Adelaide University 2nd in world and Australia's first to admit women on equal terms in 1881

Women made up more than half the enrolments at the University of Adelaide from 1876. 

University of Adelaide, founded in 1876, was the second in the English-speaking world (after the University of London, 1878) to admit women officially on equal terms with men in 1881.

But women (making up more than half the enrolment) at the Adelaide University had studied alongside men from 1876, and were equally eligible for all academic prizes and honours.

Its first female graduate in 1885 was Edith Emily Dornwell, also the first person in Australia to receive a bachelor of science degree.

The university also graduated Australia's first female surgeon, Laura Fowler (1891) and Australia’s first woman with a doctorate in music (1918).

In 1902, Adelaide’s Helen Mayo became the first woman elected to an Australian university council. Mayo, who served on the council for 46 years, was prominent in setting up the Women’s University College of St Ann in 1939.

Nearly 50 years after graduating in law in 1934, Roma Mitchell returned to the university as chancellor – another first for Australian women. Mitchell achieved other remarkable firsts for women: QC, supreme court judge, state governor. Another graduate, Margaret White was the first female judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland.

Other prominent women graduates of the university include prime minister Julia Gillard and deputy federal Liberal Party leader and foreign minister Julie Bishop; first female president of the Australian Senate, Margaret Reid; and first female leader of an Australian political party, Janine Haines.

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