The University of Adelaide was founded in 1874 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'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. By 1882 the University had become the first in Australia to have established and gained the authority to confer science degrees. The University's first science graduate was also its first female graduate, Edith Emily Dornwell, who graduated in 1885.

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, with the curriculum evolving over time through input from industry, and the pioneering research and discovery for which Adelaide’s academics are known.

  • Making history

    The University of Adelaide has a culture of progression and a history of firsts. From our early beginnings, we set out to challenge traditions that hinder progress or reinforce inequality. Our bold, compelling vision for the future will ensure these values continue. Today, the University continues breaking new ground with firsts in health, arts, the professions, engineering and sciences.

    We respect and celebrate our glorious past, as a platform for the future. Drawing on inspiration from our founding partners, female pioneers and ground-breaking researchers. These are just a snapshot of how we’re making history:

  • A progressive institution of many 'firsts'

    Edith Emily Dornwell
    Edith Emily Dornwell

    The University of Adelaide, the first university in South Australia, has a strong reputation of ‘firsts’. Reflecting the values of the state in which it was founded, the University of Adelaide was the first university in Australia to admit women to academic courses (in 1881). The University's first science graduate was also its first female 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

    Sir William Henry Bragg
    Sir William Henry Bragg

    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.

  • The University of Adelaide archives

    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.

    Adelaide connect

    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.

    Adelaide connect