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...
(The entire section is 787 words.)