbourne awarded her an honorary doctorate of laws in 1983; in 1989, the year before she died, she was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia.

Working with Fitzpatrick in the History Department at the University of Melbourne after World War II were three further scholars, Margaret Kiddle (1914-1958) (Patrick, ADB; Lemon, 'Kiddle', AWR), Alison Patrick (1920-2009) and Dorothy Shineberg (1927-2004). Kiddle studied history at the University of Melbourne, obtaining a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in 1938. After a period of war work, she returned to the University of Melbourne to undertake a Master of Arts and Diploma of Education. But, in 1946, she became a tutor in the School of History; her presence in the school, alongside Kathleen Fitzpatrick, encouraged a generation of women to study history. In 1950, Kiddle published her biography of Caroline Chisholm; it was republished many times. Her final book, published posthumously in 1961, established her lasting reputation: Men of Yesterday: A Social History of the Western District of Victoria 1834-1890. The work was theoretically advanced in the place she gave to Victoria's Aboriginal people as well as colonisers, and to women as well as men. Kiddle died in 1958.

Kiddle's biographer in the Australian Dictionary of Biography was her colleague Alison Patrick, who won a place as a leading scholar of the French Revolution. She described her career in an essay she wrote for the collection, The Half-open Door: Sixteen Modern Australian Women Look at Professional Life and Achievement. After completing a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) degree at the University of Melbourne, she was appointed to a temporary teaching position in 1946 that finally became permanent in 1963; she was promoted to senior lecturer, then associate professor and, in the 1980s, was the first woman to head the department. She pursued a doctorate on a neglected aspect of the French Revolution that emerged into print in 1972 as The Men of the First French Republic: Political Alignments in the National Convention of 1792. Her first year subject on the French Revolution inspired many students to engage in modern European history (McPhee). She retired in 1986 but remained an active historian until her death in 2009.

Dorothy Shineberg (1927-2004) undertook her first degree in the same department, graduating with first-class honours in 1946, and tutored in the department for a year before she took up a tutorship in colonial history at the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) in Sydney. In 1950, Shineberg was the first Australian woman to win a prestigious Fulbright Travelling Scholarship with a teaching fellowship to Smith College, Massachusetts. On her return to the University Melbourne in 1953, she ran a fourth-year honours course on Pacific history, the first of its kind in Australia. Her students included Greg Dening and Niel Gunson, who themselves became leading scholars in the history and anthropology of the Pacific. She married fellow Pacific historian Barry Shineberg and, in 1956, left the Department when she was pregnant. Five years later, when she tried to re-enter academia at the University of Melbourne-at the time still the only university in Victoria-she found that motherhood was a significant bar to the resumption of her academic career. Professor John La Nauze, then head of department, would not appoint her to a full-time position, but did provide support for a research scholarship application. Shineberg completed her PhD under his supervision in 1965 and subsequently took up a research fellowship at the Australian National University (ANU). Her thesis was published in 1967 as They Came for Sandalwood: A Study of the Sandalwood Trade in the South-west Pacific, 1830-1865, and proved a seminal work in the development of Pacific Island historiography (Douglas, 353-6). Shineberg was instrumental in developing Pacific history as a new field at the ANU, and influenced many students to focus on Pacific history and anthropology, Bronwen Douglas (ANU, 'Douglas'), Martha Macintyre (University of Queensland, 'Macintyre') and Margaret Jolly (ANU, 'Jolly') among them. She contributed constructively into her retirement. She died in 2004.

The Emergence of a 'Critical Mass' in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s

Women who were already established in the academy and those who took up history positions in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s found themselves participants in a changing academic culture. In the first place, the number of tertiary institutions expanded considerably, opening up greater opportunities for continuing employment. Second, a fresh upsurge of the women's movement was crucial in encouraging and enabling women, despite domestic and child-care responsibilities, to seek advanced education and enter waged work. Through the 1970s and 1980s, universities gradually but perceptibly became more equitable workplaces. The movement of aspirant female academics benefitted from the equal employment opportunity legislation: the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984 outlawed discrimination on the basis of sex in employment, and the Affirmative Action Act of 1986 made the reporting of statistics on women in the profession mandatory. Universities established units to monitor women's employment, targets for recruitment and internal promotion of women staff to the higher levels of the academic hierarchy. Discrimination continued, sometimes subtle, often unconscious, but by the 1980s women, although still a minority, nevertheless constituted a critical mass in the academic history profession and held senior academic research and administrative posts from which they could exert considerable influence.

