A Feminist a Day: Jill Ker Conway

Who is she?

jill ker conwayJill Ker Conway is an Australian-born author and academic in the US, who is best known for her autobiography, The Road from Coorain.

Born in outback NSW, Jill spent her early childhood working on the family sheep station until her father died when she was 11. Her mother father mother moved the family to Sydney, where she attended school. She moved to the US to attend Harvard when she was in her twenties, and became the first female president of Smith College in 1975.

While at Smith, Jill started helping students on welfare, particularly mothers on welfare, to attend university. In most cases, they were forced to support their children or pursue an education – if they got a scholarship, they lost their benefits.  Jill helped to circumvent the restrictive welfare system by paying their rent, as well as giving them access to local doctors and stores.

In the end, the state of Massachusetts changed its welfare system so that scholarship students wouldn’t lose their welfare benefits.

Jill also started a program to allow women with work and family responsibilities a more flexible study schedule to allow them to study at Smith over a slower pace.

In 1975, Jill was named by Time as a Woman of the Year.

She has been a visiting professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1985 and published The Road from Coorain in 1989 It was made into a TV movie in 2001.

Why should we thank her?

Jill has been a major supporter of women throughout her career in her academic and leadership roles. In The Road from Coorain she details the sexism she endured in her early academic and working life, including her rejection by an all-male panel for a trainee role at the Department of External Affairs.

Best quote

“For me the important universal is the responsibility we all bear to improve the lot of women and children wherever they are oppressed, and to ensure respect and dignity for women of achievement.”

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A Feminist a Day: Jill Ker Conway

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