University History Online Exhibitions

The University history online exhibitions was curated by Ms Lis Bergmann, Executive Officer to the Senate, 1989 to 2014.

The exhibition covers information about:

Students at the University of Sydney

"Under the peculiar circumstances of the colony, it was judged expedient to establish at first, the Faculty of Arts alone, before attempting those which are specially devoted to the professions of Medicine and Law." So states the preface to 1856 University Calendar. Thus the Faculty of Arts was the first and only Faculty of the University of Sydney in 1852.

This section covers information about:

The first 24 students

The first 24 students for the three year Bachelor of Arts degree course were admitted in 1852. Lectures by the three academic staff were at first held in College Street in the former Sydney College building (now part of Sydney Grammar School) until 1857 when they were moved to the Main Quadrangle Building which was still under construction.

Women students were not admitted until 1881, and the first intake was two.

Enrolment and graduate statistics between 1852 and 1880 were disappointing, with enrolments averaging around 50 each year, and the number of graduates around 10 a year.

However, from the 1880s onwards the Challis Bequest enabled growth in the number of faculties and professors, and the Arts degree underwent major change. As a result of these developments and the admission of women, enrolments began to rise, with 76 in 1880, 583 in 1890, 1,342 in 1910 and 3,356 in 1920.

Today, over 50,000 students attend the University, and are supported by more than 7,000 members of staff.

Early students

The webpages below provide brief information and photos about the beginnings / establishment of the faculties of the University of Sydney and their early students and graduates.

EARLY STUDENTS                                              from        Faculty established  Update
at the University 1852    
in Agriculture 1910 1920 now Faculty of Agriculture & Environment
in Architecture 1884 1920 now Faculty of Architecture, Design
& Planning
in Arts  1852 1852 now Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences
in Dentistry 1901 1920  
in Economics 1903 1920 became Faculty of Economics &
Business. Now the University of Sydney Business School
in Education 1900 1986 now Faculty of Education & Social
in Engineering    1883 1920 now Faculty of Engineering & Information Technologies
in Law 1856 1890 now Sydney Law School
in Medicine 1856 1883 now Sydney Medical School
in Pharmacy 1883 2000  
in Science 1852 1882  
in Veterinary Science  1909 1920  

The following additional faculties arose from amalgamations in the 1990s:

  • Faculty of Health Sciences
  • Faculty of Nursing (became Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery; now Sydney Nursing School))
  • Sydney College of the Arts
  • Sydney Conservatorium of Music
Early women students

The first students were admitted to the University of Sydney in 1852.

However it was not until 1881 that Senate unanimously decided to allow the admission of women, and the passing of the University Amendment Act in 1884 secured the legal rights of women at Sydney University.

The first two women were admitted to the University in 1882, graduating Bachelor of Arts three years later.

Some professors however doubted the suitability of women for their particular discipline or course, and consequently did little to encourage women students. It was therefore difficult for women to enrol in some courses, e.g. Law and Medicine.

Once enrolled, many early women students faced discrimination during their time at the University, from Professors and from male students, e.g. in Medicine.

Then, once they had graduated, many of these early women faced issues of limited employment opportunities and discrimination in the workplace, e.g. in Law, Medicine, Dentistry and Science.

However, by 1990 — just over a century after the first woman graduated — women students outnumbered men for the first time in the history of Sydney University, with 15,000 women enrolled in a student body of 26,000.


the first

the first

at the University

1882 1885
in Agriculture  1917 1921
in Architecture        1918 1922
in Arts   1882 1885
in Dentistry 1905 1906
in Economics 1913 1914
in Engineering    1946 1948
in Law   1889 1902
in Medicine 1885 1893
in Pharmacy 1900 1901
at Santa Sophia College 1926  
in Science 1886 1888
in Veterinary Science 1930 1935
at Women's College 1892  

Residential Colleges


This sketch map shows the location of the six colleges established by the 1920s. Click on the image for an enlargement.

Click on the links below to access details about the establishment of and early photos relating to the residential colleges within the University of Sydney:


An early view of St Paul's College in the background, centre, and Women's College in the foreground on the right, photo G3_224_0041, University of Sydney Archives.

Commemoration Days

Degrees had been conferred at annual ceremonies ever since 1856, and from 1859 the ceremony became the Commemoration of Benefactors and Conferring of Degrees ceremony.

By the 1880s the ceremony, generally known as Commemoration Day, had become a notable academic and social event in Sydney. At the same time however, there was the growing problem of unruly student behaviour, especially during the long speeches. This was partly an expression of student protest that it had become a "dreary ceremony"' which failed to celebrate the chief point of the occasion - the success of the students.