Students at the University of Sydney

Early women students and graduates

The first students - all male - were admitted to the first faculty, the Faculty of Arts, in 1852.

In 1881 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 matriculants at the University enrolled in the Faculty of Arts in 1882 and graduated in 1885.

On this webpage:


Click on images for enlargement.

View more information and photos about the first 24 Arts students.
View more information and photos about early Arts students.



Faculty of Arts 1852

Milestones

1852: The first students were admitted to the first faculty - the Faculty of Arts. Only male students were eligible and this remained the situation for almost 30 years.
1881: Senate unanimously decided to allow the admission of women. 1882:
1882: Mary Brown and Isola Thompson were the first two women matriculants at the University, enrolling in the Faculty of Arts.
1885: Mary Brown and Isola Thompson were the first women to graduate Bachelor of Arts.
1887: Isola Thompson was the first woman at the University to be awarded the Master of Arts.
1890: 43 female undergraduate students were enrolled in Arts compared with 241 male undergraduate students.
1892: Jane Foss Russell was the only female on the University teaching staff when she was appointed Tutor to Women Students.
1900:  62 female undergraduate students were enrolled in Arts.
1930: Female undergraduate Arts students began to outnumber males (442 female, 429 male).
1943: Moya McDade (later Gallagher), recent BA graduate and enrolled in the Department of Social Studies, became the first woman to hold office as President of the Students' Representative Council. (A woman, Arts undergraduate Margaret Walkom, had been elected in 1937, but withdrew her nomination when the previous President, Kevin Ellis, reconsidered his nomination.)
1960: Joan Jones was the first woman to obtain the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Arts - the first PhD in Arts had been awarded the previous year.
2011: The Discipline of Economics, the Centre for International Security Studies and the Graduate School of Government were transferred from the Faculty of Economics and Business to the Faculty of Arts.
  The Faculty became the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, comprising the Schools of Economics; Letters, Arts & Media; Language & Culture; Philosophical & Historical Enquiry; and Social & Political Sciences.
2012: There were 6,107 women and 3,430 men students enrolled in the Faculty as at 31 March.

Gallery

In the 1880s
The memo by Manning regarding admission of women to the University, 1881

The memo by Chancellor William Manning in support of his motion which was before Senate to admit women to the University, 1881, photo G3_224_270, University of Sydney Archives.1,

Mary Elizabeth Brown in 1885

Mary Brown, one of the first two women Bachelor of Arts graduates at the University, in 1885, print from a wood-carving, 'Illustrated Sydney News', 6 June 1885, NLA Newspapers.

Isola Florence Thompson in 1885

Isola Thompson, one of the first two women Bachelor of Arts graduates at the University, in 1885, print from a wood-carving, 'Illustrated Sydney News', 6 June 1885, NLA Newspapers.

Jane Foss Russell (afterwards Mrs Henry Ebenezer Barff)

Jane Foss Russell (later Barff) was the third female BA graduate and first female Honours graduate, in 1886, and the first Tutor to Women Students, in 1892. She is pictured wearing her cap and gown on 29 November 1890, photo by Falk, State Library of NSW. She married University Registrar Henry Ebenezer Barff in 1899.

Isola Thompson

Isola Thompson, became the first woman at the University to be awarded the Master of Arts, in 1887, image from 'Town and Country Journal', June 1887, National Library of Australia.

 Mary Harriett Bruce (later Walker) Carolyn (Carrie) Lomer
 Mary Bruce (later Walker) graduated BA
 in 1887,  image from 'Town and Country
Journal', June 1887, National Library of
Australia
. She was an assistant teacher
at Sydney Girls' High School.
Carrie Lomer graduated BA in in 1887,
image from 'Town and Country Journal',
June 1887, National Library of Australia
 Constance Adelaide Sutherland Minnie Wearne
Constance A Sutherland
graduated BA in in 1887,
image from 'Town and Country Journal',
June 1887, National Library of Australia
Minnie Wearne graduated BA in in 1887,
image from 'Town and Country Journal',
June 1887, National Library of Australia.
She was headmistress of MLC Burwood
1887-1909.

In the 1890s
Sarah Hynes

Sarah Hynes graduated BA in 1891, and became the first Australian woman botanist and the first woman admitted to membership of the NSW Linnaean Society, photo, The World's News, 14 November 1925, National Library of Australia.

