End of an era as two university groups for women close

3 December 2018

Two ANU groups for women that have been important in campus life for a combined 119 years, closed their books earlier in the month, recognising both the gracious ageing of their members and the changing roles of women in university and community life.

The Ladies Drawing Room (LDR) and the ANU Club for Women (CFW) were established by the wives of successive Vice-Chancellors: Mary Melville convened the first meeting of the LDR of University House in 1956; Molly Huxley convened the first meeting of the CFW in 1961.

The purposes of the two groups were complementary and their memberships overlapped. Each was established to provide a social forum for its members, in an era when employment and childcare opportunities for women spouses were very limited. The LDR was established soon after University House was founded, in part through the urging of Dr Germaine Joplin, a foundation member of its Board.

The LDR retained a primarily social purpose throughout its 62 years, reflecting its genesis at a time when the social milieu of Canberra was very limited. Throughout its history, it met in what is now the Drawing Room of University House.

The CFW focused particularly on welcoming and supporting women who were new to Canberra and the ANU. It continued this focus on support for women throughout its 57 years, with a range of activities and an ongoing commitment to supporting women and families of staff and graduate students. The CFW had a somewhat nomadic existence, meeting successively over its first 20 years in Bruce Hall, the Childers St Hall, the Old Hospital Buildings (now RSPH), at 20 Balmain Crescent. From 1981 the group then met in what soon became the Molly Huxley Room of University House, in honour of the Club's founder; and, for the past few years, at the Emeritus Faculty. 

Each group contributed to the University in a range of ways beyond their immediate purpose: the LDR in funding and gifting artwork to University House; and the CFW for Women in generous annual donations to student hardship funds, culminating in the gift of its remaining reserves for that purpose.

Pro Vice-Chancellor (University Experience) Professor Richard Baker paid tribute to the women's groups at the final LDR lunch.

"I'd just like to acknowledge the wonderful work the groups have done for so long," Professor Baker said.

"The groups have made a real difference and I think they're part of the legacy of my job in providing hopefully an amazing student and staff experience on this campus."

Professor Baker said each group continued a tradition of tens of thousands of years of women meeting on this country, and that his own family links to each group were typical of those of generations of ANU-affiliated Canberrans.

He also reflected on the institutional and social changes since the groups' establishment, and the work that the University is doing around gender equity and other initiatives that bring about a more inclusive environment for women.

The Convenor of the LDR, Dr Louise Moran, said the group's gatherings formed an important part of their members' lives in a young Canberra that had limited social networks.

"This became their place where they made friends. They found other women with other similar or different intellectual interests. They created what I would argue is the culture and the communities of the University and of Canberra," Dr Moran said.

"It's a graceful moment to finish, I think. These women have been and few of them still are ... at the centre of the University's history and they created, in my view, the essence of what it is to be ANU.

"The friendships have gone across the research schools, the undergraduate and postgraduate divides across subject areas and they're what the ANU has been all about."

The LDR's former Convenor Mrs Glenda Richards said the closure of the women's groups was "indicative of the generation and of social change".

"It is more the case now that the original need for a group such as this doesn't exist anymore," she said.

At the Club for Women's final gathering, President Pam McDougall reflected that founder, Molly Huxley, "envisaged that the Club would provide practical and social support to members" and that it had indeed done so, in the spirit of "the considerable energy" that Molly personified.

Master of University House, Professor Peter Kanowski, said each of the group's legacies would continue to be seen at the House and felt by the generations they had supported.

"It is a bitter-sweet time for these two groups, concluding an early phase of ANU history," he said.

"But the regular social gatherings the groups catalysed continue in other forms, such as our members' morning teas at University House. We look forward to these women, who have played such an important in building the broader university community we now have, continuing to join us in that community."