The career of one outstanding woman, Inga Clendinnen, illustrates the complexity of the contributions of women historians from this era. While she was initially principally associated with the history of South America, her contribution over five decades indicates the richness of range and influence one woman's career could encompass. A graduate of the University of Melbourne, Clendinnen spent the decade after completing her Masters balancing marriage and motherhood with her employment as a tutor. Following her appointment as a senior lecturer at La Trobe University in 1969, she quickly demonstrated leadership both as a teacher at the new university and as a scholar of Aztec society. With Greg Dening, Rhys Isaac and Donna Merwick, she became a leader of what anthropologist Clifford Geertz named the 'Melbourne group'. Her pioneering works, Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, 1517-1570 (1987) and Aztecs: An Interpretation (1991, 1993) quickly became classics and saw Clendinnen recognised with a number of prizes and prestigious appointments. She was awarded a D.Litt by La Trobe University in 1991 and the following year was elected a fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities (AAH, 'Clendinnen'). Although ill health forced her to resign in 1991, two years after she had been promoted to the position of reader in history, she has subsequently shown leadership in new domains including as an essayist: Reading the Holocaust (1999) received the National Jewish Book Award (USA). Tiger's Eye: A Memoir (2000) was a series of autobiographical essays on illness and death; her Quarterly Essay piece, 'The History Question: Who Owns the Past?' (2006), attracted attention within and without the academy. Invited to give the ABC's 1999 Boyer Lectures, she questioned traditional interpretations of the relations between Australia's Indigenous peoples and the colonisers and advanced a new, controversial interpretation. Her innovatory study, Dancing with Strangers: The True History of the Meeting of the British First Fleet and the Aboriginal Australians, 1788, appeared in 2005 and True Stories: History, Politics, Aboriginality in 2008. She was named Officer of the Order of Australia in 2006. Hers has been an impressive and complex engagement with history, an exemplar for women who began academic careers in these decades.

The many women who achieved prominence in the decades of the 1960s, 70s and 80s came with different educational backgrounds and curiosities about the past, and found varying opportunities to exercise leadership within the academic profession. Age cohorts are indicative but can be arbitrary, as women may have delayed higher research studies or employment for family reasons. They moved across fields, time and place according to workplace demands and feasibility as well as interests, across long careers. We have for clarity's sake grouped the historians according to our own sense of where their leadership was most significant, and according to when they began exercising leadership, whatever their actual age. The major contribution of women in the post-1960 decades was strongest in the enrichment, diversification and internationalisation of Australian history, an area that had remained relatively under-explored before the postwar decades. Male academics in Australian universities commonly researched and taught across many areas of history and, not infrequently, had either been born and educated in Britain, Europe or the United States or, if Australian born, had undertaken higher degrees at universities in other countries. Women often were socially more restricted in access to research training or fieldwork outside Australia but, from the 1960s, access to study leave, the advent of photocopying, the provisions of microfiche and individual photography in archives made it feasible to pursue research on diverse subjects without the imperative to travel. Eventually, academic women working on topics outside Australia would welcome the advent of the internet, while the digitisation of primary sources would transform their research options.

An important minority of highly talented women sustained specialisms in the American, European and British fields, or Asian and Pacific history, opening up fields that had previously been dominated by men. Americanist Donna Merwick, British scholar Trish (Patricia) Crawford and the Italian specialist, Dale Kent, achieved prominence in the early modern period. Donna Merwick (ANU, HRC, 'Merwick') began her career at Mundelein College in the United States but took up an appointment at the University of Melbourne in 1968. Her first major work was Boston Priests, 1848-1910: A Study of Social and Intellectual Change (1973). Her subsequent works established her as a pioneer and leader in the study of the non-English past in North America. Possessing Albany, 1630-1710: The Dutch and English Experiences (1990) was followed by the path-setting Death of a Notary: Conquest and Change in Colonial New York (1999). She went on to write The Shame and the Sorrow: Dutch-Amerindian Encounters in New Netherland (2006) and Stuyvesant Bound: An Essay on Loss Across Time (2013), all highly praised studies with significant international recognition.

