Jean van der Poel was born in Cape Town in 1904, and went on to become a prominent historian. Her studies began at the University of Cape Town (UCT), and she completed her doctorate at the London School Of Economics, financed by the Donald Currie Memorial scholarship. Her doctorate, on railways and customs policies, was awarded magnum cum laude and won her the Royal Empire Society prize.

In 1929 Van der Poel returned to South Africa and declined a position at UCT as lecturer for a post as history teacher. She played a very important role in the South African Teacher’s Association, but in 1938 decided to move to UCT. She became a senior lecturer in 1954 and was offered the King George V chair of history in the 1960s, which she declined. She retired in 1969.

Van der Poel’s best-known works were on the British role in the Jameson Raid and on Smuts. She, along with Helene Malan, first translated the Communist Manifesto into Afrikaans, along with its introduction by Leon Trotsky.

She died in 1986.


E.J. Verwey (ed), New dictionary of South African biography. Pretoria, 1995, pp. 252-253

Collections in the Archives