Mary Bennett Prize

The Mary Bennett Prize for Women’s History is awarded every two years by the Australian Women’s History Network to an early career historian for the best article or chapter in any field of women’s history, in any published journal (including e-journals) or edited collection. The prize is named in honour of Mary Montgomerie Bennett (1881-1961), a talented and relentless campaigner for human rights on the national and international stage.

The prize includes a citation and cash award of $200, and is awarded provided a nomination of sufficient merit is received. Those eligible must have completed their doctorate no more than six years prior to the publication of the article or chapter, or be enrolled in a doctoral program. The nominees must normally be resident in Australia and should be members of the Australian Women’s History Network. Only one article or chapter can be submitted for consideration by an author.

The 2018 Mary Bennett Prize for Women’s History was announced at the Australian Historical Association Conference in Canberra on 5 July 2018.

The closing date for the next award is 31 March 2020. The nominated work must bear a publication date of 2018 or 2019. Nominations (of your own work or that of a colleague) can be made by e-mailing a cover letter with full contact details of the author, details of when PhD was awarded (or current enrolment), along with a pdf of the nominated article, to auswhn@gmail.com

Current Recipient

The Mary Bennett Prize for 2016-2017 has been awarded to Samia Khatun for her article titled ‘The Book of Marriage: Histories of Muslim Women in Twentieth-Century Australia’ which is published in Gender & History, Volume 29, Issue 1 (April 2017), pp. 8–30.

This article represents a unique and important challenge to the theory and practice of both feminist and women’s history. The author, Khatun, draws on stories of Muslim women and marriage that have been told before, but she does so in an original way that allows new readings of Muslim texts and Muslim relations. Through presenting new histories of Muslim women and marriage in Australia, the article poses a critical intervention into Orientalist discourses central to the operation of imperial power across the Indian Ocean arena. By shifting the focus from ‘brideprice’ narratives to those centring on ‘mahar’ – the payment named on marriage contracts signed at Australian camel camps – Khatun offers an alternative way for feminist historians to (re)imagine gender relations between Muslim men and women. This paper is an impressive, sophisticated weaving of theory and historical case studies that makes an original contribution to historical knowledge. It is highly worthy of the Mary Bennett prize.

Alana Jayne Piper, ‘”Woman’s Special Enemy”: Female enmity in criminal discourse during the Long Nineteenth Century’, Journal of Social History, Volume 49, Issue 3 (2016), pp. 671-692 is highly commended by the judges.

This is a fascinating and highly significant paper that investigates the different tropes of women’s enmity and explores how women were constructed as malignant influences on other women. It is impressive in scope, both in terms of region and source material. Beautifully written and conceptually impressive, it is an original contribution which highlights the particular ways these gendered tropes were played out in Australia. The judges highly commend Piper on her article.

2018 Judging Panel
Dr Shino Konishi (University of Western Australia), Professor Emerita Marian Quartly (Monash University) and Dr Sharon Crozier-De Rosa (University of Wollongong, chair).

Previous Winners

2016

Catherine Bishop, ‘When Your Money Is Not Your Own: Coverture and Married Women In Business in Colonial New South Wales‘ Law and History Review, Volume 33, Issue 1 (2015), pp. 181-200.

This study of the legal, social, political and economic aspects of coverture in nineteenth-century NSW makes an original and valuable contribution to feminist history. Through a careful study of legal cases, the author charts the contested and complex nature of coverture in a society marked by its convict history. Women emerge as active participants in the colonial economy, simultaneously challenging male legal privileges, establishing their capacity for independence and demonstrating its necessity in the colonial context. Women’s actions are the harbingers of legal changes rather than mere responses to them. The author deftly weaves detailed and complex historical evidence with interesting and lively accounts of individual women making, and also manipulating, their own histories. A particular strength of this article lies in the author’s ability to lightly lead the reader through intricate and at times, contradictory, detail.

Alana Piper’s article titled ‘”A menace and an evil” Fortune-telling in Australia, 1900–1918‘ in History Australia, Volume 11, Issue 3 (2014), pp. 53-73 was highly commended by the judges.

2014

Karen Hughes, ‘Micro-Histories and Things that Matter: Opening Spaces of Possibility in Ngarrindjeri Country‘, Australian Feminist Studies, Volume 27, Issue 73 (September 2012).

This article draws on the testimonies of Indigenous and settler-descended women who grew up around Lake Alexandrina, South Australia, on the cusp of the twentieth century.  Individual narratives are framed by Federation in 1901 and the enactment of South Australia’s Aborigines Act of 1911. By placing the testimonies of Indigenous and settler-descended women in dialogue with one another, and with her own memories, she is able to construct a complex and nuanced narrative of the colonisation of Australia as it was experienced in one local area and as it is recalled in the present. This reflective and beautifully-written essay draws on the insights offered by critical race and whiteness studies and feminist theory to make an important contribution to Australian history, settler colonial history and feminist history.

2012

Penelope Edmonds, ‘The Intimate, Urbanising Frontier: Native Camps and Settler Colonialism’s Violent Array of Spaces Around Early Melbourne’, in Making Settler Colonial Space: Perspectives on Race, Place and Identity, eds Tracey Banivanua Mar and Penelope Edmonds (Palgrave: 2010).

A beautifully written, nuanced and sophisticated paper that seamlessly draws together racial and gendered histories of early Melbourne. It effectively argues that gendered violence was a key aspect of the settler colonial process, and indeed that it operated right from the very core of colonial aggression. Taking the urbanising frontier of Melbourne as its case study, Edmonds argues that the colonial city was an important site of Indigenous dispossession. While the focus is one colonial city, the article’s findings nonetheless have a broader application, and by bringing into question the dichotomy of the city/frontier, Edmonds makes an important contribution to broader postcolonial studies. Edmonds’ places women’s experiences and writings at the centre of the colonisation process, while at the same time, the paper explores wider issues of space, race and empire. Drawing on a wide range of primary sources, carefully woven with a close reading of histories and theories of settler colonialism, this paper is a distinct contribution to historical knowledge, and highly worthy of the Mary Bennett prize.

2010 – Sharon Crozier de Rosa, ‘Marie Corelli’s British new woman: A threat to empire?’ The History of the Family, Volume 14, Issue 4 (2009), pp. 416-429.

2008 – Rebecca Jennings, ‘The gateways and the emergence of a post-Second World War lesbian subculture,’ Social History Volume 31, Issue 2 (2006), pp. 206-225.

2006 – Lisa Featherstone, ‘Sexy mamas? The public and private sexualities of Australian women in the 1940s,’ Australian Historical Studies, Volume 36, Issue 126 (2005), pp. 234-252.

2004 – not awarded

2002 – Victoria Haskins, ‘On the Doorstep: Aboriginal Domestic Service as a “Contact Zone”,’ Australian Feminist Studies, Volume 16, Issue 34 (2001), pp. 13-25

2000 – Jane Long, ‘The colour of disorder:  the lead industry, women’s employment and “protective” intervention in Victorian England,’ Women’s History Review, Volume 7, Issue 4 (1998), pp. 521-546.