Kathleen Fitzpatrick

In her article in Tinteán (October 2014), Frances Devlin-Glass gives a critical account of the life and preview_previewcareer of the previously highly acclaimed historian and writer Kathleen Fitzpatrick, former Associate Professor of History at the University of Melbourne (1948 -62). In her review of Elizabeth Kleinhenz’s biography A Brimming Cup: The Life of Kathleen Fitzpatrick: MUP 2013, I believe Devlin-Glass misrepresents the biography and provides such a jaundiced view of Fitzpatrick that it demands a response.(See: Tinteán 06/10/2014 )

As the first women in a non-scientific field to be appointed to an Associate Professorship in an Australian University and as a pioneer in Australian History, Katherine Fitzpatrick has received much acclaim from within the ranks of Australian historians (See the chapter on Fitzpatrick in The Discovery of Australian History 1890 – 1939 by Stuart Macintyre and Julian Thomas [MUP 1995] and other sources[1]). However such tributes appear to cut no ice with your reviewer.

In her review article Devlin-Glass sees Fitzpatrick’s role as derivative (the only thing brimming about Fitzpatrick’s life is ‘other people’s agendas’); she was a ‘patrician pro-communist’, an intellectual elitist and snob, and an inferior academic (‘without a deep interest in students or original scholarship’). Fitzpatrick is denigrated as a ‘departmental hack who works selflessly, fills in when convenient, defers study leave, cleans up, and fails to reap rewards.’ Fitzpatrick is damned beyond redemption, demolished beyond repair.

Devlin-Glass originally called Fitzpatrick a communist until it was pointed out that there was absolutely no evidence that she was ever a member of the Communist Party of Australia. This was then changed to ‘pro-communist’, because of Fitzpatrick’s early sympathy for the Soviet Union and other “leftist” views and activities. However, it seems more likely that she was an anti-anti-communist as a result of her experiences of McCarthyism in the early 1950s in the United States and her long term support for academic freedom and civil liberties dating back to the late 1920s.

The broader claims against Fitzpatrick appear to be not only manifestly wrong, based on all the available evidence, but they constitute a grave injustice to someone who, twenty five years after her death, has retained a justifiably high reputation as an esteemed and significant Australian historian. While it was true that she became a ‘prima donna’ as she got older and she certainly exhibited other flaws as detailed by Kleinhenz, the overall characterization of Fitzpatrick as set out by Devlin-Glass is quite perverse. The accusation that she was not interested in original scholarship is particularly egregious and can be easily repudiated by a careful reading of the biography, other writings by Fitzpatrick herself and independent accounts previously referenced of which Fay Anderson’s biography of Max Crawford is particularly useful.

Although I studied History towards the end of the ‘golden era’ of the Melbourne School of History (1962 – 65 as an undergraduate and 1968-69 as a post-graduate student) and my exposure to Fitzpatrick was very brief – restricted to 1962 when I was studying first year British History – it was very clear then and afterwards that Fitzpatrick herself and the History Department in general were serious about historical documentation, the use of source material and the need to conduct original research. As Fitzpatrick herself pointed out, she, with Max Crawford and Ernest Scott before them ‘…encouraged students to undertake essay work from original historical material – State papers, memoirs, letters, collections of documents etc…’ (1966 W.E. Hearn Historical Lecture [2]). Certainly that was my own experience over five years.

In her own major work on Sir John Franklin (in which his wife Lady Jane Franklin was accorded a major role, the first female to be so treated in Australian historiography), Fitzpatrick based her writings on original source material as she did with all her other historical work. And to infer that she was merely a cipher for Max Crawford (Professor of History during her time at Melbourne) suggests both a grave misreading of the Kleinhenz’s biography and an ignorance of other sources that indicate rather a form of partnership between the two, though certainly not one of equals. As Fay Anderson makes clear in her biography of Crawford, he saw Fitzpatrick as significant and influential in determining the direction of the History School and not simply someone he could control.

