Our Gender Equity History

In 2019 South Australia marked the 125th anniversary of one of the earliest movements towards gender equality – after many years of campaigning, letter writing, signature gathering and lobbying, South Australian women were given the right to vote in general elections. South Australia was the first state in Australia to pass such a legislation, which also enabled women to stand as members of Parliament.

To mark this milestone, the University of Adelaide has refreshed its campus banners at our North Terrace campus to feature women associated with the University who have blazed the trail for gender equality.
The University also held an event showcasing our pioneering female alumni, staff and students, as well as promoting our proud record of inclusion as the first university in Australia, and among the first in the world, to admit women to all of our degree programs. 

Celebrating our women

The Hon. Amanda Vanstone Former Senator, Minister and Ambassador to Italy
Annie Montgomerie Martin Teacher of the University’s early graduates and member of the Women’s Suffrage League
Professor Emerita Fay Gale AO The University’s first woman professor and senior executive
The Hon. Julie Bishop Australia’s First Female Foreign Affairs Minister
Lillian Staple Mead University graduate and women’s suffrage petition signatory
The Hon. Margaret Nyland AM Judge, royal commissioner and football pioneer
Miriam Hyde OBE AO International concert pianist, composer and music educator at the Elder Conservatorium
Senator The Hon. Penny Wong A leader in the Senate
Dr Robyn Archer AO FAHA Arts icon and advocate
Moya Dodd Women’s sports equality advocate
Dame Nancy Buttfield DBE First female parliamentarian in South Australia
Ellen Benham First woman academic at the University of Adelaide
Professor Tanya Monro First female Chief Defence Scientist
Dr Leanna Read First Female Chief Scientist for South Australia
The Hon. Catherine Branson AC QC First woman in Australia to be appointed a Crown Solicitor
The Hon. Robyn Layton AO QC Champion of human rights and social justice
Hon Anne Levy AO First female presiding officer of any Australian parliament
Dr Niki Vincent South Australia’s Equal Opportunity Commissioner
Professor Denise Bradley AC Advocate for equity in education
Dr Claudia Paul Indigenous Rhodes Scholar
The Hon. Julia Gillard AC Australia’s first female prime minister
Minnietta Maughan University student and women’s suffrage petition signatory
Edith Dornwell First female graduate and first science graduate of the University of Adelaide
The Hon. Vickie Chapman MP South Australia’s first woman Deputy Premier and Attorney-General
Dame Roma Mitchell Australia’s first female Supreme Court Judge
Rosamund Agnes Benham Medical graduate and women’s suffrage petition signatory
Dr Helen Mayo OBE Australia’s first female university councillor
The Proud Sisters Advocates for women’s rights and education
Jane Sarah Stanes University student and women’s suffrage campaigner
Rebecca Richards First Indigenous Rhodes Scholar
Natasha Stott Despoja AO Youngest woman to enter federal parliament and youngest person to lead a political party
Dr Andrea Mason OAM Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice campaigner
Caitlyn Georgeson LGBTIQ advocate
Professor Irene Watson First indigenous person in South Australia to graduate with a Bachelor of Laws
Mary Tenison Woods OBE CBE First woman to graduate in law at the University of Adelaide
Olga Fudge First Indigenous student at the University of Adelaide
Dr Laura Fowler First woman medical graduate at the University of Adelaide
Professor Caroline McMillen Chief Scientist for South Australia
Dr Anne Summers AO Founding member of the women’s liberation movement
Pam Dunsford First woman admitted to Roseworthy Agriculture College
Kimberly Becker Women in STEM advocate
Dianne Davidson AM Deputy Chancellor, University Council member and agricultural scientist
Carolyn Hewson AO Economist and advocate for gender equity
Dr Barbara Kidman Physicist, computer scientist and philanthropist
Frances Adamson First female Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Sally Smith World-leading researcher in soil plant interactions

Women contribute to the University as students, as academics, and as professional staff. Some of these women have achieved great academic and personal honours while others, whose stories have been unsung, have developed and maintained important services that have kept the University running.

In 2016, as part of International Women’s Day, the University’s gender, equity and diversity committee and University Collections launched the Diversifying Portraiture initiative.

The goal of this initiative was to upgrade the public spaces and symbolism associated with the University to promote a more diverse and inclusive environment.

Diversifying Portraiture is an annual series of photographic posters including an image and biographical details of eminent women associated with public and academic life at the University.  If you would like to make a suggestion of women to consider in future series please contact the Director of University Collections.


Pictured: Edith Emily Dornwell


Pictured: Olga Fudge


Pictured: Barbara Kidman

Peruse our collection of news articles, op-eds and policy briefs on the gendered impacts of COVID-19 organised under four main categories: