Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Greta Hort (1903–1967)

by Ursula Hoff

This article was published:

Greta Hort (1903-1967), academic and college principal, was born on 25 May 1903 in Copenhagen, daughter of Vilhelm Hjort, astronomer royal, and his wife Anne Margrethe, née Ulrich. Educated at N. Zahle's Skole and at the University of Copenhagen (M.A., 1927) where she won a gold medal, Greta lectured in English at the university for two years. She travelled to England and studied at Newnham College, Cambridge (Ph.D., 1931), before proceeding as Pfeiffer research fellow (1931-34) to Girton College. There she was awarded the Gamble prize for an essay on The Cloud of Unknowing, and published Sense and Thought, A Study in Mysticism (1936) and Piers Ploughman and Contemporary Religious Thought (1937).

In June 1938 Dr Hort was appointed principal of University Women's College (later University College) at the University of Melbourne. Diana Dyason saw her as 'almost a caricature of the Girton bluestocking, sparse fine hair drawn into a wispy bun from which it was always escaping, little dress sense and a penchant for thick grey . . . stockings'. In accordance with the ideals of the college council, Hort developed in her students the principles of freedom and self-government to a degree greater than in other Melbourne colleges. She tutored in philosophy and fostered high academic standards generally; between two and eight exhibitions and prizes were awarded to U.W.C. students each year during her principalship. Elaine Chong, a student from Singapore, remembered that 'she took the trouble to get to know us individually', but, according to Dyason, there were 'rumblings of student revolt' due to Hort's 'arbitrariness' and 'use of pressure tactics'.

Active in the Danish community, Hort was also president of the Czechoslovak branch of the Red Cross Society, patron of the Australia-Indian Society, vice-president of the Australia-China Society, an executive-member of the Pro-Palestine Association of Victoria, president of the Victorian branch of the Australasian Society of Psychology and Philosophy, and a member (1943-46) of the university council. In addition to teaching, administration and social obligations, she found time for writing; she published Two Poems (1945) and Mamre (1946), a translation of Martin Buber's essays in religion. She resigned as principal in October 1946 and went with Professor Julie Moscheles to Prague where she undertook research for 'The Plagues of Egypt' (Zeitschrift fur Alt Testamentliche Wisenschaft, 1957-58) and 'The Death of Quorah' (Australian Biblical Review, December 1959).

In 1957 Hort accepted the chair of English literature at Aarhus University, Denmark. Her familiarity with Australian literature, ballads and bush songs enabled her to pioneer Australian studies in Europe. Brilliant, but eccentric, she edited an anthology of Australian literature for use in Danish high schools and lectured on the subject at German universities. In 1964 she attended a conference on Commonwealth literature, held at Leeds, England. Appointed to the Order of the Dannebrog in 1965, in that year she was awarded the Tagea Brandt prize for outstanding scholarship.

Hort died of a post-operative thrombosis on 19 August 1967 in her home at Risskov, Denmark. A library at University College was named after her in 1992.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Dow (ed), Memories of Melbourne University (Melb, 1983)
  • Meanjin Quarterly, 5, no 2, Winter 1946
  • Westerly, no 4, Dec 1987
  • Herald (Melbourne), 6 May, 20, 23, 25 June 1938
  • Age (Melbourne), 21 June 1938, 23 Apr 1966, 5 Sept 1967
  • H. Brookes papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Girton College, University Cambridge, Archives
  • private information.

Citation details

Ursula Hoff, 'Hort, Greta (1903–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 16 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Hjort, Greta

25 May, 1903
Copenhagen, Denmark


19 August, 1967 (aged 64)
Risskov, Denmark

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.