Students at the University of Sydney

Residential colleges - the early days

THE WOMEN'S COLLEGE

The Women's College was the first residential, university college for women in Australia.

On this webpage:


Click on most images for enlargement.


A brief history

A college for women was facilitated by the University of Sydney Senate's decision, in 1881, to enable women to study “in complete equality with men”.

In the decade that followed a committed group within the University Senate agitated for the establishment of a college exclusively for women students. The main members of this group were the Chancellor (William Manning), the Vice-Chancellor (Henry MacLaurin) and two Professorial Fellows of Senate (Walter Scott and Theodore Gurney). In the submission put to the Government by Manning’s committee the new college was to have the status of an affiliated college equal to that of the male colleges. The Council of the College was to comprise twelve members of whom two were to be members of the Senate of the University.

In 1889, a college for women was established and endowed by an Act of the NSW Parliament.

The Women's College opened in 1892 with four students in a temporary rented house called "Strathmore" in Glebe.

The Women's College in its own building within the University grounds was officially opened on 5 May 1894. The building had been designed by architects John Sulman and Joseph Porter Power to accommodate 26 students.

There have been subsequent building and refurbishment programs and, in 2005, the College was listed on the NSW State Heritage Register.

Today the College offers accommodation to 280 women students who are studying at the University of Sydney.


Gallery

In the 1890s
Loisa MacDonald Louisa MacDonald 
Miss Louisa MacDonald was chosen from 65 applicants as first Principal of the Women's College. She was Principal from 1891 to 1919, photo taken in 1892, State Library of NSW,
Digital order number: a4220055h
Miss Louisa MacDonald,
photo taken in the 1890s,
State Library of NSW

The first four students at Womens College in 1893

The first four students at Women's College in 1893 in its temporary rented house called "Strathmore" in Glebe. From left, Dorothy Harris, Eleanor Whitfeld, Louisa MacDonald (Principal), Constance Harker and Lucy Flavelle, photo G3_224_0370, University of Sydney Archives.

Louisa MacDonald (Principal) with Womens College students in rented accommodation in Glebe in 1893

Louisa MacDonald (Principal) with Women's College students in rented accommodation in Glebe in 1893, photo G3_224_0368, University of Sydney Archives.

1894

The Women’s College was formally opened by Lady Duff on Saturday 7 April 1894, in the presence of a large gathering. Lady Duff is pictured unveiling the stone let into the wall, bearing the arms of the College and the motto ‘Together’, illustration, The Sydney Mail, 12 May 1894, Google News Archive. Afterwards, the visitors inspected the building and had afternoon tea in the large dining hall.

Exterior view

Exterior view of the Women's College, image from an article 'Opening the Women's College' in the 'Australian Town and Country Journal', 12 May 1894, NLA Newspapers.

The Common Room  The Students' Room 
The Dining Room The Principal's Drawing Room
The 4 images above are from an article 'Opening the Women's College' in the 'Australian Town
and Country Journal', 12 May 1894, National Library of Australia.

In the early 1900s
The Womens College c1900

Women's College c1900 with 3 College students seated on the lawn, photo, courtesy Women's College & donated by Elizabeth Vickery. Her great aunt Eva Saunders was at Women's College 1893–96; she matriculated at 14 & entered Sydney University, funding herself by winning Scholarships & receiving her BA with Honours in 1897 at 17. Eva's sister (& Elizabeth's grandmother) Florence Gee (nee Saunders) attended Sydney University, came to live at Women’s College, & graduated BA in 1903.

The Womens College in 1902

The Women's College, from the side, in 1902, photo, 'Hermes' Jubilee edition 1902.

An early photo of the western face of The Womens College

A later photo of the western face of The Women's College, photo G3_224_1873, University of Sydney Archives.

1906

The Principal, Louisa McDonald, in 1906, photo, The Australasian, 30 June 2014, National Library of Australia.

1906

A student's bed and sitting room in 1906, photo, The Australasian, 30 June 2014, National Library of Australia.

1907

Women's College students in 1907, photo G3_224_1147_1, University of Sydney Archives.

1907

Two Women's College students in 1907, photo G3_224_1147_2, University of Sydney Archives.

1907

Three Women's College students in 1907 - Dolly Dunlop, Myril Bowman and Isabel Ormiston, photo G3_224_1147_3, University of Sydney Archives.

In the 1910s
1910

Women's College students and Principal in 1910, photo G3_224_0892, University of Sydney Archives.

The characters in the 1913 College mask, grouped in front of the small temple in the final tableau.

A Mask (a pageant of famous women) was commissioned, designed and directed by Louisa MacDonald, written by University poets Christopher Brennan and John Le Gay Brereton and first performed on 22 August 1913 to celebrate the College's 21st anniversary. Pictured above are the characters in the mask, grouped in front of the small temple in the final tableau, photo, The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 August 1913, National Library of Australia.

1913

A feature of the performance was the dancing, photo, The Sydney Mail, 27 August 1913, Google News Archives.

1913
1913

Some of the characters in the Mask, photos, The Sydney Mail, 27 August 1913, Google News Archives.

1916

Women's College students and Principal in 1916, photo G3_224_1583, University of Sydney Archives.

1919

Miss Susannah Jane Williams, MA Melb, the second Principal from 1919 to 1935, photo from 'Hermes', October 1919.

In the 1920s
1923

The foundation stone of the Louisa MacDonald Commemoration Wing of the Women's College was laid on 11 April 1923 by Dame Margaret Davidson, photo, The Sydney Mail, 18 April 1923, Google News Archive.

