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22 June 2016

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Dame Leonie Kramer

St Hugh’s College Alumna, Dame Leonie Kramer (née Gibson) has sadly passed away.

It is with deep sadness that College has learnt of the passing of St Hugh’s Alumna, Honorary Fellow and Senior Member, Dame Leonie Kramer, on 20th April 2016. Dame Leonie came up to St Hugh’s College in 1949, graduating as a Doctor of Philosophy in 1953. A former Tutorial Fellow at St Hugh’s whilst studying for her postgraduate degree, she had an illustrious career, first becoming a lecturer and later an associate professor in English at the University of New South Wales.

In 1968 she became the first female professor of English in Australia when she was appointed Professor of Australian Literature at the University of Sydney. This was just the first of her many groundbreaking appointments. She was the first woman to be appointed the Chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 1982. She went on to become the Deputy Chancellor of the University of Sydney from 1989–91 and subsequently the Chancellor from 1991-2001, again becoming the first woman to hold the position.

Dame Leonie received a number of honours and accolades during her life. She was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1976, then becoming a Dame Commander of the Order in 1982. She was the recipient of the inaugural Britannica Award in 1986, which she received in recognition of the “dissemination of learning for the benefit of mankind”. 1993 saw her appointed as a Companion of the Order of Australia awarded in a similar fashion for her “service to Australian literature, to education and to the community”.

She also received several honorary degrees: a Doctor of Literature from the University of Tasmania; Doctor of Law from the University of Melbourne and the Australian National University; and Doctor of Letters by the University of Sydney in 2009.

Her career saw Dame Leonie serve on a number of public bodies, including the Secondary Schools Board (1976–82) and the Universities Council (1977–86). She also served as a senior fellow of the Institute of Public Affairs (1988–96) and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Institute of Dramatic Art (1987–92).

She was often acknowledged for her devotion to intellectual integrity and individual freedom, including by those whose opinions sometimes differed from her own. She was a respected publisher, especially in the field of Australian literature, and has written definitive works on the writing of James McAuley as well as Henry Handel Richardson (nom de plume of Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson).

A woman of great resolve and determination who broke through many glass ceilings in a long and distinguished life, Dame Leonie Kramer, who is survived by her two children and two grandchildren. St Hugh’s is immensely proud of her outstanding life.


The photograph is of Dame Leonie Kramer in the Great Hall of the University of Sydney addressing new students during Orientation Week, 1991. The image is provided courtesy of the University of Sydney Archives – G77_1_2335

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