Students at the University of Sydney

Early women students and graduates

In 1881 the Senate decided unanimously to admit women to the University on equal terms with men.

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Student Commem Days

About Student Commem Days

During the late 1880s, students were becoming increasingly rowdy during the University's annual Commemoration of Benefactors and Conferring of Degrees ceremony. 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.

When Senate briefly used the Town Hall for the ceremony during the mid-1890s, the students organised a procession through Sydney streets (1897). With the return of the ceremony to the Great Hall, student enthusiasm for Commemoration was regenerated – another procession was held in 1899, and in 1900 an unofficial 'Commemoration' was held by students along with a procession.

The students' Commem procession through Sydney streets was now established and from 1900 it evolved greatly in size and content and was held in most years until 1975. The processions were noted for their witty and political floats, and festivities were often exuberant.

Find out more about Student Commem Days.
View more Commem Days photos.

Click on some images for enlargement.

  • 1931: For the first time a women students' ballet was successfully introduced into the Commem festivities.

Gallery

In the 1920s

1922
1922

Above: Singing Commem Day songs in the Quadrangle following the city procession on 19 May 1922. The songs contained many witty allusions to uni life and public questions, photos, The Sydney Mail, 24 May 1922, Google News Archive.

In the 1930s

1931

The mock trial of V J Flynn, President of the Undergraduates' Association, by a 'Court of Injustice' during the 1931 Sydney University Students' Festival, photo by Sam Hood, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW. Digital order numbers: a414010.

1931

Women students training for ballet dancing in the annual Commem celebrations in 1931, Western Mail, 9 July 1931, National Library of Australia.

1931

Women undergraduates students took a prominent part in Festival singing on Commemoration Day in May 1931, photo, 'The Sydney Mail', 27 May 1931, Google News Archive.

1932

Women players taking the field in the fancy dress hockey match against men students during Commem Day 1932, photo, The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 May 1932, National Library of Australia.

c1932

Women students on the stairs of the Women's Union's Manning House, c1932, photo by Sam Hood, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_03867.

c1932

What the women (pictured above) were looking at - the traditional battle between Engineering and Medicine students outside Manning House during Commem Day c1932, photo by Sam Hood, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_03869.

1936

As a protest against Senate's earlier ban on processions in the city, women undergraduates wrote satirical songs for "Wow", the 1936 University song book, including the theme song "You mustn't" to the tune of Gilbert's "Tit Willow". Senate subsequently lifted the ban, photo, The Australian Women's Weekly, 16 May 1936, National Library of Australia.

1936

Women undergraduates rehearsing their ballet of the students revue in the 1936 Commem festival, photo, The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 May 1936, National Library of Australia.

1937

A 1937 women's float, photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_14974.

1937

The women scientists float in 1937, photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_14971.

1937

Crowds watching women students marching in the Commem procession on 19 May 1937, photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_14985.

1937

The Sydney University Women's Undergraduate Association float in the 1937 Commem Day, photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_15000.

Continued

1937

Women medical and law students in the 1937 Commem Day procession, photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_14980.

1937

Women Veterinary students' float in the 1937 Commem Day procession, photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: Hood_14981h.

1937

Female students on Commem Day 1937, photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_14989.

1937

Part of the 1937 Commem Day, photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_14976.

1938

The 'Ladies of Medicine III' in the car outside the Medical School on 13 May 1938, photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_18200.

1938

These women medical students were dressed up as men and travelled in an old horse-drawn vehicle in the 1938 Commem procession, photo, The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 May 1938, National Library of Australia.

1938

Medicine I students outside the Medical School during Commem Day, 13 May 1938, photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_18201.

1938

The Faculty of Agriculture women students Commem Day float in May 1938, photo, photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_18211.

1938

Women Agriculture students on Commem Day in 1938, photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_18207.

1938

Crowds watching Commem Day procession opposite the T&G Building in Elizabeth Street on 13 May 1938, photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_18197.

1938

Women students march along Elizabeth and Park Streets in 1938, Photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_18214.

In the 1940s

1946

During the 1946 Commem Day procession, a tram was stopped in City Road as students - men and women - battled around it. Bedraggled girl (right) was taking flour bombs from a box. Another girl (left) fled. Passengers stayed aboard to dodge flying missiles, photo, The Daily News, 25 May 1946, National Library of Australia.

1946

Trams banked up and traffic was blocked. Student in foreground was about to ward off a bomb. Behind him a man and a girl pelted bombs in another direction. Girl (left) was flour-spattered, drenched, photo, The Daily News, 25 May 1946, National Library of Australia.

1940s

'Women evening students' float on Park Street in the 1940s, photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_20373.

In the 1950s

1952

A Commem Day float in 1952: students against Herbert Vere Evatt (The 'Doc'), Leader of the Australian Labor Party (and thus Leader of the Opposition), photo G3_224_1477_1, University of Sydney Archives.

1952

Commem Day United Nations float in 1952, photo G3_224_1477_3, University of Sydney Archives.

1952

Sydney University students called into service old motor cars and a billy-cart (above) during Commem Day in 1952, photos, Sunday Times, 25 May 1952, National Library of Australia.

1954

Hundreds of University students shouted and cheered as three of their fellows staged a mock "Mrs Petrov" kidnapping during University commemoration day on 12 May 1954. Two male students, dressed as "Russian couriers" in long coats, hats, and sun-glasses, dragged a girl, dressed as Mrs Petrov - minus one shoe - down the main aisle of the Union Hall (above), photo, The Argus, 12 May 1954, National Library of Australia.

1958

During Commem Day in May 1958, photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: d7_05348.

In the 1960s

1961

During Commem Day in May 1961, photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: d7_11738.


Lis Bergmann, 2013