Woman McConnel, Ursula Hope (1888 - 1957)

27 October 1888
Cressbrook, Queensland, Australia
6 November 1957
Queensland, Australia

Written by Ann Standish, The University of Melbourne

Ursula McConnel born into an outback Queensland grazier family in 1888. She was well educated for a girl of her times, attending first the Brisbane High School for Girls and then the New England Girls' School in Armidale, New South Wales. She was raised to be an accomplished woman of her class, and between 1905 and 1907 she lived in London and attended a variety of courses at the Women's College at the University of London.

McConnel came to anthropology through the study of psychology, which she began at the age of twenty-five. In 1918, she graduated from Queensland University with first class honours in philosophy and in 1923 began a doctorate in anthropology at University College, London, although health issues forced her to return to Australia and she did not complete the degree. Her interest in dreams led to an interest in mythology, particularly in primitive beliefs and then, in the late 1920s, to the study of the Wik-Mungkana people of the Cape York area. Under the supervision of first A. Radcliffe-Brown and then A.E. Elkin at the University of Sydney, she made several field trips to the area between 1927 and 1934, and published numerous articles in Oceania and a book, Myths of the Munkan.

Despite these publications, and the award of a fellowship to Yale University in the United States, University College London refused to award her a doctorate and the Anthropology department of the University of Sydney passed her over for academic appointments, which caused her great disappointment. She basically retired in 1935, financially secure from family money and her investments. She died in 1957. McConnel's work had an intellectual rather than observational focus, with a particular interest in Aboriginal women, and, despite their lack of recognition during her lifetime, her publications form the foundations of present-day anthropological research on western Cape York Peninsula.

Published Resources


  • McConnel, Ursula, Myths of the Munkan, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 1957. Details

Edited Books

  • Marcus, Julie (ed.), First in their Field: Women and Australian Anthropology, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 1993. Details

Newspaper Articles


  • O'Gorman, Anne, 'Ursula McConnel: The Archaeology of an Anthropologist', BAHons thesis, Australian National University (ANU), 1989. Details

Online Resources