1923

Dame Margaret Davidson laying the foundation stone, photo, The Sydney Mail, 18 April 1923, Google News Archive.

1923

Another view, photo, Evening News, 12 April 1923, National Library of Australia.

1924

The new wing was opened on Wednesday 22 October 1924 by the Lady de Chair (centre), wife of the Governor of NSW, photo, The Australasian, 1 November 1924, National Library of Australia. The Chancellor Sir William Cullen is behind her, and Dr Abbott (right), Chairman of teh College Council.

1924

Some of the students, photo, The Australasian, 1 November 1924, National Library of Australia.

1924

The eastern side of the new wing, called the Louisa MacDonald Commemoration Hall, photo, The Australasian, 1 November 1924, National Library of Australia.

The Women

Looking through wooden gates towards the double storey building with gabled roof and tower, and "Women's College" written on the gatepost, ca 1926-1928, image H2010.190/2, State Library of Victoria.

Students and staff of the Women

Students and staff of the Women's College in 1927, a postcard photographed at Melba Studios, image H2010.190/8, State Library of Victoria

1927

An archery display by pupils of Wenona School at the Women's College fete on Saturday 24 September 1927, photo, The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 September 1927, National Library of Australia.

1928

A memorial garden seat was given to the College by contemporary students and fellow teachers of the late Miss Mary Dunnicliff, former teacher at Fort Street Girls' School, on 4 May 1928, photo, SMH, 5 May 1928, NLA. From left, Miss Beryl Dunnicliff, Miss Dunnicliff, Miss Murray, Miss B. Read, Miss Edith Dunnicliff, Miss Houison, Miss Dick, Miss Fairfax, Miss J Fitzhardinge, Miss Gretton, Mr AA Dunnicliff, Miss Cohen, Miss R Hales, Miss SJ Williams and Miss E Saunders.

1929

Some of the visitors to the Medical Congress – held at Sydney University in September 1929 – photographed on the steps of Women's College, photo, The Sydney Mail, 11 September 1929, Google News Archive. In the front row, fifth from the right are Mrs G Abbott, wife of Dr Abbott, President of the Congress, and Miss S J Williams, Principal of the College.

In the 1930s
Camilla Hildegarde Wedgewood in 1930

Camilla Hildegarde Wedgewood, Principal of Women's College from 1935 to 1943, in 1930, photo G3_224_1357, University of Sydney Archives.

1932

The mask which had been staged in 1913 was presented again on 7 and 8 October 1932 in the College grounds, in aid of the University Settlement. It was performed again in 1982 to mark the centenary of the admission of women to the University. Pictured above is the conclusion of the wave dance in the final scene of the Mask on 7 October 1932, photo from the Sydney Morning Herald, 8 October 1932.

1932

Barbara Smith appearing as the Sibyl in the Women's College mask performed in 1932, one of 28 women of history and fiction featured in the mask, photo, The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 October 1932, National Library of Australia.

1932

Heather Dowling as Isabeau de Bayiere in the Mask, photo, The Sydney Mail, 27 October 1932, Google News Archive.

1932

Claire Probert as Joan of Arc in the Mask, photo, The Sydney Mail, 27 October 1932, Google News Archive.

1934

Arrival of the English women's cricket team at the Women's College, Sydney University, December 1934, where they were staying, National Library of Australia, nla.pic-vn3256012.

1934

The English women's cricket team having tea at the Women's College, Sydney University, in December 1934, National Library of Australia, nla.pic-vn3256303. 'The Courier-Mail' of 15 December 1934 which published this photo added the caption 'Tea and gay conversation engaged the English women cricketers when they arrived at the Sydney University Women's College, where they are staying', National Library of Australia.

1934

The English Women's Touring Cricket Team, taken at The Women's College, University of Sydney, 12th December 1934, National Library of Australia, nla.pic-vn3256012.

1938

Women's College students performing a dance unit 'She's and Ski's' in the students' revue on the evening of Monday 9 May 1938, which opened Sydney University Festival Week, photo, Sydney Moring Herald, 10 May 1938, National Library of Australia.

In the 1950s
1952

Among the 25 freshers arriving at the Women's College on 15 March 1952 were Helen Hill (science student), Jeannette Goffett and Jennifer Budd (arts) and Beverley Raphael (medicine), who were exploring the College grounds, photo from 'The Sunday Herald', 16 March 1952, National Library of Australia.

1952

The Senior Student - Elizabeth Ralston - and the Secretary of the House Committee - Jane Thompson (both final year medical students) - helping science fresher Maxine Bunton with her luggage when she arrived at the College on 15 March 1952, photo from 'The Sunday Herald', 16 March 1952, National Library of Australia.

The Women
The Women

At the re-union dance at the Women's College in May 1954, photos from 'The Sun-Herald', Sunday 23 May 1954, National Library of Australia.

In the 1960s
1969

Sandra McCallum (at left), vice-principal of the Sydney University Women's College, with Mrs R G Wales at a morning tea and inspection of the college which was arranged by the Sydney University Women's Group. Visitors saw the new Menzies Common Room and Langley Wing, photo, The Australian Women's Weekly, 16 July 1969, National Library of Australia.

In the 1980s


Click here to view a poster for the Women's College's Great Gatsby Formal in 1981, by Leonie Lane, which is in the National Gallery of Australia

Today
Womens College today

Photo, University of Sydney

Information sources
  • The College's website
  • National Library of Australia historic newspapers
  • The Gazette, September 1982


Lis Bergmann, 2012