Trish Crawford (1941-2009) graduated from the University of Melbourne, but then married and followed her husband to the University of Western Australia where she completed a PhD before joining the staff of the Department of History. Her first book, Denzil Holles 1598-1680: A Study of his Political Career (1979), won the Royal Historical Society's prestigious Whitfield Prize. Subsequently, she produced Women and Religion in England 1500-1720 (1993); Women in Early Modern England 1500-1720 (with Sara Mendelson, 1998); and Women's Worlds in Seventeenth-Century England (with Laura Gowing, 2000), a major document collection illuminating the everyday lives of women. She became the first female professor in the History Department at the University of Western Australia in 1995. Crawford also co-authored a history of women at the University of Western Australia and a study of women in Australian democracy. She was elected a fellow of the Royal Historical Society in Britain in 1981, fellow of the Australian Academy of Social Sciences in 1993 and fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 2003. Her final work, Parents of Poor Children in England 1580-1800, appeared shortly before her death in 2009 (Zika, 76-81). Her fellow early modernist, in the field of Renaissance Florence, has been Dale Kent, who undertook undergraduate studies at the University of Melbourne before completing doctoral studies at the University of London. She taught at La Trobe University before taking a post at the University of California, Riverside (UCR, History, 'Kent'). Following her retirement in 2009, she returned to Australia and took up a position as a professorial fellow at the University of Melbourne. Kent's publications addressed an international audience and her contribution to the profession was recognised in her election to the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1984.

The fields of modern European and British history have also provided leadership opportunities for Australian women historians. To the fore has been Sheila Fitzpatrick (History, Sydney, 'Fitzpatrick'), an Australian-born historian who followed her undergraduate degree in Australia with postgraduate research overseas and stayed to teach at universities in Britain and the United States, culminating in her appointment as Bernadotte E. Schmitt professor of history at the University of Chicago in 1994. After fifty years living as an expatriate, Fitzpatrick returned to Australia in 2012 and was appointed an honorary professor in the Department of History at the University of Sydney. Fitzpatrick has made a major contribution to the history of modern Russia, especially the social and cultural history of the Soviet Union and Stalinism. She is regarded internationally as a trendsetter of revisionist social history 'from below' and a critic of the 'totalitarian school', but the first volume of her memoir, My Father's Daughter: Memories of an Australian Childhood (2010), has also earned her acclaim in the local scene, winning the Australian Historical Association's Magarey Medal in 2012. Other prominent Europeanists include Ros Pesman (History, Sydney, 'Pesman'), Judith Keene (History, Sydney, 'Keene') and Susan Foley (AAH, 'Foley'), all of whom have constructed careers as leading teachers and scholars within Australia while publishing internationally.

In modern British history, scholars who became prominent included the British-born and educated Pat Jalland, who taught in Western Australia and subsequently shifted to the ANU (ANU, 'Jalland'); the Australian-born Angela Woollacott, who completed undergraduate studies in Australia before undertaking graduate research in the United States (ANU, 'Woollacott'); and the South African-born Barbara Caine, who has held chairs at Monash University and the University of Sydney (History, Sydney, 'Caine'). All three also published significant studies in Australian history. Caine's focus on questions of gender and sexuality, on the history of feminism and, in more recent years, on autobiography and biography has been the basis of an impressive career as a teacher, administrator and scholar whose work has been influential both nationally and internationally. Jalland's focus on the social history of ageing, death, grief and mourning has enabled her to build a similarly national/international career, applying the insights gained from her British research in the Australian context. Her leadership was recognised in her election as a fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in 1988, the first woman to achieve this honour. Woollacott has taken a leading role in the development of transnational history, applying this perspective to studies of women and white settler histories. After studying and teaching overseas, she returned to Australian in 2004 and has since held leadership positions at Macquarie University and the ANU and within professional organisations.

