Woman Howe, Renate


Written by Patricia Grimshaw, The University of Melbourne

Renate Howe has taken a leading position in the writing of Australian history, particularly social and religious history and heritage studies. Born in Melbourne in 1939, she attended East Kew State School from Infant School through to Central School (Forms 1 and 2). Her secondary education was at University High School where prominent educationalists, A. G. Austin and Norman Currey, were among her history teachers. She matriculated in 1956 with honours in History and Literature. In 1957 she commenced a BA (Hons) degree in History at University of Melbourne studying subjects taught by Alan Martin, Geoffrey Serle, Barry Smith, John Poynter, George Yule and Kathleen Fitzpatrick. During her degree she researched a major essay on the history of women's suffrage in Victoria and the social development of the goldfields town of Ballarat in the 1860s. During her years at university she was an office bearer in the Student Christian Movement and the ALP Club. She was elected to the Students' Representative Council in 1958 and 1959.

In 1962 Howe was awarded a Melbourne University research scholarship for an MA thesis supervised by Barry Smith on The History of Wesleyan Church in Victoria 1855-1901' completed in 1964. In 1965 she won a Commonwealth Postgraduate Award for a PhD thesis comparing the responses of Protestant churches to urbanisation in Melbourne and Chicago from 1880 to 1910. At the University of Chicago (1963-65) she studied with Professor Richard Wade, Professor Louise Wade and Professor Martin Marty and undertook research on women reformers in Chicago settlement houses. Married to Brian Howe in 1962, the couple had three children, the first two born during her doctoral candidature. She graduated PhD in 1972.

Renate Howe initially took up tutoring and lecturing positions in the Social Studies and History Departments at the University of Melbourne. At Social Studies (1969-74) she devised a subject in Australian social policy history and established a resource centre on the history of Australian social welfare policy. Together with staff and students she helped develop an elective Women's Studies course. In 1975 she joined with Graeme Davison in developing a new urban history subject comparing Manchester, Melbourne and Chicago. In 1976 she became Director of Research at the Centre for Urban Research and Action, an organisation that Brian Howe had established in Fitzroy. Here she participated in research and writing I wouldn't want my wife to work here, a path-breaking study of migrant women working in Melbourne's manufacturing industries.

In 1977 Renate Howe was one of the first appointments at Deakin University to establish a Distance Education programme. Professor Max Charlesworth, Dean of Humanities, encouraged women academics and students and Deakin's off-campus courses enabled country and suburban women to undertake university studies. From 1983 to 1985 Renate took leave to serve as a Senior Member of the Planning Appeals Board where she was the first woman appointed as a full time member. On returning to Deakin University, she collaborated with Shurlee Swain on research on an ARC funded research project that resulted in the jointly authored study, Single Mothers and their Children (Cambridge University Press, 1995) and two further co-authored books on social welfare history. In 1992 she edited a special issue of the Journal of Australian Studies, Women and the State (La Trobe University Press), the outcome of an earlier conference at the Australian National University that brought together articles from a range of women scholars. In 1994 she contributed a chapter on Australia to an important international collection edited by Ulla Wikander, Alice Kessler-Harris and Jane Lewis, Protecting Women: Labor Legislation in Europe, the United States and Australia, 1880-1920 (University of Illinois Press, 1995).

In 1988 she served as secretary (with Patricia Grimshaw) of the committee of the Australian Historical Association; she helped organise the AHA Australian bi-centennial conference that year at the University of Sydney, where she co-convened a women's breakfast meeting, the first formal meeting of AHA women. She held a number of visiting research positions, at the University of Chicago (1981); the Australian Studies Centre, London (1988); the Urban Research Unit, ANU (1991); the Centre for Research on Women, Rutgers University (1995-1996); and in 2003, was a Visiting Scholar at Wolfson College, Cambridge University.

In 2005 Renate Howe retired from Deakin University and received an honorary appointment in the Faculty of Arts. Most recently, in 2009 she published a study of the Australian Student Christian Movement: A Century of Influence, in which she emphasised the importance of women's participation and their influence within universities, on public policy and as missionaries, She was awarded an AO in the Australia Day honours list in 2012.

Additional sources: Personal communication with Professor Grimshaw.

Published Resources


  • Howe, Renate, A Century of Influence: The Australian Student Christian Movement 1896 - 1996, University of New South Wales (UNSW) Press, Sydney, New South Wales, 2009. Details

Book Sections

  • Howe, Renate, '"Nobody but a Bunch of Mothers": Grassroots Activism and Women's Leadership in 1970s Melbourne', 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. 331-340. http://www.womenaustralia.info/leaders/sti/pdfs/23_Howe.pdf. Details

Journal Articles

  • Howe, Renate, 'The Australian Student Christian Movement and Women's Activism in the Asia-Pacific Region, 1890s - 1920s', Australian Feminist Studies, vol. 16, no. 36, November 2001, pp. 311 - 323. Details


  • Howe, Renate, Networks of Influence among Reformist Women in Melbourne, 2003. Details

Online Resources

See also