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 first woman Bachelor of Science graduate at the University of Sydney was in 1888.

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View more information and photos about early Science students.

Faculty of Science 1882


1852:  Science teaching in the University began within the Faculty of Arts when the first three professors arrived. 
1882: The Faculty of Science was established, when government funding and a substantial bequest from John Henry Challis provided impetus for the University to expand.
1886: After completing first year Arts in 1885, Fanny Hunt was the first and only woman enrolled in second year in the new Faculty of Science.
1888: Fanny Hunt was the first woman to graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University.
  Fanny Hunt and the female Science graduates who followed her pursued other than scientific paths, most going into teaching. As late as the 1920s, women Science graduates were continuing to accept careers outside their discipline.
1894: Agnes Bennett was the first woman to graduate with honours in Science - Second Class Honours in Geology and Palaeontology and Second Class Honours in Biology.
1900: 4 female undergraduate students were enrolled in Science compared with 15 male undergraduate students.
1917: The first woman Physics graduate was Edna Sayce (later Briggs), who graduated Bachelor of Science with First Class Honours in Physics and Second Class Honours in Mathematics. 
1920: 95 female undergraduate students were enrolled in Science compared with 126 males.
1924: Marjorie Collins (later Shiels) was the first Master of Science graduate.
1930: Hazel Weekes was the first woman to be awarded the degree of Doctor of Science.
1936: Daphne Stephan (later Bamford) became the first woman to be awarded the University Medal in the Faculty when she graduated Bachelor of Science with First Class Honours. The Medal was in Chemistry.
1951: Eleanor Gyarfas was the first woman to be awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Faculty.
2012: 3,637 female full-time and part-time students were enrolled in Science, with 2,871 male enrolments.


In the 1880s
Fanny Elizabeth Hunt

Fanny Hunt was the first woman Science graduate, in 1888, photo G3_224_1421, taken in 1888, University of Sydney Archives.

In the 1890s
Agnes Elizabeth Lloyd Bennett circa 1893 
 A group of female university undergraduates photographed by Naudin Studios of
Sydney, c1893. Back row from left: Ethel Maynard, Rosa Lichtscheindt, Georgie
Harriott. Front row from left: Jennie Uther, Agnes Bennett & Katie Hogg, photo
PAColl-0040-17, National Library of New Zealand.
  Agnes Bennett graduated
BSc with Second Class Honours in Geology and Palaeontology and Second
Class Honours in Biology in 1894 - the second woman Science graduate and the first
woman to graduate with honours in Science. However, finding that female
scientists were unwanted, she worked as a teacher and governess, then left
Australia in 1895 to study Medicine, eventually setting up in private practice.

Marion Charlotte Horton

Marion Horton (later White) was the University's third woman Science graduate, in 1897, photo from the 'Gazette', March 1985. After graduating, she was recommended for the position of junior demonstrator in biology by the Professor of Biology. The Senate Appointments Committee rejected her appointment, with no reason given. Later, however, she was told that it was because she was a woman and 'too pretty'.

Sarah Octavia Brennan

Sarah Brennan (BA 1889, MA 1891) graduated BSc in 1898. She became a nun, taught science and Latin, and later helped to train Sisters to teach science, photo, Australian Town and Country Journal, 20 April 1889, National Library of Australia.

In the early 1900s

A Chemistry class in 1901, with the small number of female students grouped together in the front row, photo from 'The Gazette", March 1988.


Students at work in the Main Chemical Laboratory in 1906, photo, The Australasian, 30 June 1906, National Library of Australia.

Fanny Cohen

Fanny Cohen (BA 1908) graduated BSc in 1909 with Hons I in Mathematics and Hons I with the University Medal in Geology, 1936 photo G3_224_1368, University Archives. She became assistant mistress of mathematics at Fort Street Girls' High School in 1912, graduated MA in 1913 & at the end of 1929 returned to Fort Street as headmistress. She served as a Fellow of Senate and in 1962 was appointed MBE for services to education.

In the 1910s
Women students on a Geology excursion c1910

Women students on a Geology excursion to the Hunter Valley c1910. They enjoyed searching for fossils by day and singing topical songs around the campfire by night, photo, University of Sydney Archives.

Eleanor Mary Hinder  


Eleanor Hinder graduated BSc
in 1914. After teaching biology at
North Sydney Girls' High School and
giving  extension tutorials at the
University, she became a welfare
officer & international public servant,
photo from 'The Sydney Morning
Herald', 13 January 1926,
National Library of Australia.

