Education and Arts

Celebrating women and leadership

The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia was launched at the National Library of Australia on 2 May.

Edited by Professor Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University (ACU), and Professor Judith Smart, University of Melbourne, it includes contributions from ACU academics and students.

Originally conceived as part of a 2011-2013 Australian Research Council funded Linkage Project, the Encyclopaedia is an online-only resource, comprising of 60 thematic entries which examine professional and paid work, volunteering, community engagement, religious affiliations and race and ethnicity. There are over 600 individual entries focusing on twentieth-century women leaders, many of whom are not documented in existing online resources.

Professor Swain, leader of ACU's Historical Research Concentration, said that Encyclopaedia captures the diverse ways in which women have exercised leadership in the first century of Australian democracy.

"Australia provides an interesting arena in which to study women's leadership. Its early enfranchisement of women opened pathways to power from which women in other countries were excluded for most of the next quarter century. The twentieth century undoubtedly saw an expansion of fields in which women could exercise influence and bring change to leadership ideas and practice."

Professor Swain said the Encyclopaedia brings a fresh perspective to the issue of women and leadership and that she hoped the Encyclopaedia would promote further research in the area.

"Existing leadership theories, drawn largely from the areas of business and management, take a narrow view of leadership – positioning women within or in opposition to models developed by and for men. The Encyclopaedia embraces a broader definition of leadership. What the entries show is that while there is no single model of women's leadership, there are significant clusters of characteristics that make that leadership distinctive in particular times and places and in relation to particular activities.  We hope that those who consult this resource will take up the challenge of extending its coverage."

The Encyclopaedia is produced by the E-Scholarship Research Centre at the University of Melbourne.  Project partners include the Australian National University, Griffith University, the National Archives of Australia, the National Film and Sound Archives, the Museum of Australian Democracy, the Australian Nursing Federation and the National Foundation for Australian Women.

It can be viewed at: