Woman Foley, Susan Kathleen (1949 - )

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Alternative Names
  • Grogan, K. Susan (Pen name)

Written by Patricia Grimshaw, The University of Melbourne

Susan Foley is a leader in the history profession, who has contributed to French history, especially to women's and gender history. Born in Sydney in 1949, she was the second of four children. Both her parents were from working-class families descended from Irish, Scottish and English immigrants who came to Australia in the mid-19th Century. Her father worked for the NSW railways while her mother worked as a bookkeeper in various Sydney hospitals.

Foley attended St John the Baptist Primary School at Woy Woy and then St Mary's Dominican Convent at Maitland. She then attended Catholic Teachers' College North Sydney (now ACU) and then began secondary teaching. In 1971 she married Peter Grogan, with whom she had two children. The family settled in Karratha, WA, where she began her BA by correspondence, first at UWA, then at Murdoch University. The family shifted to Perth, where she completed her undergraduate studies and was awarded BA Hons (1st Class) at Murdoch University, with a thesis, "La Revue Socialiste" and "the woman question" 1885-1905. Her interest in women's roles and the development of socialist and utopian thought in France became a hallmark of her scholarly leadership. She went on to post-graduate work at Murdoch and was awarded a PhD in 1986 for her thesis, Charles Fourier, the Saint-Simonians and Flora Tristan on the nature and roles of women.

Foley took a one-year Lectureship in History at UWA before being awarded a position at Victoria University of Wellington (NZ), where she was Lecturer (1987-92), Senior Lecturer (1993-2001), Head of Department (1994-1996, 1999-2000) and Associate Professor in History (2002-2006), taking early retirement to become Principal Fellow in History at the University of Melbourne. At this time she married fellow French historian Charles Sowerwine.

Foley has published widely in the fields of French and gender history, initially under the name Susan K. Grogan. Her first book, French socialism and sexual difference : women and the new society, 1803-44 (Basingstoke : Macmillan, 1992) marked a new departure in studying text and sub-text of the writings of feminists and socialists. Flora Tristan : life stories (London; New York: Routledge, 1998) was not only a definitive biography of the pioneering socialist and feminist revolutionary but also a major book in the revitalised genre of biography. This was recognised by the inclusion of her"Playing the Princess": Flora Tristan, Performance, and Female Moral Authority during the July Monarchy in an acclaimed volume, The New Biography : Performing Femininity in Nineteenth-Century France (editor Jo Burr Margadant [Berkeley, Los Angeles and London : University of California Press, 2000, pp. 72-98]).

Subsequently, publishing under the name Foley, she showed leadership in new areas of history. Her Women in France since 1789: the meanings of difference (Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) was the first general history of women in modern France. She made a significant contribution to the emerging study of women's travel writing, In search of "Liberty": politics and personal identity in the travel narratives of Flora Tristan and Suzanne Voilquin (Women's history review, 13, no. 2 [2004]: 211-31). And she displayed leadership in the study of life-writing and correspondence, in "Your letter is divine, irresistible, infernally seductive :"Léon Gambetta, Léonie Léon, and Nineteenth-Century Epistolary Culture (French Historical Studies 30, no. 2 [Spring 2007]: 237-67) and, together with Charles Sowerwine, in A political romance: Léon Gambetta, Léonie Léon and the making of the French Republic, 1872-82 (Basingstoke; New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

Foley is a Principal Fellow in History at the University of Melbourne and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

Additional sources: • Personal communication between Patricia Grimshaw and Susan Foley, August 2013.

Published Resources

Online Resources

See also