• Entry type: Person
  • Entry ID: IMP0002

Mitchell, Roma Flinders

(1913 – 2000)
  • Born 20 October, 1913, Adelaide South Australia Australia
  • Died 5 March, 2000
  • Occupation Governor, Judge, Lawyer, Queen's Counsel


The Honourable Dame Roma Mitchell was appointed Commander of the Royal Victorian Order on 1 January 2000. During her life Dame Roma achieved a number of firsts. She was the first woman Governor of an Australian State (South Australia, 1991-1996), the first woman Chancellor of a university in Australia (University of Adelaide, 1983-1990) and the first Australian woman Queen’s Counsel (1962).


Dame Roma Mitchell’s father (Harold Mitchell) was killed in World War I. At the time her mother (Maude, née Wickham) had two children under the age of 10. Like many women of her time she had not been trained in any profession and she struggled to bring up her daughters.

Dame Roma was educated at St Aloysius College, Adelaide. She won the David Murray scholarship which enabled her to study law at the University of Adelaide, receiving her degree in 1934. Dame Roma supported the issues of equal pay for women and for women to sit on juries (legislated in 1966). She was recommended by Don Dunstan (Attorney-General SA) to be appointed a Supreme Court Judge of South Australia in 1965, the first woman to be so appointed. Dame Roma was still the only women judge of the Supreme Court in Australia when she retired after 18 years in the position in 1983, aged 70.

Dame Roma became the first woman Chancellor (1983-1990) in an Australian university when she was appointed to the position at the University of Adelaide. In all Dame Roma was associated with the university for over 60 years; first as a student and then a part-time lecturer in Matrimonial and Family Law for five years during the 1960s. In 1965 she became a member of the University Council. She was Senior Deputy Chancellor for 11 years from 1972. Dame Roma was awarded the degree of Doctor of the University for her distinguished service to the University in 1985. In January 1991 Dame Roma took up her appointment as Governor of South Australia (1991-1996). As well as being a member of the Queen Adelaide Club and Lyceum Club, Dame Roma was a member of the Council for the Order of Australia. Her interests included theatre, music and the visual arts and she was Vice-President of the Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Society (De Vries).

In her chapter on Roma Flinders Mitchell in Great Australian Women, author Susanna De Vries wrote: ‘In June 1999, [the then] Hon. Governor-General Sir William Deane unveiled a life-size bronze statue of Dame Roma “as a permanent tribute to her lifetime achievement in South Australia”. The statue stands in Prince Henry Gardens, in front of Government House on North Terrace.’



  • 2001 - 2001

    Inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women

  • 1991 - 1991

    Appointed Companion of the Order of Australia (AC)

  • 1971 - 1971

    Appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for her services to Law

  • 1991 - 1996

    Governor of South Australia (first woman Governor in Australia)

  • 1983 - 1990

    Chancellor of the University of Adelaide

  • 1965 - 1983

    First woman to be appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court of South Australia

  • 1962 - 1962

    First Australian woman appointed to the Queen’s Counsel

  • 1934 - 1934

    Admitted to the Bar

  • 1996 - 2000

    Chair of the Ministerial Board on Ageing (South Australia)

  • 1991 - 1991

    National President of the Australian Association of the Ryder-Cheshire Foundations

  • 1981 - 1990

    Member of the Council for the Order of Australia

  • 1981 - 1986

    Chairman of the Commonwealth Human Rights Commission

  • 1991 - 1991

    President of the Winston Churchill Memerial Trust

  • 1979 - 1981

    Chairman of the South Australian Parole Board

  • 1994 - 1994

    Awarded the Institution of Engineers Medal

  • 1982 - 1982

    Created Dames Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for her service to the community

Published resources

  • Edited Book
    • Who's Who of Australian Women, Lofthouse, Andrea, 1982
    • S.A.'s greats: the men and women of the North Terrace plaques, Healey, John, 2001
  • Resource
  • Book
    • Dame Roma: glimpses of a glorious life, Magarey, Susan, 2002
    • State funeral, funeral Mass for the Honourable Dame Roma Mitchell AC DBE CVO, 1912-2000, St Francis Xavier Cathedral, Adelaide, Friday 10 March, 2000, 2000
    • The matriarchs: twelve Australian women talk about their lives to Susan Mitchell., Mitchell, Susan, 1987
    • Living in South Australia : a social history, Elizabeth Kwan, 1987
    • Greater than their knowing: a glimpse of South Australian women 1836-1986, National Council of Women of South Australia, 1986
    • The Complete Book of Great Australian Women: Thirty-six women who changed the course of Australia, De Vries, Susanna, 2003
  • Sound recording
    • Conversation with Her Honour Justice Roma Mitchell [sound recording] / interviewer, Hazel de Berg., Mitchell, Roma, Dame, 1978
  • Report
    • Women's liberation and the law, Mitchell, Roma, 1971
    • Mitchell Oration 1989 : "Looking back...looking forward"., Mitchell, Roma, 1989
    • The web of criminal law, Mitchell, Roma, 1975
    • The External Affairs power in relation to United Nations Conventions, its effect upon the balance of power between Commonwealth and States, Mitchell, Roma, 1995
  • Resource Section
  • Site Exhibition
  • Review

Archival resources

  • State Library of South Australia
    • Dame Roma Mitchell : SUMMARY RECORD
    • Interview with Dame Roma Mitchell [sound recording] Interviewer: Yvonne Abbott
    • Launch of the second stage of The Honoured Women Oral History Project [sound recording]
    • Launch of the Barbara Hanrahan Memorial Exhibition [sound recording]
  • History of Medicine Library
    • The right to live and the right to die - Dame Roma Mitchell.

Related entries

  • Sponsored
    • National Foundation for Australian Women (1989 - )
  • Membership
    • National Council of Women of South Australia (1902 - )
    • Lyceum Club Adelaide Incorporated (1922 - )
    • Queen Adelaide Club (1909 - )
  • Related Women
    • Walker, Ellinor Gertrude (1893 - 1990)
    • Cameron, Annette (1920 - 2008)
    • White, Margaret J. (1943 - )
  • Related Organisations
    • Women Lawyers' Association South Australia Inc. (1998 - )