Although Australian historians have been slower to embrace Asian history, there are several women who have followed Marjorie Jacobs as leaders in this emerging field. After completing undergraduate studies at the University of Sydney, Christine Dobbin undertook doctoral studies at Oxford University before returning to teach at the ANU and Flinders University, researching and writing in the area of Indonesian and Indian history; she also held various appointments in the Commonwealth Public Service. Ann Kumar (ANU, 'Kumar') and Barbara Andaya (University of Hawaii, 'Andaya') have also sustained fine careers in Indonesian history, while Antonia Finnane, a student of Jacobs at Sydney, undertook her doctorate at ANU and subsequently taught at the University of Melbourne, became a leading exponent of early modern Chinese history. Helen Dunstan of the University of Sydney (History, Sydney, 'Dunstan') and Beverley Hooper at Murdoch University and now Sheffield (East Asian Studies, Sheffield, 'Hooper') also specialised in modern China. Adelaide graduate Vera Mackie has built a career as a leading scholar on Japanese history, with a particular focus on issues around gender, while teaching at the University of Melbourne, Curtin University and currently at the University of Wollongong (ASSA, 'Mackie'). Another influential scholar of Japan and also Korea has been Tess (Tessa) Morris-Suzuki of the ANU (ANU, 'Morris-Suzuki'). In the Pacific field, several women have provided leadership, including as noted Martha Macintyre on Papua New Guinea, and Margaret Jolly and Bronwen Douglas on the islands of the south-west Pacific.

Enriching Australian History

From the 1960s, Australian history received a notable boost from new women graduates who did not apologise for a primary focus on Australia, nor, increasingly, for their focus on women's experiences of the past. These women were significant in the development of historical narratives of work, unions, education and the professions, health, social policy and welfare, philanthropy and religion. Some gave attention to migrants and community experiences, to family history and demography. Others wrote on politics, organisations, lobby groups, social movements and on Australians both at home and abroad during wars. Many of the women who began with a focus on Australia also turned their research in wider directions. Theoretically, many women were swift to adopt fresh approaches within the writing of history: comparative history, the 'linguistic turn', post-colonialism, and, most recently, transnational history.

Women's leadership was most notable in efforts to bring the history of women into a framework of scholarly relevance that might re-orientate the central narratives of Australian history. They were prominent among those who pushed the boundaries of knowledge and approaches to social and cultural history, including the writing of biography. From the mid-1970s, women's history also attracted scholars outside the academy who were energised by the women's movement to begin to fill a large gap in the historical record. They included Anne Summers (Heywood, 'Summers', AWR), whose Damned Whores and God's Police: The Colonization of Women in Australia, has seldom been out of print; Edna Ryan (Morrell, 'Ryan, E.', AWR) and Anne Conlan whose Gentle Invaders: Australian Women at Work, 1788-1974 similarly became a classic; and, slightly later, Audrey Oldfield whose Woman Suffrage in Australia: A Gift or a Struggle? was recognised as the foundational study of the first women's movement (Walker & Oldfield). Within the academy, Miriam Dixson, a lecturer in history at the University of New England, was driven by a similar motivation, producing in 1976 The Real Matilda: Women and Identity in Australia 1788 to the Present, a revisionist history of Australia with women's experiences central.

Writing women into Australian history required access to archival records, a task facilitated by Tasmanian, Kay Daniels (Heywood, 'Daniels', AWR) who, with a grant funded from the International Women's Year Australian advisory committee, supervised a project to catalogue all materials relating to women in Australia's official archives. Her Women in Australia: An Annotated Guide to Records was published in 1977. Outstanding among the other early contributors to women's history in the mid-1970s was Beverley Kingston (ASSA, 'Kingston'), whose pioneering study, My Wife, My Daughter, and Poor Mary Ann: Women and Work in Australia (1975), directed attention to the limited options open to colonial women. Kingston taught at the University of New South Wales for thirty years, influencing a new generation of women historians, while continuing her research and scholarship. The Sydney historians, Jill Roe and Heather Radi, were already established in lectureships at Macquarie University and the University of Sydney respectively and were in a position to promote women historians and women's history through their teaching, mentoring and writing. They worked alongside new recruits to the profession, many of whom were closely connected with the women's movement, and were very influential in the introduction of women's studies to the tertiary curriculum. Radi contributed to several of the key early works on Australian women's history while Roe proved an exceptional leader in her research and her professional contribution to Australian history, serving as president of the board of the Australian Dictionary of Biography from 1996 through 2006 and president of the Australian Historical Association (1999-2000, 2001-2002) (Arts, Macquarie, 'Roe').

