Jill Ker Conway Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Jill Ker Conway has distinguished herself as an autobiographer, historian, and college and university administrator. Her books, which include historical treatises and her own self-portraits, testify to these multiple roles and to her persistent advocacy for the recognition of women.

Born Jill Ker in New South Wales, Australia, Conway was shaped by the rugged characteristics of that geographical area—its isolation, its ever-present red dust, its devastating droughts, its bleak landscape, and its haunting wind. In fact, the word “Coorain,” the aboriginal word for “windy place,” was the name the family chose for their property and the title Conway chose for her first autobiographical volume, The Road from Coorain, published in 1989. In that volume, Conway not only explored the geographical territory which shaped her but also examined other factors: her father’s death (apparently a suicide), her mother’s neurotic dependence on her daughter, her brother’s death, her understanding of colonialism, her emerging sense of feminism.

Coming of age for Conway was thus a painful yet liberating experience, and she determined that her life would be better if she left Australia. Following a move to Sydney, Australia, where her intellectual appetite was whetted by the environment of the University of Sydney, Conway applied for and was accepted at Harvard University.

En route to earning a Ph.D. in history at Harvard, Conway discovered what would be the focus of her scholarly and personal lives: American women reformers. Studying the lives and memoirs of Jane Addams, Margaret Sanger, and the labor advocate Florence Kelley, among others, Conway chose these women as the subject of her doctoral dissertation in the 1960’s and later of her book Women Reformers and American Culture in 1987.

In addition to discovering her scholarly and personal focus, Conway also learned...

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Jill Ker Conway Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Brightman, Carol. “Beyond Coorain.” The New York Times Book Review, August 21, 1994, pp. 11-12. Notes that Conway’s second memoir reveals romantic conventions that contrast with her stark portrayal of growing up in the Australian Outback, the focus of her first memoir.

Carroll, Mary. Review of True North, by Jill Ker Conway. Booklist, June 1, 1994. Notes that Conway’s second autobiography may be less popular than her first but is nonetheless as thoughtful and penetrating as her academic work and her first memoir.

Davis, Natalie Zemon, and Joan Wallach Scott. Women’s History as Women’s Education: Essays. Northampton, Mass.: Sophia Smith Collection and College Archives, Smith College, 1985. Papers from a symposium in honor of Jill Ker Conway and John Conway at Smith College on April l7, 1985.

The New Yorker. Review of True North, by Jill Ker Conway. October 10, 1994, p. 111. Contrasts Conway’s first two autobiographies, suggesting that the second installment is a “prim successor” to the first self-portrait.

Publishers Weekly. Review of True North, by Jill Ker Conway. June 13, 1994. Observes that True North is a continuation of the first memoir and a celebration of a life lived fully.