Abbotsleigh mourns the loss of Jill Ker Conway AC



Abbotsleigh mourns the loss of Jill Ker Conway AC, a distinguished Old Girl, academic and author.

Born on 9 October 1934, Jill Ker came to Abbotsleigh in 1945 as a boarder in the Junior School from her remote family farm in far-western NSW. Jill was a School Prefect, and left Abbotsleigh in 1951 armed with a Commonwealth Scholarship and a wealth of school accolades. 

Jill attended the University of Sydney where she achieved an honours degree in history in 1958. Refused admission to the Department of Foreign Affairs on the basis of her gender, Jill left Australia in 1960 for graduate studies in the United States. While undertaking her PhD at Harvard University, she met and married John Conway. 

In 1975 Jill became the first woman President of Smith College, Massachusetts, a position she held for a decade, after which she undertook the role of visiting professor in the sciences at MIT. She was also known for her corporate work on various company boards. Jill returned to Abbotsleigh in 2000 to help launch our history book, The Lily and the Lion.

Jill memorialised her early life in her 1989 memoir, The Road from Coorain, which was adapted for television in 2001; she wrote a follow-up, True North, in 1994. She is also renowned for her writings on feminism and history – and perhaps surprisingly, wrote a children’s book, Felipe the Flamingo, in 2006.

A US citizen, Jill was awarded a National Humanities Medal in 2013. Also in that year, she was awarded an honorary Companion of the Order of Australia for her eminent service to the community, particularly women, as an author, academic and through leadership roles with corporations, foundations, universities and philanthropic groups. 

Jill typifies Abbotsleigh girls, past and present, with her 'can do' attitude, belief in women, leadership, vast achievements and her commitment to philanthropy.

Her memory will live long at Abbotsleigh, through her support of a boarding scholarship and through the story of a remarkable life well lived.

Jill died at her home in Boston on Friday 1 June aged 83. 


Further reading

Smith College has also published this article.


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