A group of women Arts students outside the Womens Common Room eating bananas in 1893

A group of women Arts students outside the Women's Common Room eating bananas in 1893, photo G3_224_0367, University of Sydney Archives. Top from left: Constance Harker (Arts II), Lucy Flavelle (Arts I) & Eleanor Whitfield (Arts II); front from left: Ethel Russell who graduated BA that year, Ethel Maynard (Arts III) and Jennie Uther (Arts III).

Edith Lucy Doust (later Wolstenholme)

Edith Doust (later Wolstenholme) graduated BA in 1896 and MA in 1898, photo G3_224_1414, University of Sydney Archives.

In the early 1900s
Millicent Sylvia Armstrong   Jessie Mary Grey Lillingston
Millicent Armstrong graduated BA
in 1910. She became a playwright
and a farmer, photo from Green
Room Pictorial, 1 March 1924
.
Jessie Lillingston (later Street) graduated
BA in 1911, photo ca 1910, Mitchell Library,
State Library of NSW, Digital order number
a126013
. Jessie Street was an activist,
a feminist and a lifelong campaigner
for women’s rights, the peace movement
and the elimination of discrimination
against Aboriginal people.

Marjorie Chave Collison

Marjorie Chave Collison graduated BA in 1916 with First Class Honours in History. In 1919 she gained an MA from Columbia University. She was a lecturer and a feminist, photo, Western Mail, 26 January 1928, National Library of Australia.

Isabel Fidler in 1917

Isabel Fidler, the second woman BA graduate to become tutor to women students, in 1900, 1917 photo G3_224_0575, University of Sydney Archives.

Elizabeth Irene Ferrier (later McDonald)

Elizabeth Ferrier (later McDonald), who graduated in 1909, photo, The Gazette, December 1992.

Flora Sydney Eldershaw BA 1918

Flora Sydney Eldershaw graduated BA in 1918, photo, The Australian Women's Weekly, 29 February 1936, National Library of Australia. As well as teaching, she collaborated with Marjorie Barnard on several novels, and was a leading figure in Sydney literary circles.

In the 1920s
Marjorie Barnard

Marjorie Barnard graduated BA in 1920 with Hons I & the University Medal in History, photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number a128506. She collaborated with Flora Eldershaw on several novels & began to write fulltime. She was outstanding among the first generation of women historians trained in Australia.

 Fifi Olive Annette Hawthorne

Fifi Hawthorne graduated BA
in 1922, photo, The Sydney Morning
Herald, 26 November 1932, NLA,
and was Principal of Kambala
at Rose Bay from 1933 to 1966.
In 1972 she was appointed MBE.


Dymphna Cusack

Dymphna Cusack graduated BA in 1925, and became an acclaimed author, photo, The Australian Women's Weekly, 29 January 1938, National Library of Australia.

A group of Arts students in 1926

Third year Arts students in 1926. Soon after, female Arts students began to outnumber males, photo G3_224_2715, University of Sydney Archives

Margaret Elizabeth Maynard Peden


Margaret Peden graduated BA in 1926.
She was a founder of the Australian
Women's Cricket Council, initiated and
organised the first tour to Australia
by an English women's cricket team
and captained Australia in a return
Test series in England,
photo, The Argus, 2 March 1940,
National Library of Australia.

Thelma Florence Olsen

Thelma Olsen (later Harvey, Kirkby, Bate)
graduated BA in 1928, photo,
The Sydney Morning Herald,
8 September 1949.
She was an active member of the CWA
and was appointed CBE in 1969..


In the 1930s
Isobel Taylor

Isobel Taylor graduated BA in
1933, photo, Queensland Country
Life
,
8 December 1949,
National Library of Australia.
She was  Principal of Brisbane High
School for Girls (Somerville House)
from 1957 to 1969.

 

Olive Muriel Pink

 

Ethel Pink attended lectures in
Anthropology at the University in 1932.
She was an artist, Aboriginal-rights
activist, anthropologist and gardener,
photo, Wikipedia.

 

 

Rachel Mandelbaum (later Lipton)

Rachel Mandelbaum (later Lipton) 
graduated BA in 1918 from Sydney
University and MA in Literature in 1934.
An excellent businesswoman, she
bequeathed funds for the
establishment of a Jewish College in
Sydney, which became
Mandelbaum House,
photo, Sydney Alumni Magazine


Phyllis Kaberry MA 1935

Phyllis Kaberry graduated BA from the University in 1933 and MA in 1935, winning the Wentworth medal in 1934 and gaining First Class Honours for her master's thesis on 'Culture contact in Melanesia'. She became an acclaimed anthropologist, photo, The Australian Women's Weekly, 28 June 1941, National Library of Australia.

