Georgina Sweet

Georgina Sweet (1875-1946), zoologist and philanthropist, was born at Brunswick, Melbourne, on 22 January 1875, daughter of Fanny (born Dudman) and George Sweet. Her father, an industrialist and amateur geologist, encouraged her to take up science. She was educated at Parkville Ladies' College and at the University of Melbourne where she graduated BSc (1896), MSc (1898) and, for her work on Nororyctes, the Australian marsupial 'mole', DSc (1904); and where she pioneered the entrance of women into several areas hitherto occupied only by men.

Her postgraduate work was in the Biology Department under Prof. Baldwin Spencer to whom she was devoted and who considered her among the best students he had ever had. From 1896, while pursuing her researches, she taught in several of Melbourne's leading schools, and served on the Council of The Association of Secondary Teachers (1905-12). She also demonstrated to students in biology at the University (from 1898), was lecturer in biology at Queen's College (1901-08) and had a paper read before the Linnean Society of London (1900). From 1909, she was lecturer and demonstrator in the Biology Department, and lecturer in parasitology in the Veterinary Faculty. In 1911 she won the Syme Prize for her work on worm-nodules in cattle and, while on study leave in 1913-14, she undertook an enquiry for the federal government into worm- nodules in cattle overseas. On T. S. Hall's death, she became second- in-command in the Biology Department, and during Spencer's absence for five months in 1916-17, became the first woman in Australia to act as professor. When Spencer retired in 1919, Sweet was unsuccessful in her application for the chair but in 1920 she became the first woman associate professor in the University. Her health deteriorated during the 1920s and she virtually retired from Zoology in 1924 and resigned from all formal teaching in 1926; though as an honorary lecturer she still gave some lectures.

From the beginning, Sweet had taken an active part in almost all sides of University life. She served on the Science, Veterinary (acting-dean 1924) and Agriculture Faculties for many years. She was on the Council of the Graduates Association, on the executive committees of the Science Club and the women students' club, she gave popular lectures on scientific subjects for the University Extension Board and was honorary secretary of the University union in 1912, when it was established in the new Union House. Although she did not see herself as one of the 'new women', she was always a vigorous supporter of women's rights. She pushed to have women admitted to the University Senate, and for seventeen years was president of the provisional council which worked for the establishment of the University Women's College, which she served for the rest of her life. In 1937, elected by fellow graduates, she became the first woman member of the Council of the University.

Sweet was equally energetic outside the University and became involved in national and international affairs as well as professional bodies. She was for many years an active member, often office bearer, of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Society of Victoria, the Field Naturalists Club, and the Lyceum Club. She worked for the local YWCA, for seven years as president, and was appointed a vice-president of the World YWCA in 1934. She was an active member of the Victorian Women Graduates' Association, and sometime delegate to the Australian body, and to the Council of the International Federation of University Women. In the early 1930s she was president of the Pan-Pacific Women's Association. In 1935, when she was awarded the OBE, representatives of more than 20 organisations in which she was involved gathered to congratulate her. Her contemporaries stressed her generosity, her hospitality, especially to newcomers from overseas, and her ready but unobtrusive and helpful kindness. Her greatest recreation was travelling. Her journeys included a trek through Africa from the Cape to Cairo with Jessie Webb, and extensive travel in East Asia. She had deeply-held religious beliefs and belonged to the Methodist Church. She died on 1 January 1946.

Monica MacCallum