The achievements of these pioneers bore fruit in the expansion of women's studies and women's and gender history. Susan Magarey (formerly Eade) (Heywood, 'Magarey', AWR) co-edited with Ann Curthoys and Peter Spearritt a special issue of Labour History on women's work in 1975. Three years later 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 before returning, in 1983, 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. She was also founding editor of the journal, Australian Feminist Studies. Ann Curthoys, who has held appointments at both the ANU and the University of Sydney, was also a leader in the development of women's studies programs, and has since sustained an impressive position of leadership in labour and women's history and most recently in the history of settler colonialism and history and theory (History, Sydney, 'Curthoys'). Women's studies also provided an academic base for Lyndall Ryan (Morrell, 'Ryan, L.', AWR) who established programs in South Australia and Queensland, after an earlier career as one of the first femocrats in the Commonwealth Public Service. The founder and first convenor of the Australian Women's Studies Association, she worked alongside Margaret Allen (University of Adelaide, 'Allen'), historian of Quaker women and women missionaries to India, whose interest in women's studies arose out of her involvement in the Women's Liberation Movement, and Jill Julius Matthews, who taught in this area at ANU while carving out a research specialisation in women's social and cultural history (ANU, 'Matthews').

In Melbourne, Patricia Grimshaw (Lemon, 'Grimshaw', AWR) and Marilyn Lake (SHAPS, Melbourne, 'Lake') were pioneers in the development of women's studies and also were leaders nationally and internationally in the development of women's history. Grimshaw, a co-author of this entry, rose to senior positions in history at the University of Melbourne, published influential works in relation to suffrage and mission history, and was also president of the International Federation for Research in Women's History (1995-2000). As a supervisor and a colleague, she has been an important mentor to many of the new generation of women historians, with her former postgraduate students now occupying academic positions in Australia and overseas. Marilyn Lake established her formidable profile at La Trobe University before returning recently to the University of Melbourne. She has held visiting appointments at Harvard University, Stockholm University and the University of Western Australia and served two terms as the president of the Australian Historical Association: 2010-2012 and 2012-2014. In 2000, the University of Tasmania awarded Lake an honorary Doctor of Letters for her outstanding contribution to scholarship. In 2003, she was awarded the Governor General's Centenary Medal for service to history and, in 2006, was admitted, alongside Grimshaw, to the Victorian Honour Roll of Women. In 1994, Lake and Grimshaw collaborated with Marian Quartly (Monash, 'Quartly') and Ann McGrath (ANU, 'McGrath') to produce Creating a Nation, an inclusive national history that has become a classic. Quartly, who established her reputation in 19th-century social history, was the founding editor of History Australia, the journal of the Australian Historical Association, and has recently co-authored (with Shurlee Swain and Denise Cuthrbert) a study of the history of adoption in Australia. McGrath has a long-established profile as a historian of Indigenous relations and gender and is currently director of ANU's Australian Centre for Indigenous History.

