Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Margaret Edith Hentze (1909–1947)

by Marjorie Jacobs

This article was published:

Margaret Edith Hentze (1909-1947), historian, was born on 15 July 1909 in Melbourne, only daughter of Frederick Ferdinand Hentze, Belgian wool-buyer, and his wife Edith May, daughter of Sir Graham Berry. After elementary education in Melbourne Margot went in 1919 with her parents to Basle, Switzerland, where she had private tuition. On their return to Australia in 1923 her parents acquired the house at Killara, Sydney, which remained her home. She attended Presbyterian Ladies' College, Pymble, where she was dux in 1926. Not eligible to enter the University of Sydney without a matriculation pass in mathematics, she overcame this obstacle in 1929 and enrolled in the faculty of arts next year.

Outstanding among the undergraduates of her generation, Margot Hentze graduated B.A. in 1933 with first-class honours in English, history and philosophy and University medals for English and history. Awarded the (John) Frazer scholarship in 1933 and appointed assistant lecturer in history in 1934, she worked on labour problems in the Pacific and graduated M.A. with first class honours and the University medal in 1935. She contributed a chapter on Asian immigration to Australia and the Far East (1935), sponsored by the Australian Institute of International Affairs.

The award of a travelling scholarship in 1935 gave her the opportunity to work in European history. On a visit to Italy she foresaw the likelihood of official censorship of research in an Italian university and turned to the London School of Economics and Political Science, where Professor Harold Laski agreed to supervise a thesis on Italian politics between 1871 and 1922. She was awarded a Ph.D. by the University of London in 1938. Next year Pre-Fascist Italy: the Rise and Fall of the Parliamentary Régime, a revised version of her thesis, was published. It was a work of mature and sensitive scholarship, a pioneer study of Italian political life in the half-century before Mussolini. Attendance as an Australian delegate at the conferences of the International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation in Paris and Prague in 1937 and 1938 brought new influences through meetings with leading European scholars, especially Salvador de Madariaga, with whom she continued to correspond. In August 1938 Margot Hentze returned to the University of Sydney as a lecturer in history, the second woman appointed to the permanent staff of the faculty of arts. Sensitive and intense, she found her lectures in European history both demanding and sometimes unrewarding, especially as the strains and tensions of imminent war in Europe mounted. In July 1939 she resigned, intending to go at once to Switzerland. War prevented this, but she left the university in December. Trying to reach Europe in a neutral ship she was turned back at Aden when France fell. For several years in Australia she undertook research on Australia's political and economic relationships in the South-west Pacific for the Department of Post-War Reconstruction.

An early recruit to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, Margot Hentze was sent to London early in 1946 to work on the economic aspects of rehabilitation problems in Europe. On service in Europe, she died suddenly of pneumonia on 21 June 1947 at Antwerp, Belgium, where she was buried.

Select Bibliography

  • Union Recorder, 3 July 1947
  • staff records of Registrar's Office (University of Sydney Archives).

Citation details

Marjorie Jacobs, 'Hentze, Margaret Edith (1909–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 17 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Hentze, Margot

15 July, 1909
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


21 June, 1947 (aged 37)
Antwerp, Belgium

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.