As to Fitzpatrick’s purported lack of interest in students, what evidence there is, including my own recollection, suggests that Fitzpatrick’s behavior accorded with the accepted norms of the times. The numbers of students involved would have prevented most lecturers from having much to do with students apart from the honours and post graduate students they encountered in tutorials and seminars

Greater factual accuracy about Fitzpatrick’s academic background would also have been helpful to Devlin-Glass. Contrary to her claim that Fitzpatrick failed to complete her Oxford degree, Kleinhenz reveals that she took out a B.A. but with Second Class Honours rather than the anticipated First Class. This later translated into an M.A. (oxon.) Fitzpatrick’s experience was not unique of course. Other acclaimed historians including the great historian of Tudor England, S. T. Bindoff suffered a similar fate[3].

Outside the confines of the University History Department, as Kleinhenz records, Fitzpatrick performed a great many other pioneering roles in support of women and their place in the University quite independently of any male professors.

One of the puzzles about the Devlin-Glass review is why it is in Tinteán at all in its present form. It is not as if Fitzpatrick particularly identified herself as an Irish Australian, despite her marriage to Brian Fitzpatrick and the prominent role Brian’s son David still plays in Irish and Irish – Australian historiography. Neither did she attempt to deny or hide her Irish Catholic background and upbringing. However Devlin-Glass, despite her reference to Fitzpatrick’s ‘Moscow – friendliness’ and its connection to her Irishness (a dubious claim in my view), provides little other commentary on the Irish context to Fitzpatrick’s life and career, when in fact such a commentary could have opened up some real issues about the nature of the Irish diaspora and its connection to Ireland and its culture. My own family, which has a close and on-going connection to Ireland and our Irish relatives going back over 150 years still has a somewhat ambiguous attitude to Irish matters.

One aspect of Fitzpatrick’s Irishness (or lack of it) that Devlin-Glass did comment on, was her acquired ‘hauteur’ which was considered very un-Irish. In addition to her academic and other failings, Devlin-Glass has added the sin of Fitzpatrick’s apparent rejection of the ‘Irish pub’ side of herself as symbolically represented by the development of a faux Oxford accent and elegant persona. Certainly both these mannerisms seem to have annoyed Devlin Glass mightily. But even ladies are not disqualified from being fine historians.

Perhaps, however, the real source of Devlin-Glass’ irritation is the memory of those … ‘dramatic female lecturers (at the University of Queensland twenty years later..[than Fitzpatrick]) [who] .. relied heavily on costume…and beauty, on measured and theatrical delivery and their scarcity value’. In her conflation of Fitzpatrick and these former “show ponies” of her own academic era she appears to have picked on the wrong target.

It is a great pity that Devlin-Glass has provided such a negative and distorted perspective of Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s role as a woman pioneer in the field of Australian History when a closer attention to all the sources and the wide range of evidence available, including a more careful reading of the Kleinhenz biography, might have led her to a much more generous and accurate view’.

Graham Marshall

Graham Marshall is an educational consultant and former senior manager in the Victorian Department of Education. He is a former secondary teacher of history and mathematics. He has also spent some years as a teacher union leader at state and national levels.

Response from Frances Devlin-Glass

I thank Graham Marshall for his well-informed response, some two years after publication, to my review of Kleinhenz’s book on Kathleen Fitzpatrick, and for the correction about her Oxford degree (Kleinhenz’s own insistent beating of the drum of ‘failure’ and the ‘shame of the Second Class Honours Degree’ on pp.79-80, and again on p.82 might have something to do with my error). His point about her being less pro-communist, and more anti-anti-communist is a nuance I had not considered, and constitutes an intriguing and useful refinement.

The Tinteán editors do not remember how or why the book came to us for review over two years ago, but Fitzpatrick’s Irish forbears would be reason enough for us to review it.

