‘A magnificent bunch of women’: The International House Auxiliaries

International House Collection

For more than sixty years, a group of women worked as volunteers to raise money for Melbourne’s International House. They cooked; sewed; wrote letters; and organised fêtes, films, and fashion parades. Some of these women’s names were not recorded; others were known only by their husbands’ names. Yet without them, Melbourne’s International House might never have come about.

The University of Melbourne’s International House (IH) was the first residence of its type in Australia. Following the model of the world’s first International House in New York, Melbourne’s IH aimed to ease some of the housing problems faced by international students in the late 1940s and early 1950s. But its goals went far beyond this. International House would be a place where students from around the world could live together and learn from each other. The historian Geoffrey Blainey, writing at about the time of the opening of IH, said:

International House is probably Australia’s most tangible expression of its new consciousness of Asia.
—Geoffrey Blainey, A Centenary History of the University of Melbourne (Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 1957), 203.

A new online exhibition highlights the contributions of countless women volunteers, the International House Auxiliaries, to International House. The exhibition was created as part of a broader project, supported by the Russell and Mab Grimwade Miegunyah Fund, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of International House’s first female residents.