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History

The University of Adelaide was founded with a noble goal: to prepare for South Australia young leaders shaped by education rather than birth or wealth in a settlement free of old world social and religious inequalities.

The University was established in 1874 and teaching began in 1876. The first official lecture was in Latin and the Bachelor of Arts the first degree offered.

However, the University's first Vice-Chancellor, Dr Augustus Short, had a vision for a university open to investigate new fields such as the sciences, modern literature, art and moral philosophy; subjects other than the narrow classics curriculum offered at Oxford University at the time. This vision would be realised in 1882 when the University became the first in Australia to grant degrees in science.

The spirit of enquiry was further embraced and the freedom to explore non classical subjects continued. Before reaching the 1900s the University offered degrees in arts, science, law, medicine and music. Additionally mathematics, philosophy, languages and mining engineering were taught. These flagship degrees and disciplines continue at the University today.


  • A Progressive Institution of Many 'Firsts'

    From its early beginnings, the state of South Australia was a progressive state. It was free settled and the first Australian state to provide voting rights to women. Reflecting the values of the state in which it was founded, the University of Adelaide - the first university in South Australia, became the first university in Australia, and only the second in the world, to admit women to academic courses (in 1881).

    The history of firsts continued. The University's first science graduate was also its first women graduate, Edith Emily Dornwell who graduated in 1885. It was the first Australian university to establish a Conservatorium of Music, a Chair of Music and a Doctor of Music, and the first to grant that degree to a woman (in 1918).

    The University of Adelaide also graduated the remarkable Dame Roma Mitchell who went on to become the first female: Queen's Counsel, Supreme Court Judge and Governor of an Australian state (SA).

  • A Reputation for Excellence

    The University soon established a reputation for excellence in education and research and attracted leading academics of international distinction. An early Professor of Mathematics and Physics, Sir William Bragg won the prestigious Nobel Prize in Physics (1915) together with his son and University of Adelaide graduate, Sir William Lawrence Bragg.

    As it grew, the University continued to be a place where its alumni could forge new ground and lead the way in research and discovery. Renowned Antarctic explorer, Sir Douglas Mawson had a long association with the University that included 31 years as Professor of Geology and Mineralogy. Graduate, Lord Howard Florey was honoured with a Nobel Prize in 1945 for his ground breaking work in the application and manufacture of penicillin.

    The early pioneers of the University of Adelaide established the academic quality, first-class intellectual environment and distinctive features that remain today. In the 21st century, the University is recognised as a centre for excellence in higher education that nurtures curious minds and delivers world-leading research outcomes.

    We continue to embrace a student body of democratic breadth, attract staff of international distinction, instil a spirit of freedom to investigate new fields, believe in our value to the community, and we are earnest in our goal to prepare the educated leaders of tomorrow.

Interactive Timeline

Take a look at our Interactive Timeline, showing some of our key historical milestones over the years.


Interactive Timeline