St Hilda’s College was established as a result of the inspiration of Dr E.H. Sugden, the first Master of Queen’s College, who in 1888, at the Official Opening of Queen’s, stated: “I hope we soon have a hostel for women in these grounds”.
Between 1888 and 1957 there were a number of attempts to establish a residential college to provide for the needs of the increasing numbers of young Methodist and Presbyterian women who were coming to Melbourne to undertake tertiary study. However it was not until 1957 when a provisional council was established and then 1959 when a group of church and university women began a fundraising campaign that the idea started to become a reality. Early in this successful attempt, Queen’s College donated the land on which St Hilda’s now stands, an area to the west of the Queen’s buildings then known affectionately as the “cow paddock”. This donation facilitated the development of the much discussed college - land was available, only money was now required.
Mrs Marjorie Smart was invited to take up the position of Principal, and with her background in academia and the diplomatic service showed herself to be ideally suited to be the foundation principal of a fledgling college. Building commenced in September 1962, and by March 1964 the first students arrived to take up residence with over 250 students applying for the initial 87 places available.
Although initially established as a college for women, when all colleges were single-sex residences, St Hilda’s was the first at The University of Melbourne to become co-educational, in 1973. A fitting tribute to its namesake, St Hilda, who is believed to have run the first co-educational abbey in the English town now known as Whitby, in the years around 663AD.
A Statute granting affiliation with The University of Melbourne was passed in 1960 and a public appeal was launched under the patronage of Dame Pattie Menzies and the chairmanship of Sir Charles Lowe. The money raised in this appeal, together with grants from the Commonwealth and State Governments, made it possible to complete the first phase of the College building by the beginning of 1964.
An extract from the speech of the Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Menzies at the
Official Opening of St. Hilda’s College on 11 April, 1964 -
…the residential college presents itself at once as something quite outstanding, and as something of a particular nature. I think that perhaps too many of us imagine that education is something that is got in the class rooms, in lecture rooms, in tutorial classes and that the whole business is to learn from the teacher, or lecturer or Professor or from paper, from notes circulated, from books prescribed. Now of course all of these things are essential to learning, but one of the great things that has come to be realised over the centuries is that students learn from each other and that they are going to live in a human world full of human problems…(students) learn by contact – by having their spirits stimulated.
(Taken from The University of Melbourne Gazette, 10 July 1964)