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Our Pioneering Women

Some of the University's pioneering women

Women contribute to the University as students, as academics, and as professional staff. Although we celebrate many of the first students and staff members, we also seek to recognise the achievements of women from specific cultural groups and regional locations as pioneering.

Some of the women of the University of Adelaide achieved great academic and personal honours, but others, whose stories have been unsung, have developed and maintained important services that have kept the University running.

  • Edith Emily Dornwell1865 - 1943

    Edith Emily Dornwell was the first woman to graduate at the University of Adelaide in 1885 and she was the first person to graduate with a Bachelor of Science. Edith’s education at the Advanced School for Girls and at the University was supported by scholarships and she finished her degree with first class Honours in physics and physiology.

    At her graduation, Chancellor Chief Justice Samuel Way said that she had ‘vindicated the right of her sex to compete’, and that she was ‘a perfect wonder of successful mental effort’. Her career ended when she married, as was the custom of the day.

  • Dr Laura Fowler1870 - 1952

    Laura Fowler was the first woman to graduate in medicine at the University of Adelaide in 1891, having begun her studies just after women were admitted to medicine.

    After her graduation she gained further training in tropical medicine and practised medicine with her husband, also a doctor, in remote Indian communities. During World War I, as women doctors could not serve with Australian or British forces, they volunteered with the women-operated Scottish Women’s Hospital for Foreign Service serving on the Serbian front. Both were honoured for their service and later returned to India to continue practising medicine in Pabna and Kalimpong.

  • Dr Helen Mayo1878 - 1967

    Helen Mayo was the University’s second woman medical student, graduating in 1902 with the prestigious Everard Scholarship. After further experience in London and at St Stephen’s Hospital Delhi, she returned to Adelaide, setting up private practice and founding the School for Mothers (1909) to educate working-class mothers in mother craft. This grew into the Mother and Babies Health Association (1927), now known as Child and Youth Health. She gained the Doctor of Medicine degree in 1926.

    Mayo served on the University Council 1914 - 1960 and helped establish St Ann’s College. The Mayo refectory is named for her. The Robinson Research Institute continues her research in human reproduction and child health.

  • Miriam Hyde OBE AO1913 – 2005

    An acclaimed international concert pianist and music educator, Miriam Hyde composed over 150 works in early 20th century style. She graduated with a Bachelor of Music in 1931, winning the Elder Overseas Scholarship to study piano and composition at the London Royal College of Music. On her return, she taught piano and musical perception at the Elder Conservatorium.

    Miriam wrote most of the original music for Heritage, a celebration of the state’s centenary, and helped establish the Australian Composers Guild. In 1975 she was appointed Patron of the Music Teacher’s Association of South Australia. She penned 500 poems and donated the royalties from her 1991 autobiography to the Elder Overseas Scholarship.

  • Professor Fay Gale AO1932 – 2008

    Fay Gale was the first honours graduate in Geography. Her PhD on urban Aboriginal people led to publications and further research on native title, the Stolen Generations, and health care. A lecturer in Geography, she became the University’s first woman professor (1978). As Pro Vice-Chancellor (1988), she was the first woman in senior management.

    As Vice-Chancellor of University of Western Australia (1990 –7) she initiated programs to eliminate gender and other discrimination. She was the first woman President of the Australian Vice-Chancellor's Committee and presided over the Academy of the Social Sciences. The Fay Gale Centre for Gender Research perpetuates her memory.

  • Dame Roma Mitchell AC, DBE, CVO, QC1913 – 2000

    A powerful advocate, Dame Roma Mitchell achieved many firsts: the first woman barrister in Australia to be appointed a Queen's Counsel and the first woman to be appointed to an Australian Superior Court, becoming a Supreme Court judge in 1965. In 1983 she was the first woman to become Chancellor of a major university, serving as the University's Chancellor from 1983 to 1990. In 1991 she was appointed state Governor, Australia's first woman vice regal representative.

    Roma was recognised as the most outstanding student of the year when she graduated with a Bachelor of Laws in 1934. She helped form the Women's Law Students' Society after being barred from joining existing societies.

  • Robyn Archer AO, Professor Susan Sheridan FAHA
    & Professor Susan Magarey AM FASSA

    Robyn Archer (BA Hons) is a singer, performer, writer, arts advocate and exponent of classical European cabaret, who twice directed the Adelaide Festival of Arts.

    Susan Sheridan FAHA (PhD in English) was the founding Reviews Editor of Australian Feminist Studies. She has published widely on women’s writing, feminist cultural studies and Australian cultural history.

    Susan Magarey FASSA, Director of the Research Centre for Women’s Studies (1983 – 2000) founded Australian Feminist Studies which she edited for its first 20 years. A graduate of Adelaide, she is a prize-winning biographer and distinguished historian who established the Magarey Medal for Biography.

  • Professor Irene Watson

    The University's first Aboriginal person to graduate with a Bachelor of Laws (1985), Irene subsequently gained a LLM (1993) and PhD (2000), winning the Bonython Law Prize for best PhD.

    Irene's work has made a significant impression on legal practice in respect of centering an Indigenous perspective in law reform. In 2015 she published Aboriginal Peoples, Colonialism and International Law: Raw Law, the first work to assess the legality and impact of colonisation from the viewpoint of Aboriginal law.

    Irene belongs to the Tanganekald and Meintangk First Nations Peoples whose country lies across the Coorong and the south east of South Australia. Before becoming a Research Professor of Law at the University of South Australia she taught at the Adelaide Law School.

  • Yvonne Clark MPsych (Clin)

    Yvonne Clark is of Kokatha descent from South Australia. She graduated with a Masters in Clinical Psychology (1997) and she has since gained extensive experience as a psychologist working with Aboriginal children, youth, families and community in Families SA and in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in Adelaide.

    Currently Yvonne works as a lecturer in the School of Psychology where she also conducts research and supervision. She has a focus on improving systematic approaches that enable Indigenous curriculum development and on assisting Indigenous students to become qualified in the field of Psychology.

  • Dr Ines Atmosukarto

    Ines Atmosukarto is an internationally recognised research scientist working to find new treatments for cancer and infectious diseases. She currently serves as Chief Executive Officer of Lipotek Pty Ltd, a research company developing platform technologies for novel vaccines.

    Aided by various scholarships, Ines came from Indonesia to complete a Bachelor of Science with first class honours in Biochemistry (1995) and a PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology (2001). She has won many awards: the 2004 L’Oreal UNESCO Fellowship for Young Women in Science; the 2009 Australian Alumni Award for Research and Innovation and the 2012 ‘Anugerah Iptek’ Science and Technology Award presented by the President of Indonesia.

  • Hon Julia Gillard

    Julia Gillard was Australia’s 27th, and first female, Prime Minister (2010 – 2013) and Deputy Prime Minister (2007 – 2010). She commenced a combined Bachelor of Arts/Law at the University of Adelaide and served as the President of University Union.

    Following her departure from politics, Ms Gillard re-joined the University community as an Honorary Visiting Professor. Ms Gillard serves as Chair of the Global Partnership for Education, a leading organization dedicated to expanding access and quality education worldwide, and is a non-resident Distinguished Senior Fellow with the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution in Washington.


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