Bella Guerin

Bella Guerin was the first woman to graduate from an Australian university.

Honour Roll

Bella Guerin was born on 23 April 1858, at Williamstown, Victoria. She studied at home to matriculate in 1878, and then gained her Bachelor of Arts in 1883, followed by a Master of Arts in 1885.

She taught at Loreto Convent, Ballarat, urging the establishment of higher education scholarships to produce 'a band of noble thoughtful women as a powerful influence for good'. She married an elderly poet, Henry Halloran, who died shortly afterwards leaving her with a young son, Henry.

She returned to teaching and from the mid-1890s frequented suffragist circles. A second marriage in 1909 to George D'Arcie Lavender was also short lived. Bella Guerin was vice-president of the Women's Political Association from 1912-14 and co-authored Vida Goldstein's 1913 Senate election pamphlet.

However, dual membership of the non-party feminist camp and Labor Party organisations proved untenable, so from 1914 she campaigned for Victorian Socialist parties and the Women's League of Socialists, speaking out on a range of controversial social issues. She led the Labor Women's Anti-Conscription Fellowship campaign during the 1916 referendum.

In 1918, as vice-president of the Labor Party's Women's Central Organising Committee she caused controversy by describing Labor women as 'performing poodles and packhorses' who were used for fundraising but under-represented in policy decisions. But she was right.

Bella died in Adelaide on 26 July 1923, of cirrhosis of the liver and is remembered for her idealism, her oratory skill and her commitment to equity for women.