Review of Ida Leeson: A Life - Not a Blue-Stocking Lady, by Sylvia Martin
Scholars of Australian literature are more likely than most to recognise the name Ida Leeson and to connect it to that venerable institution, Sydney's Mitchell Library. Leeson was the head of the Mitchell Library from 1932 to 1946 and played a critically important role in shaping the collections upon which so many of us have since drawn in our research on Australian literature and history. What fewer people may know, however, is that Leeson was the first woman to hold the post of Mitchell Librarian, and her appointment initially provoked considerable public controversy, reminding us (yet again) how often men's achievements are taken as valid and deserved, while women's are read as a sign that something has gone terribly wrong with the system. Banner headlines at the time proclaimed with horror: 'Woman Likely to Be Appointed'. As Sylvia Martin amply demonstrates through her analysis of this pivotal episode, Leeson's life and career can tell us much about the struggles of earlier generations of women graduates in the professions, about the class and gender politics of professional advancement in this period, and about the crucial role played by particular individuals in the formation of the nation's great cultural institutions.
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