Within the wide area of social history most historians drew out the experiences of women as they wrote new interpretative narratives across a range of subjects. Janet McCalman, based at the Centre for Health and Society, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne, has made a significant contribution to social history, medical history and historical demography (PGH, Melbourne, 'McCalman'). Alison Mackinnon has also been recognised internationally for her work in historical demography but, within Australia, is best known for her studies of women and education (UniSA, 'McKinnon'), an area she shares with Marjorie Theobald, who has made a particular study of the history of schools and women in teaching. Historical sociologist Pavla Miller (RMIT, 'Miller') also specialised in education history but has made her name internationally for her work on the history of transformations in patriarchy. Fellow historical sociologist Kerreen Reiger (LaTrobe, 'Reiger') was responsible for foundational work, particularly in relation to the contestations between women and the state in relation to birth and child-rearing practices. Jan Kociumbas has made a particular contribution to the history of childhood in Australia, while Shurlee Swain (ACU, 'Swain'), one of the authors of this entry, has focused on the impact of past welfare practices on the lives of women and children. Renate Howe (Deakin, 'Howe') has written on welfare history and the history of student religious activism. Anne O'Brien (UNSW, 'O'Brien') has combined welfare history with an interest in religious history, an area in which Hilary Carey (Newcastle, 'Carey') has also earned national and international acclaim. Jenny Gregory (UWA, 'Gregory') has also worked in the area of social history, casting a wide net over subjects relevant to Western Australia, where she has been influential in advancing public history through the WA National Trust and the state History Council. She was made a member of the Order of Australia in 2010 for services to history and the community. Paula Hamilton has similarly combined social history with public history, focusing on women's collective remembering and promoting links between the academy and the public sphere. She is now co-director of the Australian Centre for Public History at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS, 'Hamilton').

Women have also been leaders in the struggle to bring gendered perspectives to areas previously seen as male. Desley Deacon (ANU, 'Deacon'), Rae Frances (Monash, 'Frances'), Diane Kirkby (LaTrobe, 'Kirkby'), Verity Burgmann (SSPS, Melbourne, 'Burgmann') and Lenore Layman have all made notable contributions in the area of labour history, while Kate Darian-Smith (SHAPS, Melbourne, 'Darian-Smith') has documented the social history of war and Joan Beaumont (ANU, 'Beaumont') has built her reputation on military and defence history. Marian Sawer (Sawer & Shapley, AWR) has made a particular study of women in politics, drawing on both her research as an academic and her work in the Commonwealth Public Service. Judith Smart (RMIT, 'Smart') was the first woman to edit the prestigious journal, Australian Historical Studies, and has focused her scholarship on the homefront during World War I and on women's organisations from suffrage through to the rise of second-wave feminism.

In the emerging area of histories of Indigenous peoples, settler colonialism and race, women have also been prominent. As director of the Australian Centre for Indigenous History at the ANU, Ann McGrath is clearly a leader in the field, but Heather Goodall's early work in New South Wales was also foundational (UTS, 'Goodall'). In Western Australia, Peggy Brock's work on missions (ECU, 'Brock') and Anna Haebich's multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural engagement with Aboriginal history and policy have attracted considerable attention both within and beyond Australia (Curtin, 'Haebich'). In Queensland, Kay Saunders (Bond University, 'Saunders') was an early leader in this field, focusing on Pacific Islander labour in Queensland, with Regina Ganter (Griffith, 'Ganter') and Fiona Paisley (Griffith, 'Paisley) adding their distinctive contributions to the debate on Indigenous, Pacific and settler relations. Historically grounded anthropology intersects with this historical work, with Indigenous scholars Marcia Langton (Frances, AWR) and Lynette Russell (Monash, 'Russell'), and the non-Indigenous Deborah Bird Rose (Ecological Humanities, 'Rose') and Diane Bell (The Conversation) leading the field. Writing the history of Aboriginal Australians has also created a space in which Indigenous women scholars were able to take a leading role. Jackie Huggins was among the first historians of Indigenous origin to work in academia (ABC Indigenous, 'Huggins'). Other Indigenous scholars whose contributions to Australian history are proving vital are Vicki Grieves in Sydney (GCS, Sydney, 'Grieves') and Aileen Moreton-Robinson in Brisbane (QUT, 'Moreton-Robinson'); the early career historian, Shino Konishi, at the ANU (ANU, 'Konishi') has recently joined their number.

