History Happens Here

At the University of Adelaide, we’ve made a habit of breaking new ground. We were our state’s first university. The first in Australia to admit women to all our degree courses on an equal basis to men. The first to offer degrees in science and business. And the first to establish a conservatorium of music.

In recent times, that spirit of innovation has only grown stronger. For example:

  • we were one of only three universities in the world to be involved in each of the following major scientific discoveries: gravitational waves; the Higgs boson elementary particle; and a celestial source of high-energy neutrinos
  • we’re currently co-leading creation of the world’s first definitive legal text on conflict in space
  • our photonics and advanced sensing researchers have created the world’s most precise timepiece, known as the Sapphire Clock
  • in each of the past two years, we’ve had a young researcher recognised in MIT Technology Review’s prestigious Innovators Under 35 list for the Asia Pacific; we were the only Australian university represented in 2020, and in 2019 we were one of just two.

By making history we shape the future. And we’ve only just begun.


The University of Adelaide was founded in 1874 with two complementary goals: to prepare new generations of leaders who were distinguished and shaped by education, not birth or wealth; and to challenge societal norms that hindered progress or reinforced inequality. We soon succeeded.

  • 1881: First Australian university to admit women to all our degree courses on an equal basis to men. 
  • 1882: First Australian university to offer science degrees.
  • 1900: First Australian university to establish a music conservatorium, Chair of Music, and Doctor of Music postgraduate qualification.
  • 1902: First Australian university to offer tertiary education in business.

Developing generations of history makers

Our alumni have also embodied our spirit of history making. We proudly count among them:

  • five Nobel Laureates, accounting for almost a third of Australia’s 16 total recipients
  • over 100 Rhodes Scholars, including our country’s first Indigenous Australian recipient
  • one of Australia’s most revered Antarctic explorers, Sir Douglas Mawson, OBE, who was a Professor of Geology and Mineralogy here for 31 years
  • Australia’s first female prime minister, the Hon. Julia Gillard, AC
  • professional astronaut and first Australian to walk in space, Andy Thomas, AO.

Another of our alumni, the remarkable Dame Roma Mitchell, AC, DBE, CVO, QC became Australia’s first female Queen's Counsel, Supreme Court judge, university chancellor and state governor.

The University of Adelaide Library's Special Collections and Archives preserves the historical records of the University from the time of its establishment. If you would like to access the records, please contact the University Library Special Collections team for assistance.

Black & white photograph of Union Cloisters with students gathered in 1955.

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The University of Adelaide's special collections play a vital role in research, teaching, learning, and community engagement. Delve into the collections and uncover archival records, museum objects, personal papers, cultural & scientific artefacts, photographs, rare books and visual art.