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The Australian National University

Travelling to Tomorrow: Australian Women in the United States, 1910–1960

Date and time

Wednesday, September 23, 2015 - 16:15 - 17:30


McDonald Room, Menzies Library, ANU

'I always find a visit to the United States exhilarating,’ wrote Dorothy Jenner in her autobiography. ‘They are light years ahead of us, sometimes on the wrong foot, but more often on the right one.’ For this Sydney-born actress and journalist, who visited America on five occasions between 1915 and 1967, venturing across the Pacific was not just a physical journey but an exercise in time travel, an opportunity to launch herself into a new and better world to come. An unorthodox but far from unique figure, Jenner was one of thousands of twentieth-century Australian women who headed abroad in search of wider horizons but chose to deviate from the well-worn path to London. Travelling instead to the United States, they pursued study, work and adventure in a nation that many, like Jenner, saw as charging ahead along an imagined highway into the future.

This paper, which constitutes my PhD pre-submission seminar, tells the story of these transnational Australians and positions them as important actors in the development of Australian-US relations. Drawing upon research into over six hundred travellers, I argue that America was, by virtue of its modernity, a comparatively congenial environment for women with ambitions beyond the domestic sphere. During an era in which few Australians moved outside the British world, America’s unusual esteem for female endeavour both drew Australian women to its shores and offered them persuasive evidence that the American model was worthy of emulation. Part of a growing body of scholarship concerned with Australia’s engagements with the Asia-Pacific world, these findings illuminate the density of transpacific ties throughout the heyday of imperial sentiment, and point to a significant but little recognised gendered dimension to the turn towards the United States.


Anne Rees is a PhD Candidate in the ANU School of History. She holds an MA in History from University College London, and has been a Visiting Researcher at Georgetown University. Her work has appeared in Australian Feminist Studies and Australian Historical Studies, and she has been the recipient of an Endeavour Research Fellowship and the Ken Inglis Prize. In 2016 she will take up a Junior Research Fellowship at the University of Sydney.


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