Although the expansion of the tertiary sector provided support for such outstanding scholars, there was still a space for independent historians. The writing and activism of Ruby Langford Ginibi (Grimshaw, 'Langford Ginibi') was evidence of a new voice outside the academic world. The rise of professional history from the 1970s onwards also led to a proliferation of independent scholars whose books have been memorable, especially in their appeal to a wider public readership. Wendy Lowenstein (Land, AWR), Morag Loh (Heywood, 'Loh'), Ann Moyal (Walker, EOAS), Susan Priestley, Portia Robinson, Babette Smith ('Babette Smith') and Robyn Annear have been in their ranks.

New Leaders in the 1990s

The women who emerged as leaders in the discipline in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s have, for the most part, enjoyed fortunate careers and have continued their work into retirement. By the 1990s, a new generation of women had emerged to share this female leadership, taking administrative posts in universities and professional associations at the same time as they researched and published innovative studies. While the presence of women in the upper echelons of the profession is no longer a matter for comment, many still need to balance career-building with the demands of home and family.

In Victoria, Joy Damousi (SHAPS, Melbourne, 'Damousi') has been an important leader, occupying senior administrative positions at the University of Melbourne while pursuing research into Australian cultural history, feminist and women's history, memory and war, the history of emotions, the self and psychoanalysis, the history of football and popular culture, and of democracy, oratory and elocution, and sound. By the end of the 20th century, Katie Holmes of La Trobe University (LaTrobe, 'Holmes'), Christina Twomey and Jenny Hocking at Monash University (Monash, 'Twomey'; 'Hocking') were also building impressive research careers in cultural, social and political history respectively. Emerging leaders in New South Wales include Penny Russell and Julia Horne of the University of Sydney in socio-cultural history and their colleague, Glenda Sluga, on internationalism (History, Sydney, 'Russell'; History, Sydney, 'Horne'; History, Sydney, 'Sluga'); Grace Karskens of the University of NSW in colonial history (UNSW, 'Karskens'); Vicki Haskins of Newcastle University on Indigenous women (Newcastle, 'Haskins'); Mary Spongberg and Bridget Griffen-Foley of Macquarie University on the history of sexuality and the history of the media respectively (Macquarie, 'Spongberg'; Macquarie, 'Griffen-Foley'; UTS, 'Spongberg'); and Melanie Oppenheimer, initially at the University of Western Sydney, later at the University of New England and now at Flinders University, South Australia on volunteerism (Flinders, 'Oppenheimer'). New Zealand labour historian Melanie Nolan (ANU, 'Nolan') moved to Canberra to become director of the Centre for Biography at the ANU, while Louise Edwards, who was a leading scholar in Chinese history at the ANU, has since been appointed professor of Chinese Studies at Hong Kong University (HKU, 'Edwards').

Medievalist Philippa Maddern heads the high-profile Centre of Excellence in the History of the Emotions based at the University of Western Australia (UWA, 'Maddern'). Her talented colleagues Susan Broomhall and Jacqueline Van Gent (UWA, 'Broomhall'; UWA, 'Van Gent') also work in this centre, while, at Murdoch University, Sandra Wilson has been recognised as an international expert on Japanese nationalism and war history (Murdoch, 'Wilson'). Pam Sharpe (UTAS, 'Sharpe') also built her early reputation as a British historian at the University of Western Australia (after working at the University of Bristol) but has since moved to a chair at the University of Tasmania, where she has taken a leading role in the development of the profession at the local level. Several mid-career Australian women have also found prestigious posts abroad. They include the historian of medicine, Naomi Rogers, at Yale University (History, Yale, 'Rogers'); the historian of imperial networks, Zoe Laidlaw, at Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL, 'Laidlaw'); Lyndal Roper, Regius professor of history at Oxford University (History, Oxford, 'Roper'); Alexandra Walsham, professor of modern history at Cambridge University (History, Cambridge, 'Walsham'); and, from 2016, Alison Bashford (History, Sydney, 'Bashford') who will take up the Vere Harmsworth professorship of Imperial and Naval History at Cambridge.