Edna Dorothy Sayce (later Briggs) in 1917

Edna Sayce (later Briggs) was the first woman Physics graduate, in 1917, photo G3_224_1631, University of Sydney Archives. At the end of her first year, she went to see the Professor about continuing in Physics. His response was, 'Why don't you do geology? That is a better subject for a woman student'. Then eventually 'What was your first year exam result?' 'I came first.' Then 'I don't suppose I can stop you'.

In the 1920s
Marie Bentivoglio 1920

Marie Bentivoglio graduated BSc in 1919 with Hons I in Geology & Mineralogy and Hons II in Botany. She completed a DipEd in 1920 & was the first woman to win an 1851 Exhibition Science Scholarship to Oxford where she gained a PhD and a Diploma of Geography, photo G3_224_1413, University Archives. The honorary degree of Doctor of Science was conferred upon her in 1994.

Science III students in 1923

Science III students in 1923, photo G3_224_1484, University of Sydney Archives - click on images for names.

Marjorie Collins (later Shiels), MSc 1924

Marjorie Collins (later Shiels), the first Master of Science graduate, in 1924, photo G3_224_1415 taken in 1930, University of Sydney Archives.

Thistle Harris

Thistle Harris (later Stead) graduated BSc in 1924 and became a biologist, educator and wildlife preservationist. She is pictured planting a wattle tree at St George Girls' High School, Kogarah, photo, The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 July 1932.

Jean Lawson  
 Jean Lawson graduated BSc in
1929. She became an actor,
educator, broadcaster and writer,
photo Examiner, 11 December 1954,
National Library of Australia

In the 1930s
Hazel Weekes

Hazel Weekes (BSc 1926) became the first woman to be awarded the degree of Doctor of Science at the University, in 1930, photo from 'The Sydney Mail', 9 March 1932, Google News Archive. She was a zoologist and physician.

Thelma Reynolds MSc 1931

Thelma Reynolds graduated BSc with Second Class Honours in Organic Chemistry in 1929 & MSc in Chemistry in 1931. She later gained a DPhil from Oxford and after 3 years spent in organic chemistry work there, became attached to the Division of Forest Products, part of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, in Australia, photo, The Australian Women's Weekly, 20 March 1937, NLA.

Ida Brown

Ida Brown (later Browne) (BSc 1922) graduated DSc in 1932, the second woman to do so. She lectured in palaeontology at the University 1935-1950, continuing private field-work until 1965. She was the first woman to be elected President of the Linnean Society of NSW, in 1945, photo from 'The Sydney Mail', 8 June 1932, Google News Archive.

Ruby Payne-Scott

Ruby Payne-Scott (later Hall), graduated BSc in 1933 and MSc in 1936, photo courtesy Peter Hall (Ruby Payne-Scott's son), Wikipedia. She was a physicist, radio astronomer and schoolteacher.

Daphne Ailsa Stephan (later Bamford) BSc 1936

Daphne Stephan (later Bamford) graduated BSc with Hons I in 1936 & was the first woman to be awarded the University Medal in Science - in Chemistry, photo, Australian Women's Weekly, 25.3.1939, NLA. Awarded the James King of Irrawang travelling scholarship, she continued her studies at Cambridge where she gained her PhD in 1939. She married C Bamford.


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

Ruth Sanger

Ruth Sanger, later Dr Sanger, graduated BSc in 1938 and is pictured testing a specimen in the pathology room at the Red Cross Blood Bank in 1946, photo 126375, Australian War Memorial. She became an internationally known expert in blood grouping, who for many years worked for the Medical Research Council in London, and was made a Fellow of the British Royal Society.

In the 1940s
in 1940 women Zoology students began making camouflage nets for the Army and the Air Force

At the instigation of Professor of Zoology J W Dakin, in 1940 women Zoology students began making camouflage nets for the Army and the Air Force. In the photo, research assistant Ruth Sanger works on a net with Lecturer Alan Colefax, who instructed the students, looking on, photo, The Australian Women's Weekly, 11 January 1941, National Library of Australia.

Joan Freeman MSc 1943

Joan Freeman graduated BSc with double First Class Honours in Mathematics and Physics in 1939 & MSc in 1943. She spent most of her working life at the British Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell, photo, Australian Women's Weekly, 31.3.1976. In 1993 an honorary Doctor of Science degree was conferred on her by Sydney University.

Beryl Nashar 1947

Beryl Nashar graduated BSc with Hons I & the University Medal in 1947, photo c1950s, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order no: hood_27863. At the University of Tasmania she became the 1st Australian to be awarded a PhD in geology from an Australian university. She became Foundation Professor of Geology at the University of Newcastle & then the 1st woman dean of science at an Australian university.

