Woman Sweet, Georgina

Internationalist, Philanthropist and Scientist

Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Georgina Sweet was born in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick in 1875, the elder of two daughters of tile company owner and keen amateur geologist, George Sweet and his wife, Fanny. After completing her secondary education at a ladies college, she enrolled at the University of Melbourne, proceeding through to become Australia's first Doctor of Science in 1904. Her research won national and international acclaim both because of its content and because it was done by a woman (Sydney Mail, 24 May 1911). Appointed to the University staff she rose to the position of acting Professor in 1916, but was passed over when the chair became vacant in 1919.

Ill health forced Sweet to reduce her work commitments from 1921 and she retired completely in 1924. Independently wealthy following her father's death, Sweet was a generous donor of both her money and her time to a range of university and community organisations, and travelled extensively to attend international conferences. An activist for women's rights both within and beyond the university, she was the first woman elected to the University Senate in 1936, and was also a key supporter of the new University Women's College, for which she had campaigned for almost twenty years. She was a foundation member of the Victorian Women Graduates' Association and its representative on national and international organisations. From 1927-34 she served as Australian president of the Young Women's Christian Association, and was elected international vice-president at the end of her term. She was also a founder and the international President of the Pan-Pacific Women's Organisation.

Sweet explained her leadership is such organisations as not simply feminist but as a way to 'show the world woman's ability to play her part in solving international problems' (West Australian (Perth, 20 January 1937). She was credited with having an 'intensely active personality endowed with a quick perception and a gentle voice, attributes that make her a power in the training and direction of younger folk' (Daily News, 16 January 1930). It was in her individual abilities rather than her gender that she grounded her right to speak. While she welcomed the greater representation of women in public life, she argued that 'the determining factor is not whether it is a man or woman in any position or office, but which is the best in any particular case' (Brisbane Courier, 26 June 1929). However, she believed that University educated women had a particular responsibility to take a leadership role (Register (Adelaide, 8 June 1925) but she urged them not to compete with men but rather to recognise 'that there are certain limitations which bar a woman's capacity in some directions ... The girl who stops to think will realise the value of these natural laws ... [and] find that, by observing them, she will be much stronger and freer to develop along her own lines' (Advertiser and Register, 29 April 1931).

Awarded the OBE in 1935, Sweet died in 1946. Her considerable estate was distributed amongst University, church and charitable organisations. She is remembered in a wing of University Women's College, fellowship awarded by the Australian Federation of Graduate Women and several scholarships at the University of Melbourne all of which were funded from her estate (Argus, 16 February 1946).

Archival Resources

The University of Melbourne Archives

  • Sweet, Georgina (1875-1946), 1898 - 1948, 1992.0172; The University of Melbourne Archives. Details

Published Resources


  • Paisley, Fiona, Glamour in the Pacific: Cultural Internationalism and Race Politics in the Women's Pan-Pacific, 3rd edn, University of Hawai’I Press, Honolulu, United States of America, 2009. Details

Journal Articles

Newspaper Articles

Online Resources