This array of talent, originality and commitment bodes well for the future of women in the discipline of history. A considerable number of women historians have been honoured by election as fellows in the Australian Academy of the Humanities and/or the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia; all enjoy the gratitude of students, colleagues and members of the many institutions and associations they have supported. Those Australians who find the promotion of history an important and constructive arena can be grateful for the dedication with which all these many women over the century steadily pursued their craft and undertook distinguished leadership in the historical profession in a century of change and challenge for women in higher education.

Published Resources

Australian Women's Register Entries


  • Goodall, Heather, Invasion to Embassy: Land in Aboriginal Politics in New South Wales, 1770 - 1972, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, New South Wales, 1996. Details
  • Lake, Marilyn, Getting Equal: The History of Australian Feminism, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, New South Wales, 1999. Details

Book Sections

  • Grimshaw, Patricia, 'Writing the History of Australian Women', in Offen, Karen; Pierson, Ruth; and Rendall; Jane (eds), Writing Women's History: International Perspectives, Macmillan, London, England, 1991, pp. 133 - 156. Details
  • Grimshaw, Patricia, 'Ruby Langford Ginibi: Bunjalung Historian, Writer and Educator', in Francis, Rosemary; Grimshaw, Patricia; and Standish, Ann (eds), Seizing the Initiative: Australian Women Leaders in Politics, Workplaces and Communities, The University of Melbourne: eScholarship Research Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, 2012, pp. 315-350. Details
  • Grimshaw, Patricia and Francis, Rosemary, 'Women Research Leaders in the Australian Learned Academies, 1954 to 1976', in Francis, Rosemary; Grimshaw, Patricia; and Standish, Ann (eds), Seizing the Initiative: Australian Women Leaders in Politics, Workplaces and Communities, The University of Melbourne: eScholarship Research Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, 2012, pp. 223-246. Details
  • Grimshaw, Patricia and Swain, Shurlee, 'Dominion Women Writers: Ambivalent Identites', in Spongberg, Mary; Caine, Barbara; and Curthoys, Anne (eds), Companion to Women's Historical Writing, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, England, 2005, pp. 119 - 128. Details
  • Holton, Sandra Stanley, 'Women's History', in Davison, Graeme; Hirst, John; and Macintyre, Stuart (eds), Oxford Companion to Australian History, Rev edn, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 2001. Details
  • Lake, Marilyn, 'A History of Feminism in Australia', in Barbara Caine (ed.), Australian Feminism: A Companion, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 1998, pp. 132 - 142. Details
  • Magarey, Susan, 'Australia', in Spongberg, Mary; Caine, Barbara; and Curthoys, Anne (eds), Companion to Women's Historical Writing, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, England, 2005, pp. 43 - 54. Details
  • Ryan, Lyndall, 'Women's Studies', in Barbara Caine (ed.), Australian Feminism: A Companion, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 1998, pp. 365 - 369. Details
  • Yates, Lyn, 'Education', in Barbara Caine (ed.), Australian Feminism: A Companion, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 1998, pp. 74 - 84. Details

Edited Books

  • Caine, Barbara (ed.), Australian Feminism: A Companion, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 1998. Details
  • Davison, Graeme; Hirst, John; and Macintyre, Stuart (eds), Oxford Companion to Australian History, Rev edn, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 2001. Details
  • Grimshaw, Patricia and Strahan, Lynne (eds), The Half-open door : sixteen modern Australian women look at professional life and achievement, Drawings by Simon, Sandra, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, New South Wales, 1982. Details
  • Spongberg, Mary; Caine, Barbara; and Curthoys, Anne (eds), Companion to Women's Historical Writing, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, England, 2005. Details

Journal Articles

  • Douglas, Bronwen, 'Dorothy Shineberg: Pioneer Pacific Scholar, Teacher, Friend', Journal of Pacific History, vol. 40, no. 3, 2005, pp. 353 - 356. Details
  • Grimshaw, Patricia, and Carey, Jane, 'Foremothers: Kathleen Fitzpatrick (1905-1990), Margaret Kiddle (1914-1958) and Australian History after the Second World War', Gender and History, vol. 13, no. 2, 2001, pp. 349-373. Details

Online Resources

Digital Resources

Desley Deacon
Audio Visual
12 November 2012
Australian National University (ANU)