As to the differences between our approaches, Mr Marshall writes as a loyal former student of the History department of the Melbourne University and of course brings a different perspective from my own – that of the grateful student who learnt well from Fitzpatrick’s first year course. The quality of her teaching is acknowledged in the review. I’m glad to have the claims about the effectiveness of her teaching corroborated. However, such a point of view is grounded in the context of being a student at a prestigious, essentially male dominated university (this is the 60s) in a department which is ‘towards the end of the ‘golden era’ of the Melbourne School of History’. Such a rarified and privileged environment might encourage nostalgia for the excitement of that era – which included being lectured to by a female academic – now lost to universal tertiary education and the mainstreaming of feminism and heightened gender-consciousness. This would necessarily influence his interpretation of Kleinhenz’s biography.

My approach was utterly different. I was responding to a feminist biography (which I admire – see the last paragraph) and drawn to reflect on how universities have changed (sometimes but not always for the better) for women academics, which I think accurately reflects Kleinhenz’s forensic analysis. I think she does a very useful job in deconstructing the male culture of Melbourne University history department from the 1920s to the late 50s, and its cost for this pioneering woman.


Dorothy Green, Australian Literary Studies Scholar

We can be glad that there are now more women in the academy, but in my experience and that of many of my peers, women are not always treated with respect by their male peers, and Kleinhenz tells some scarifying stories of such treatment of Kathleen Fitzpatrick, at, for example, the hands of the late Manning Clark. Such anecdotes, and judgments about her ‘craven subservience’ and becoming ‘Crawford’s university wife’ are very familiar to me and they bespeak a power imbalance which Kleinhenz boldly explores. Her insistence on how Fitzpatrick was exploited by her male colleagues led me to reflect on the women who taught me who sometimes seemed unduly conscious of their gender, lacking in confidence, and very much focused on performance (as were, it has to be said, many men in the period). Perhaps I adduced examples that were too trivial to make my point effectively. Equally I could and should have mentioned some very brilliant women who are not, and should have become, household names: at ANU, I was fortunate to be taught by Dorothy Green, a passionate advocate of Australian Literature,  and Eunice Hanger at UQ (a pioneer in playwriting historiography and literary criticism). There were many more. Even as a student and graduate, I was aware of how Dorothy’s anger at how she and her subject were treated was almost disabling, and over the decades I’ve seen that it is not uncommon for women to become the workhorses of respective departments, as was Fitzpatrick. Unhappily, Dorothy gave up on ANU, and much much later secured a berth at ADFA. The gender perspectives that are so important to me in this book are not mentioned by Mr Marshall. I hope my excursion into personal reflection was not self-indulgent, and indeed inspired by the book.

I do not comment on Fitzpatrick’s historical writing or historiography as it is not in my bailiwick (I did mention unfavourably her small monograph on Boyd, which is), nor do I think historiography was the main focus of a biography that builds on her autobiography and clearly pitches to a general readership. Others are better placed to do the historiographical study he’d have preferred my review to do, but I do draw Marshall’s attention to several negative critiques of her published histories in Kleinhenz’s book.

The book also led me to ponder how much and how quickly Australian universities have changed in terms of their student base and the class-consciousness of their lecturers. These matters are perhaps, as Mr Marshall points out, beyond the scope of the biography, but it is something to celebrate, and a tribute to Kleinhenz’s book that it invited broader thinking Melbourne’s intellectual culture.

Frances Devlin-Glass
Dr Devlin Glass is a member of the Tinteán Editorial Team

One thought on “Kathleen Fitzpatrick

  1. This is a welcome rebuttal of some of the reductionist comments by Frances Devlin-Glass in her 2014 review of Elizabeth Kleinhenz’s biography of Kathleen Fitzpatrick. Many thanks to Graham Marshall. It’s a little surprising, however, that he doesn’t mention Fitzpatrick’s acclaimed memoir Solid Bluestone Foundations.

Comments are closed.