Roma Flinders Mitchell

The Honourable Dame, AC, DBE, CVO, QC

20 October 1913
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
5 March 2000
Governor, Judge, Lawyer and 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.'

Sources used to compile this entry: State funeral, funeral Mass for the Honourable Dame Roma Mitchell AC DBE CVO, 1912-2000, St Francis Xavier Cathedral, Adelaide, Friday 10 March, 2000, [SA Government], [Adelaide], 2000, [17] pp; Victorian Women's Roll of Honour: Women Shaping the Nation, 1 edn, Century of Federation Victoria, 2001,; 'DAME ROMA MITCHELL', in Australians, Behind the News, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2002,; Faith, Hope and Charity Australian Women and Imperial Honours: 1901-1989, Australian Women's Archives Project, March 2003,; Dame Roma Mitchell : Summary Record, 1903 - 1966, PRG 778; Mitchell, Roma Flinders (1913 - 2000); State Library of South Australia, Mortlock Library of South Australiana; De Vries, Susanna, The Complete Book of Great Australian Women: Thirty-six women who changed the course of Australia, HarperCollins, Sydney, 2003; Dixon, Marion, The Life of a Distaff Legal Pioneer, Western Australian Law Review, Review of Lloyd Davies, (2000) Sheila: A biography of Sheila Mary McClemans, March 2002, 259-67 pp,; Elizabeth Kwan, Living in South Australia : a social history, South Australian Government Printer, Netley, S. Aust., 1987, 2 v. (xiv, 194; xiv, 201 p.) pp; Healey, John (ed.), S.A.'s greats: the men and women of the North Terrace plaques, Historical Society of South Australia, Adelaide, 2001, 183 pp; Interview with Dame Roma Mitchell [sound recording] Interviewer: Yvonne Abbott, 1984, SRG 438/29/29; Mitchell, Roma Flinders (1913 - 2000); State Library of South Australia, Mortlock Library of South Australiana; Kerwin, Hollie and Rubenstein, Kim, 'Law', in The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia, Judith Smart and Shurlee Swain (eds), Australian Women's Archives Project, 2014,; Launch of the Barbara Hanrahan Memorial Exhibition [sound recording], 1994, OH 142/16; State Library of South Australia, Mortlock Library of South Australiana; Launch of the second stage of The Honoured Women Oral History Project [sound recording], 7 March 2000, OH 568; State Library of South Australia, Mortlock Library of South Australiana; Lofthouse, Andrea (ed.), Who's Who of Australian Women, Methuen Australia, North Ryde (NSW), 1982, 504 pp; Magarey, Susan, Dame Roma: glimpses of a glorious life, Axiom (in association w. John Bray Law Chptr Alumni Assn Univ. Adel.), [Adelaide], 2002, 366 pp; Mitchell, Roma, Dame, Conversation with Her Honour Justice Roma Mitchell [sound recording] / interviewer, Hazel de Berg., 28 February; Mitchell, Roma, Women's liberation and the law, Adult Education Board of Tasmania, [Hobart?], 1971, 17 pp; Mitchell, Roma, The web of criminal law, Australian Broadcasting Commission, Sydney, 1975, 71 pp; Mitchell, Roma, Mitchell Oration 1989 : "Looking back...looking forward"., Equal Opportunity Commission, Adelaide, 11 October, 12 pp; Mitchell, Roma, The External Affairs power in relation to United Nations Conventions, its effect upon the balance of power between Commonwealth and States, Law Society of the Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, 26 May, 30 pp; Mitchell, Susan, The matriarchs: twelve Australian women talk about their lives to Susan Mitchell., Penguin Books, Ringwood, Vic., 1987; National Council of Women of South Australia, Greater than their knowing: a glimpse of South Australian women 1836-1986, Wakefield Press, Netley, SA, 1986, 310 pp; The right to live and the right to die - Dame Roma Mitchell., 1992, ASC/Quarto/ART/1; History of Medicine Library, Royal Australasian College of Physicians; Smart, Judith and Swain, Shurlee (eds), 'Mitchell, Roma Flinders', The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia, Australian Women's Archives Project, 2 May 2014,; Victorian Women's Roll of Honour,,,

Prepared by Anne Heywood