Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Jessie Webb

In Macintyre and Thomas’ book The Discovery of Australian History 1890-1939, two chapters are devoted to Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Jessie Webb– both from the University of Melbourne.  As the editors point out, there were no women appointed to chairs of history between the years 1890-1939 or indeed, until much later. I’ve just been flicking through the ADB to see if there were others they could have included and women historians are certainly thin on the ground, despite the fact that women made up a large proportion of history honours students.

I recently heard a pod-cast about Jessie Webb, (picture here)  presented by Ron Ridley at the Royal Historical Society of Victoria in May 2009.  You can download his talk here (lots of other good podcasts here too). Ridley wrote the book Jessie Webb: A Memoir in 1994.  Such a long career, with so much experience in teaching history- senior lecturer, acting professor-  but as was common at the time, not really in the running for a chair in her own right.

As for Kathleen Fitzpatrick, (picture here)  I read her book Solid Bluestone Foundations about eight years ago, before I returned to university.  I wish I had time to re-read it: at the time I enjoyed it mainly as a memoir of 1920s upper/upper middle class, privileged Melbourne.   The granddaughter of the J.P. Buxton real-estate founder, and the daughter of a Catholic/Protestant marriage, she always felt under-educated (despite attending Melbourne’s best girls’ school at the time) and certainly Oxford sneered at her colonial degree.

I haven’t read her work on Sir John Franklin (as it happens, I’m reading a book about Lady Jane Franklin at the moment just for fun), and she didn’t ever publish her work on Charles La Trobe which I certainly would have read, had it been.   Susan Davies, who wrote the chapter on her in The Discovery of Australian History, suggests that perhaps she abandoned her La Trobe biography because Alan Gross had entered the field with a competing biography, although she may well have decided not to continue before this.

In fact, she seems to have doubted her own ability throughout her career, in a way that does not seem apparent in the other male biographies in Macintyre and Thomas’ book.   Here she is, writing to Max Crawford in 1951, after the reviews of her book on Franklin began to appear in the Australian and English journals and newspapers.

Thank you for the kind words from the Bulletin of Historical Literature on Franklin, which bring balm to a bruised soul.  The bruising was caused by a review in the Times Literary Supplement of March the 9th.  Why doesn’t one, at one’s advanced age, and in view of not being inexperienced in the art of being slapped, why doesn’t one cease to mind? I minded so much as to stay awake all night and then to get violently sick.  Not that I was denounced.  It was just another summary, plus a few derogatory remarks, calculated to make the whole performance seem dull beyond words, and slightly ridiculous.  Not one kind word, even for my hard work, which indeed was only a cause for reproach, ‘overloaded with the minutiae of petty affairs’ or words to that effect.  Of course I know and tell myself all the answers, such as that a writer should be concerned with his work and not with his reputation etc…  (Davies in Macintyre and Thomas p. 163)

So very human and symptomatic, I suspect, of a male-dominated intellectual environment where women’s achievements were easily overlooked.


Susan Davies ‘Kathleen Fitzpatrick: Sculptor with Words’ in S. Macintyre and J. Thomas The Discovery of Australian History 1890-1939,  Carlton South, Victoria, Melbourne University Press 1995.

Susan Janson ‘Jessie Webb and the Predicament of the Female Historian’ in S. Macintyre and J. Thomas The Discovery of Australian History 1890-1939,  Carlton South, Victoria, Melbourne University Press 1995.


Jayne’s review of Solid Bluestone Foundations here.

2 responses to “Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Jessie Webb

  1. Thank you for the link 🙂
    I found this podcast on a talk given at the RHSV last year on Jessie Webb.
    There was also a fabulous one given in 2008 which is still available through the “subscribe” link titled “Blackboard to battlefield: The Victorian Education Department’s teacher-soldiers, Great War, 1914-1918” (audio version) which explains a great deal of not only the heavy inducement (brainwashing/pressure) for teachers to join up in WW1 but also explains how teaching and education was almost a closed shop for men only, deliberately picking men over females to continue the bluff, blustery British-Bulldog style of education, war, battles, etc.
    Rosalie Triolo, the lecturer, is also giving a talk on a similar theme at the Shrine in Melb on April 8.

  2. Pingback: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013 | The Resident Judge of Port Phillip

Leave a Reply to Jayne Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s