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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Martin, Jean Isobel (1923–1979)

by Katy Richmond

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Jean Isobel Martin (1923-1979), sociologist, was born on 21 June 1923 at East Malvern, Melbourne, third daughter of David Craig, a civil servant from Scotland, and his Victorian-born wife Elizabeth, née Alexander. Jean attended Abbotsleigh Church of England School for Girls, Sydney, and studied anthropology under A. P. Elkin at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1943; M.A., 1945), gaining first-class honours and the university medal for her master's degree. In 1943-47, 1949-50 and 1956 she was employed as a lecturer at the university. Elkin encouraged her to move from anthropology to sociology. One of her earliest pieces of research was on women in a Sydney hosiery factory; her M.A. thesis was on dairy farmers in New South Wales. Obliged to travel abroad for formal training in sociology, she briefly attended classes at the London School of Economics (1947) before studying in 1947-48 at the University of Chicago, United States of America. She was influenced by W. Lloyd Warner, whose blend of a qualitative and quantitative approach to sociology became her hallmark, although her own work had in addition a strong focus on policy. In 1954 she graduated Ph.D. from the Australian National University.

At St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Eastwood, on 13 August 1955 Jean married Allan William Martin, a university lecturer in history and future biographer of Sir Henry Parkes and Sir Robert Menzies. Her later career was 'somewhat idiosyncratic'. For nine years after her first child was born, she either worked part time, or carried out unpaid research. In 1965, at the age of 42, she obtained her first tenured, full-time university post, as foundation professor of sociology at La Trobe University, Melbourne. She resigned in 1974, after experiencing ill health, and obtained a senior fellowship in the Department of Sociology, Research School of Social Sciences, A.N.U., where she remained until her death.

Despite this relatively short period of full-time employment, Martin was influential in the academic community. Her work in seven Australian universities had included short periods as a research-assistant to such prominent scholars as Professors W. D. Borrie, S. F. Nadel and R. M. Crawford. She served on the advisory board of the Melbourne-based Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research with Professor Ronald Henderson; he wrote to her in 1977 saying that working with her had been 'a sociological education'. Her influence on the first poverty survey and the later commission of inquiry into poverty in Australia was considerable. Martin corresponded with colleagues and students throughout Australia. By a process of detailed comment and criticism, she taught a generation of social scientists to think and write sociologically.

Her own research centred around a number of interrelated areas, particularly migration, social policy, family and kinship ties, social welfare, and education. Her Ph.D. was a study of refugees in New South Wales, published as Refugee Settlers (Canberra, 1965). Other books included Community and Identity (Canberra, 1972) and The Migrant Presence (Sydney, 1978), studies of Eastern European refugee groups in Adelaide and institutional attitudes to migration. Her longitudinal investigation of Australia's earliest Vietnamese refugees, unfinished at the time of her death, was completed in 1985 by Frank Lewins and Judith Ly, and published as The First Wave (Sydney, 1985). The Ethnic Dimension (Sydney, 1981), a collection of her papers on ethnicity and pluralism, was edited by Solomon Encel.

Quiet and modest, Martin did much of her sociological work 'behind the scenes'. She played a significant role in the Commonwealth government's publication, Girls, School and Society (Canberra, 1975), and was an active researcher for the book, Who Cares? Family Problems, Community Links and Helping Services (Melbourne, 1977). A committed public intellectual, she contributed to several parliamentary inquiries and served on numerous policy committees. For a time she chaired the social studies committee of the Australian Population and Immigration Council. She was also a member of the Social Welfare Commission's research advisory committee, a consultant to the royal commission on human relationships, and a member of the National Committee on Social Science Teaching. From its foundation in 1963, she took a leading role in the development of the Sociological Association of Australia and New Zealand (president 1969-71). In 1971 she was elected a fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.

Survived by her husband and two sons, Jean Martin died of cancer on 25 September 1979 at Mona Vale, Sydney, and was cremated. The Australian Sociological Association's biennial award for the best Australian doctoral thesis in one of her research fields is named after her. A portrait by Mollie Wilson is held by the family.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Richmond et al, 'Jean Martin: a tribute', Australian and New Zealand Journal of Sociology, vol 15, no 3, 1979, p 2, and for list of publications
  • La Trobe University, Record, vol 13, no 6, Nov-Dec 1979, p 2
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Feb 1975
  • J. I. Martin papers (Australian National University Archives)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Katy Richmond, 'Martin, Jean Isobel (1923–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 11 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Craig, Jean Isobel

21 June 1923
Malvern, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


25 September 1979
Mona Vale, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence