Students at the University of Sydney

Early women students and graduates

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 Faculty of Law as we know it today commenced in 1890. The first woman student was admitted in 1899, graduating in 1899, but the next women Law graduates were not until 1924.

On this webpage:


Click on images for enlargement.

View more information and photos about early Law students.


Faculty of Law 1890

Milestones

1890:  The Challis Bequest made it financially possible to appoint a Professor and Lecturer and to create a Law School. Pitt Cobbett was appointed to the first Chair of Law and became the first Dean of the Faculty, which marked the commencement of the Faculty of Law as we know it today.  He would not accept a woman Law student while he was Dean (1890 - 1902).
1899: The entry of Ada Evans - who had already graduated BA in 1894 - into Law was only made possible by the absence on leave of Professor Pitt Cobbett. She was the only woman Law graduate during his term as Dean. He tried to persuade her to leave the Law School, suggesting that she lacked the physique and should do medicine instead.
1902: The first female Law graduate at the University was Ada Evans. She waited 19 years before being admitted to the Bar in 1921 but never practised owing to poor health. No other women enrolled in Law until 1920.
1918: The Women’s Legal Status Act gave women the legal right to become lawyers.
1924: The next women Law graduates were Marie Byles and Mrs Sibyl  Morrison (nee Gibbs and later Greenwell), who was admitted to the New South Wales Bar on 2 June 1924 and became the first woman to practise as a barrister in NSW.
  Their time at the University had been made difficult by the behaviour of the male students who caused noisy disruption in their classes, and by the intolerance of the lecturing staff. 
1934: Olga Sangwell BA was the first woman to graduate in Law with honours (Second Class).
1936: Jean Malor (later Mullin) was the first woman at the University to top her year in Law (Law III).
1937: Jean Malor (later Mullin) was the first woman to graduate in Law with First Class Honours.
1947: Women law students gained admission for the first time to the annual Law dinner.
1955: Elizabeth Evatt was the first woman at the University to receive the University Medal in Law when she graduated LLB with First Class Honours.
2012: 1,453 female full-time and part-time students were enrolled in Law, with 1,186 male enrolments.

Gallery

In the early 1900s
Ada Emily Evans 1902

Ada Evans The first female Law graduate at the University, in 1902, photo, 'Australian Town and Country Journal', 26 April 1902. She was not admitted to the Bar until 1921 but never practised owing to poor health.

In the 1920s
 Marie Beuzeville Byles
Marie Byles was one of the
next two women Law
graduates, in 1924,
photo, 'The Sydney Morning
Herald', 30 May 1924,

National Library of Australia.
She was the first woman
solicitor to practice
in Sydney (1924).
Sybil Enid Vera Munro Morrison (nee Gibbs, and later Greenwell)
Mrs Sybil Morrison
(nee Gibbs, later Greenwell)
was the other woman Law
graduate in 1924,
photo, 'The Sydney Morning
Herald', 30 May 1924,

National Library of Australia.
She was admitted to the
 NSW Bar that year – the first
woman to practise as
a barrister in NSW.
Elaine Hamilton Shorter
Elaine Shorter 
graduated LLB in 1926,
photo, Sydney Morning Herald,
National library of Australia.
Muriel Hamilton Hudson


Muriel Hudson (later Burgess)
graduated LLB in 1928,
the only woman to graduate
in Law  that year. She was
admitted as a solicitor, 
photo, The Mail, 23 March 1929,
National library of Australia.
She
gave up her legal practice in
March 1930 when she married.


.


Mrs Sibyl Enid Vera Munro Morrison (nee Gibbs, later Greenwell)

Mrs Sibyl Morrrison (nee Gibbs, and later Greenwell) (LLB 1924) as a barrister, photo G3_224_1331, University of Sydney Archives.

In the 1930s
 Olga Sangwell
Olga Sangwell
was the first woman to
graduate in Law with
honours (Second Class),
in 1934, photo from
'The Sydney Morning Herald',
27 March 1934
,
National Library of Australia.
Neridah Cohen
Neridah Cohen
(later Goodman)
was the only woman to
graduate in Law in 1935,
photo, The Sydney Morning
Herald, 24 July 1935
,
National Library of Australia.
She had her own barrister's
practice before WWII.
Jean Lewis Malor
Jean Malor (later Mullin)
was the first woman to
graduate in Law
with First Class Honours,
in 1937, photo,
SMH 28 August 1937,
NLA Newspapers
.
She was the only woman
barrister in NSW in 1937.

Women medical and law students

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

In the 1940s
 Mrs Tom Bateman Mrs Beatrice Bateman
(nee McGirr) graduated
LLB in 1942, the first woman
to hold both the MA & LLB,
photo, The Australian
Women's
Weekly,
31 January 1942, NLA.
She
was the only woman in her
group when she was 
admitted to the Bar in
1942. She rarely practised
because of family
commitments - 7 children
- but continued her
interest in law & law reform.
View WBF video

Peggy Hickson, Gina Christie, Patricia Oldfield and Moya Browning

Peggy Hickson, Gina Christie, Patricia Oldfield & Moya Browning assisted the committee of the Law Society to organise the Law Ball to be held at the Trocadero on 25 July 1946. Miss Christie was a recent graduate while the others were still students. Invitations to the ball were in the form of a statement of claim in the High Court of Levity, photo, The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 June 1946, National Library of Australia.

Marie Kinsella 

Marie Kinsella (later Sexton)
(BA DipEd) graduated LLB
with second class honours
in 1949. She was among the
first handful of women
admitted to the NSW Bar but
never went into private
practice. In 1952 she co-
founded the Women Lawyers
Association of NSW, photo,
Sydney Morning Herald,
21 January 1949, NLA.

June Robinson
June Robinson
graduated LLB in 1949,
photo, Sydney Morning
Herald,
21 January 1949,
National Library of Australia
Marie Thomas
Marie Thomas
graduated LLB in 1949,
photo, Sydney Morning
Herald,
21 January 1949,
National Library of Australia

In the 1950s
The Hon Elizabeth Evatt AC 

The Hon Elizabeth Evatt AC
was the first woman at the
University to receive the
University Medal in Law when
she graduated LLB with First
Class Honours in 1955. She
was the first Chief Judge of
the Family Court of Australia,
the first female judge of an
Australian federal court and
the first Australian to be
elected to the UN Human
Rights Committee. She was
awarded  an Hon LLD in
1985, photo, Faculty website.

 


In the 1960s
Mahla Pearlman AO 

The Hon Mahla Pearlman AO
(BA 1957) graduated LLB
with honours in 1960.
She was the first female
President of the Law Society
of NSW (1981–1982) and the
first female President of the
Law  Council of Australia
(1989–90), photo,
Jurist·Diction, Winter 2012. 

Mary Gaudron

The Hon Mary Gaudron QC
(BA 1962) graduated LLB
in 1965 with First Class
Hons & the University Medal
(the 2nd woman to do so).
She was appointed NSW
Solicitor-General in 1981,
the first woman in any
jurisdiction. She served as
the first & only female
Justice of the High Court of
Australia 1987-2003. In 1999
she received an Hon LLD,
1970 photo, Archives.


In the 1970s
The Honourable Justice Virginia Bell AC   The Hon Justice Virginia Bell
AC, who graduated LLB in
1979, has been a Justice
of the High Court of
Australia since 2009.
She was made
a Companion of the
Order of Australia in 2012
for eminent service to
the judiciary and to the law
through leadership in
criminal law reform and
public policy development,
to judicial administration,
and as an advocate
for the economically and
socially disadvantaged,
photo, copyright Memento
Photography.

In the 1980s
Jeni Klugman

Jeni Klugman, BEc graduate and final year Law student, became the first woman NSW Rhodes Scholar, in 1988. She would study for a Bachelor of Civil Laws at Oxford in October 1988, photo from 'The Gazette', December 1987. Today she is a distinguished international economist.

In the 1990s
The Honourable Jennifer Boland AM 

The Hon Jennifer Boland AM
graduated LLM in 1992. She
was a Justice of the Family 
Court of Australia 1999-2011
and was awarded an AM in 
2012 for service to the
judiciary, legal education,
and the community,
photo, Faculty website.


Today
Mary Macken 
Mary Macken
(LLB 1985, LLM 2003), 
President of the Law
Society of NSW in 2010,
was awarded the Order of
Legion d’Honneur in
Noumea in 2012 in
recognition of her work in
promoting and achieving
a close relationship between
the Law Society and the
French legal system and
bar, photo,
Faculty website.

The Hon Justice Margaret Beazley, AO

The Hon Justice Margaret Beazley AO (LLB 1974, LLD 2008) has been appointed President of the NSW Court of Appeal in 2013, the first woman appointed to the role, photo, copyright Memento Photography.

2013

Associate Clinical Professor Jayne Huckerby, who graduated BA in 1999 and LLB in 2002, has been appointed Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Duke Law School in North Carolina, photo, Faculty website ... more

Information sources


Lis Bergmann, 2013