Woman Deacon, Desley (1941 - )

1 December 1941
Pomona, Queensland, Australia
Alternative Names
  • Straker, Desley (Maiden)

Written by Sharon M. Harrison, The University of Melbourne

Desley Deacon was born on 1 December 1941, to Frank Straker and Molly Straker (née Head), in Pomona, Queensland. She grew up in the nearby town of Cooran, where she excelled academically at the small two-room school before completing her secondary education as a boarder at St Margaret's Anglican Girls School in Brisbane. In 1960 she became the first member of her family to attend university, graduating with a BA (Hons) degree in English from the University of Queensland in 1963.

While she remained passionate about literature and reading, on completion of her degree Deacon decided that her interests lay elsewhere. In 1964 she was selected for the new elite Administrative Training Program with the Commonwealth Public Service Board. The following year she married diplomat Allan Deacon and they were soon after posted to Cairo. In between subsequent postings to Malta and Saigon, she returned to work at the Public Service Board. Her two sons, Nicholas and Benjamin, were born in 1969 and 1971. On her return from Saigon in 1975 she worked as a Research Assistant in the Sociology Department of the Research School of Social Sciences, at the Australian National University (ANU). In 1979 she was appointed Tutor in Sociology in the Department of Sociology in the Faculties, the ANU and began work on a doctorate in Sociology. She was awarded a PhD in 1986 for her thesis, The Naturalization of Dependence: The State, The New Middle Class and Women Workers 1830-1930.

In 1985 Deacon married Sociology professor, John Higley, and moved to the United States, where she worked as a Lecturer in Government at the University of Texas at Austin until she was appointed Assistant Professor in the American Studies Department in 1987. In 1988 she and her husband established the Clark Center for Australian Studies and she was its co-director until 1991. In 1999 she became Director of Women's and Gender Studies. In 2001 she returned to the Research School of Social Sciences, the ANU, as Professor of Gender History. She headed the Department of History from 2002 to 2004 and 2007-2008, presiding over the establishment of the Australian Centre for Indigenous Studies in 2003 and the National Centre of Biography in 2008. She retired at the end of 2009 and was appointed an Emeritus Professor of the University.

Desley Deacon is a co-author of Elites in Australia, with John Higley and Don Smart (1979). Her PhD thesis was published as Managing Gender: The State, the New Middle Class, and Women Workers 1830-1930 (1987). An important article derived from her doctoral research was Political Arithmetic: The Nineteenth Century Census and the Construction of the Dependent Woman, published in Signs in 1985. Two other articles won the Women and Politics Prize of Australasian Political Studies Association in 1983 and 1984. She published Elsie Clews Parsons: Inventing Modern Life (1997), for which she won a Robert W. Hamilton Faculty Book Award, and edited Parsons' Fear and Conventionality (1914) with an introduction (1997). She edited, with Joy Damousi, Talking and Listening in the Age of Modernity (2007) and edited and wrote introductions, with Penny Russell and Angela Woollacott, to two volumes of transnational biography, Transnational Ties: Australian Lives in the World (2008) and Transnational Lives: Biographies of Global Modernity, 1700-present (2009). She has published a number of articles on the marriages and love affairs of the novelist Mary McCarthy, and is revising a volume, Mary McCarthy: Four Husbands, A Lover, and A Friend: Experiments in Love in Twentieth-Century America, which is under contract to the University of Chicago Press. She is currently working on a biography of the Australian-born actress, Dame Judith Anderson, and has published a number of articles about Anderson's transnational life, her sexuality, the role of elocution in her career, and her Adelaide childhood.

Deacon was elected a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australian in 2002. She has been the recipient of many fellowships and grants, including a prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for University Teachers, and has had many visiting appointments, including as George Johnston Scholar in Australian History at the University of Sydney. She was on the editorial board of the University of Texas Press, ANU E-Press, Historical Publications in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the journal Genders, and is currently on the editorial board of History Australia and ANU Lives, the ANU E-Press Series in Biography. In 2008, she was an invited Participant in the Canberra 2020 Summit.

Published Resources

Online Resources

  • Deacon, Desley and Valenta, Katie, Desley Deacon Interviewed by Katie Valenta, Australian National University (ANU): ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences: School of History: History Net, ANU Emeriti Oral History Video Project, Australian National University (ANU), Tuesday 12 November 2012, http://historynet.anu.edu.au/summer-scholars-2012/desley-deacon. Details

See also

Digital Resources

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