 Margaret Edith Hentze

Margot Hentze graduated BA in 1933
with First Class Honours in English,
History and Philosophy & the University
Medals for English and History.
In 1935 she graduated MA with 
First Class Honours and the University
Medal, photo, The Sydney Morning
Herald,
5 July 1929, NLA. She was 
the second woman appointed to the
permanent staff of the Faculty of Arts.

  Mary Barr Mackinlay

 Mary Barr Mackinlay graduated BA
in 1933 and MA in 1935. She entered
the Dominican novitiate at
Maitland in 1934. In 1972 Macquarie
University conferred on her an MA
in Education for her research into
teaching the deaf.

Margaret Walkom

Margaret Walkom (later Hutley)
graduated BA in 1936, with First Class
Honours in English and Second Class
Honours in French, photo, The Sydney
Morning Herald,
6 February 1940,
National Library of Australia.


In the 1940s
Robin Stanton in 1947

Robin Stanton, in Arts I, on her first day at the University, photo, The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 March 1947, National Library of Australia. This photo appeared in an article on 'Casual clothes for Students' which advised 'The average woman student dispenses with gloves, and hats are looked upon as an unnecessary affectation',

Avis Bucknall in 1949

Avis Bucknall, an Arts II student, acting as a "pilot" in an experiment in air traffic control being conducted in the CSIR Radio Physics Laboratory at Sydney University. She was one of 14 girls taking part in these experiments. They were helping to determine how modern air navigation aids, e.g. radio ranges and radar equipment, could best be used, photo, The Sunday Herald, 30 January 1949, National Library of Australia]].

In the 1950s
Judith White (later Robinson-Valéry) and Shirley Lewis 1954

Judith White (later Robinson-Valéry) graduated BA with First Class Honours in French and the University Medal, and Shirley Lewis graduated BA in April 1954, photo, The Sydney Morning Herald, 29 April 1954, National Library of Australia. Dr Robinson-Valéry became a leading international figure in the study of French literature.

Margaret Champion and Ann Stuckey 1954

Margaret Champion, who graduated BA with honours in Philosophy, and Ann Stuckey who graduated BA with honours in Latin, in April 1954, photo, The Sydney Morning Herald, 29 April 1954, National Library of Australia.

Jill Ker Conway

Jill Ker Conway graduated BA with honours in history in 1958. Dr Ker Conway is a historian, noted academic and author, photo, The Australian Women's Weekly, 3 March 1976, National Library of Australia.

In the 1970s
Kate Grenville BA 1973

Kate Grenville, who graduated BA in 1973, is one of Australia’s most celebrated authors. Kate was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters by the University in 2012, photo by Ted Sealey, copyright The University of Sydney.

Mary Kostakidis

Mary Kostakidis graduated BA in 1977. She has become a leading figure in Australian public life and in 2012 was co-winner of the University's Alumni Award for Community Achievement, photo, Sydney Alumni Magazine.

In the 1990s
Delia Falconer

Delia Falconer graduated BA (Honours) in 1990 and holds a PhD from the University of Melbourne. A Senior Lecturer at UTS, Dr Falconer is an acclaimed writer, photo, Faculty's news website.

Today
 Margaret Edith Hentze
Kate Brennan, who completed a BA
with First Class Honours in 2004 and
was completing an LLB, was the
winner of the 2007 NSW Rhodes
Scholarship. She planned to use
her Scholarship to Oxford to
undertake an MPhil in Development
Studies, photo, Uni News website.

 


Venessa Cowell BA 2006

Venessa Cowell graduated BA in 2006, and created a boutiqe footware label 'Venessa Cowell Design' which has become a thriving business, photo, Faculty's News website.

Hannah Donnelly

Hannah Donnelly graduated Bachelor of International & Global Studies in 2007. She was one of 7 young Indigenous Australians who went to New York in 2011 to take part in the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, photo, Faculty's News website.

Information sources
  • University of Sydney Calendar Archive
  • National Library of Australia historic newspapers
  • ZOOMinfo.com
  • Australian Dictionary of Biography


Lis Bergmann, 2013