Emily Dornwell: first Adelaide Uni female graduate; Australia’s first in science in 1885

(Edith) Emily Dornwell went from the Advanced School for Girls to become Australia’s first female science graduate at Adelaide University.
Image courtesy of State Library of South Australia

(Edith) Emily Dornwell was the first woman in Australia to graduate with a science degree, and the first woman graduate and first science graduate from Adelaide University.

After her father's early death when she was 14, Dornwell won a bursary to attend the Advanced School for Girls (now Adelaide High), the only state high school in 19th Century South Australia. In 1880, she won first prize and £20 in the Exhibition for Girls exam. She matriculated in 1882 with honours in French, German, animal physiology and modern history.

Dornwell was the first woman in a bachelor of science course at Adelaide University in 1883, two years after it changed its charter to allow women students officially.
Dornwell excelled. In 1883, she received the Sir Thomas Elder Prize (a microscope) in physiology, taught by professor Edward Stirling. After graduating in 1885 with first class honours in physics and physiology, Dornwell taught mathematics, physics, Latin and physiology at her former Advanced School for Girls.

In 1887, she moved Hawthorn, Victoria, as resident teacher at the Methodist Ladies College and, in 1890, she became headmistress at the private Riviere Ladies' College in Woollhara, New South Wales. She was unsuccessful in applying for the position of principal at the new women's college at Sydney University.

Dornwell married Lionel Raymond at St Andrew’s Church, Walkerville, in 1895, and moved to Fiji where he worked for Commonwealth Sugar Refineries. When her husband's retired, Dornwell returned to Sydney where she was active in the Lyceum Club and the National Council of Women but never pursued her science qualifications.

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