Daphne Davison (later Eliot) 1948

Daphne Davison (later Eliot) graduated MSc in 1948 and was awarded a Science Scholarship to Cambridge where she obtained a PhD in plant biochemistry, photo, The Australian Women's Weekly, 30 October 1948, National Library of Australia. The article said "Miss Davison represents the new, more feminine type of woman scientist".

In the 1950s
 Joan Marion Crockford

Joan Crockford (BSc Hons I 1939,
MSc 1942) (later Crockford-Beattie)
was awarded the degree of Doctor
of Science in 1951. She was a
geologist and invertebrate
palaeontologist who specialised
in Palaeozoic bryozoans, photo,
The Australian Women's Weekly,
28 April 1945,
National Library of Australia


Olga Kooptzoff (later Archer) 1954

Olga Kooptzoff (later Archer), Australian-born daughter of Russian immigrants, graduated BSc with Honours in Zoology on 17 May 1950, photo, The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 May 1950, National Library of Australia. In 1954 she graduated MSc and was establishing a reputation at the Red Cross blood transfusion service in Sydney for her early work on blood groups and genetics.

Eleanor (Nora) Clara Gyarfas 1951

Eleanor (Nora) Gyarfas was the first woman to be awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Faculty, in 1951, photo G3_224_2112, University of Sydney Archives. She was the first chemist to investigate the complex compounds of the rare metal osmium. A graduate of Budapest University, she had been workingd under a Commonwealth research scholarship at the University since she arrived in January 1948.

Nola Jean Hannon (later Williams) and Ruth Simons 1953

Nola Hannon (BSc Hons 1950) and Ruth Simons (BSc Hons 1952) were botanists who won Linnean Macleay Science Fellowships for 1954, photo, The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 December 1953, National Library of Australia. Nola continued her work on the status of nitrogen in the Hawkesbury Sandstone communities of the Sydney district; won the Fellowship for 1955 and later gained the PhD.

Beverley Bentley (later Bolt) 1954 

Beverley Bentley (later Bolt) 
graduated BSc with Hons I in
May 1954, the first woman to
receive the University Medal in
Mathematics, photo, The Sydney
Herald, 6 May 1954, NLA.
She married Bruce Bolt, who
earned his doctorate in applied
mathematics from the
University  in 1955, and who was
professor of seismology at
Berkeley 1963-1993.

Patricia Hextall 1954

Patricia Hextall graduated BSc in 1954 with First Class Honours and the University Medal in Organic Chemistry. She was working at the University under an ICI Fellowship, investigating chemical constituents of the grasstree gum. Later she hoped to go to England to work for her PhD, photo, The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 August 1953, National Library of Australia.

In the 1960s
Gillian Beatty

Gillian Beatty graduated BSc in Biochemistry/Microbiology in 1961. She received an Honorary Doctor fo Science degree from Sydney University in 2007, photo, copyright Memento Photography.

In the 1980s
Ann Roberts

Ann Roberts graduated BSc with Hons I in Physics and the University Medal in 1985. She is pictured with Dr Ross McPhedran, senior lecturer at the School of Physics, photo, The Gzette, March 1985, University of Sydney Archives. She subsequently obtained the PhD. After a position in the School of Electrical Engineering at Cornell University, she accepted a position in the School of Physics at the University of Melbourne where she is now Assoc Professor & Deputy Head of School.

Physics students 1987

Physics students Dianne Gibbons (left) and Alexia Bygott carrying out an experiment in solid state electronics, photo, The University of Sydney Annual Report 1987.

In the 1990s
Dr Kate Fairley-Grenot

Dr Kate Fairley-Grenot graduated BSc (Hons) in 1986 and PhD in biophysics in 1991. Dr Fairley-Grenot is now Adjunct Professor with the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, photo, Faculty of Science - Biology News, January 2013.

Dr Diana Londish 2004

Dr Diana Londish graduated PhD in Astrophysics in 2004, photo, School of Physics Alumni News, November 2006.

Jill Halliday 2006

Jill Halliday graduated BSc (Hons) in 2004 and commenced her PhD in organic chemistry in 2006, photo, ChemNews, Spring 2006]..

Dr Elizabeth New 2005

Elizabeth New graduated BSc(Advanced) with Honours in Chemistry in 2005 and MSc in 2007, then gained a PhD from Durham University. Dr New joined the School of Chemistry in January 2012, photo, University website.

First-year biology students in 2012

First-year biology students in 2012, photo from Biology News, May 2012.

Information sources

Lis Bergmann, 2013