Woman Kiddle, Margaret Loch (1914 - 1958)

South Yarra, Victoria, Australia
3 May 1958
Richmond, Victoria, Australia
Author and Historian

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

Margaret Kiddle was born in the inner Melbourne suburb of South Yarra in 1914. She was the eldest of four children. Her father was a well-to-do solicitor. Supported by a governess at home, she attended St Catherine's and then the Melbourne Church of England Girls' Grammar School. She studied history at the University of Melbourne, obtaining a B.A. (Honours) in 1938.

During World War II, Kiddle worked, researched and wrote on policy for the Commonwealth Prices Commissioner. She then returned to the University of Melbourne, obtaining an M.A. (Dip.Ed.) in 1947. But in 1946 she was named a Tutor in the University of Melbourne School of History, then under the direction of Max Crawford. He recognised her abilities and she worked in the School until her untimely death. Her presence in the School, alongside that of Kathleen Fitzpatrick, encouraged several generations of women to study history and, in many cases, to develop professional careers as historians.

In 1950, Margaret Kiddle published her biography of Caroline Chisholm, then little known even in Australia. Although the book suffered from the lack of available personal sources, it was republished many times (1957, 1969, 1990, 1996). Kiddle also wrote three children's books: Moonbeam Stairs (1945); West of Sunset (1949) and The Candle (1950). It was, however, her last book, published posthumously, which established her lasting reputation: Men of Yesterday: A Social History of the Western District of Victoria 1834-1890 (1961, second edition 1967). This book was the fruit of her preoccupation with her pioneer forebears; she was proud of being fourth-generation Australian. Her love of the outback and her skill on horseback predisposed her to this task. But the work is advanced in the place it gives to the Aboriginal inhabitants of the land as well as to the colonisers, to women as well as to men. For this work, she was able to make extensive use of letters, diaries and other writings of many Western District families. She moved into what today would be called life-writing. Inspired by the work of the great Annales historian, Marc Bloch, notably his French Rural History, she studied the land itself and thus pioneered Australian environmental history. Kiddle died of kidney failure in Richmond, Victoria on 3 May 1958. Friends (notably Professor John LaNauze) prepared the manuscript for publication. Published in 1961 (subsequent editions in 1967 and 1983), the book became and has remained a classic. Kiddle left the royalties to the University of Melbourne School of History for a prize and for physical improvements. For fifty years, the School benefited immensely from her generosity.

Published Resources

Journal Articles

  • 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