Established 30 May 1923

	  saawg history

A Brief History and Overview of Who We Are


The South African Association of Women Graduates was formed only four years after the establishment of the International Federation (IFUW).  South Africa was the 13th country to join the Federation.  Initially known as SAAUW (The South African Association of University Women), in 1977 it adopted the name SAAWG (The South African Association of Women Graduates) to include all women who had graduated from a tertiary institution.

News of the developments overseas had been circulating in South Africa and had been discussed by a number of women graduates in this country; Dr Stoneman, a distinguished botanist and pioneer of women’s education who, in 1921, had been appointed President of the Huguenot Seminary (later the Huguenot University College and the only women’s college in the country), called a meeting on 30 May 1923 at Huguenot in Wellington just outside of Cape Town. The Association held its first Annual General Meeting in the Hiddingh Hall, Cape Town, on 9 January 1924.  


The Cape Town Branch was established on 23 May 1924 by Dr Marie Grant, shortly thereafter the Johannesburg branch was formed with Ms Marie Williams as its first President. On 17 June 1924 The Durban branch started under Dr Katherine McNeill, quickly followed by the Pretoria branch.  

1934 saw the start of the Pietermaritzburg branch (Dr Ferguson); 1948 the Port Elizabeth branch was formed as was the Stellenbosch branch in 1954 with the Grahamstown branch following in 1955.  In 1963 the Bloemfontein Branch was formed under Dr Emilia Krause.  

In 1974, 1975 and 1976 the George, the East London and then the Queenstown branches were established by Dr AJ Guillarmod of the Grahamstown Branch. The Alice Branch followed in 1980 as did the Transkei Branch in 1990.  Unfortunately, in 2012, only the Cape Town and the Johannesburg branches are still active.


The status of South African women has received ongoing attention.

Discrimination by law against women in the 1930s was highlighted by one of our most illustrious members, Dr Margaret Ballinger.  In 1933 another member, Ms Reitz, became the MP for Parktown and in 1937 drew attention in Parliament to the legal disabilities of women;  this issue was consistently worked on by our Association in order to effect redress. 

In 1943, yet another member, Advocate Bertha Solomon, introduced a Bill on the Equal Guardianship of Children;  she then was forced to introduce a Private Bill to give women a share in the guardianship of their children.  The Bill which emerged from her efforts was immediately called “Bertha se Wet” and became law as The Matrimonial Affairs Act No 37 of 1953.

A more recent focus

In the early 1980s comments were submitted to three committees investigating the status of women:

The Parliamentary Select Committee on the Matrimonial Property Bill, 1982 –The National Manpower Commission Ad Hoc Committee on the Legal Position of Domestic and Agricultural Workers  – The Law Commission Enquiry into Legislation Concerning Sexual Offences Against Women.

In 1987 correspondence was forwarded to the South African Law Commission regarding the proposed Bill of Rights.  In 1991 a message was sent to the State President requesting him “to include representatives of women’s organisations in the deliberations leading to the drafting and negotiations of a new Constitution for South Africa”.

In the early 1990s, when a women’s movement began to emerge in South Africa in the form of the Women’s National Coalition (WNC), Doris Ravenhill represented the Association on the WNC steering committee.  She later edited their Charter for the Effective Equality of Women which was used as a reference on gender rights in forming the new South African Constitution.  Other members participated in this Coalition in their own areas.


Education has remained a priority concern.  Various projects and activities have been undertaken over the years. The Association has also collected data and compiled reports on important educational and other matters. Environmental education and advocacy has continued.


IFUW and SAAWG interaction

SAAWG has submitted information to IFUW over many years. Reports relating to IFUW Triennium Study and Action Programmes have been submitted.  As recently as 2001, a National project gathered information on the theme of “Being Female In South Africa”.   The completed report was presented at the IFUW Conference held in Ottawa, Canada, by the National Project Leader, Judith Cornelissen, and Hazel Bowen, then National President.  Copies were sent to the Office on the Status of Women: Office of the President, to the Minister of Education, to the Office of the Director-General Department of Social Development, and to the Institute of Ageing in South Africa at the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town.

A recent national colloquium was held (June 2012) on “Overcoming Barriers for women in leadership in Higher Education”.  A report was compiled and widely distributed.  The South African report will form part of an IFUW International Report on the same topic.


SAAWG had assisted in the formation of the Zimbabwean Association.  In 1993 SAAWG became a founder member of the Federation of University Women of Africa. (FUWA), and in January 2000 the South African Association hosted in Cape Town the second FUWA Conference where a formal constitution was adopted and an IFUW Conflict Resolution workshop was run.  An IFUW manual was developed out of this workshop. 



The National Executive has organised a number of outstanding conferences at which papers are presented by people from a wide spectrum of disciplines.  These tie in with IFUW themes and are seen as mentoring opportunities.  In 2001 the Association was proud to hold an Awards Evening when 26 women were honoured for their contributions to research in South Africa.  Most were nominated by their institutions but SAAWG used the occasion to nominate three of its own members. Other topics have ranged from “Women as Agents of Change” ), “Drop-outs at School & Tertiary Level – What is happening to our girls?”, “Science and Society at the Crossroads”, Humanising Globalisation – Empowering Women” and many others.



In 1988 an extremely successful International Convention on Women, Leadership and Development was hosted by the SAAWG, the Pretoria and Tshwane Soroptimists and the SA Federation of Business and Professional Women (our 65th year).  In 2003 a publication, A Tinge of Blue, was produced in celebration of our 80th anniversary and an IFUW Friendship was organized – this was a 15 day tour of South Africa, and proved most successful and enjoyable.  Another conference (and the resultant publication) is currently being arranged for May 2013 to celebrate 90 years.


An essay competition, an annual lecture series, and two branch mentorship programmes are current activities.  The mentorship programmes provide educational interventions for young schoolgirls in academic literacy and life orientation.  The mentorship has also included academic writing workshops for undergraduates and for postgraduate students. 


Most of our bursary awards have continued over many years (1932 onwards) – the Student Aid Fund has been wonderfully augmented by a bequest.  The Student Aid awards are presented to female undergraduate students nominated by their educational institutions.  Applications are received directly by the Bursary Fellowship secretariat for our other small bursaries made nationally.  Each branch has, in addition, its own awards and bursaries.


The Association has co-operated with other women’s organisations to overcome political, economic and legal discrimination against women and to improve the scope of their education.  Much of this has been done as National projects but the branches have had excellent schemes of their own.  In 2012 SAAWG has joined the Alliance for Rural Democracy in opposing the Traditional Courts Bill.

Communication systems

SAAWG has developed its own website (  We have begun using Facebook and Linked-in, which will further be explored along with Twitter in order to attract younger members.  We still publish our Annual Journal (this has been in existence since the 1930’s and has proven to be a wonderful “archive” of information, a way of showcasing what the association is currently doing (both for members and prospective members), a way of highlighting regular information on IFUW activities as well as a vehicle to publish articles by our members – and we regard this as an essential part of our mentorship. 

  • As mentioned above, mentorship is our main focus and two programmes will continue offering academic intervention as well as life skills and personal development.
  • A number of points were raised during the Colloquium on “Overcoming Barriers for women in Leadership”.  A newspaper article has been published and women at various universities are keen that actions are taken forward.
  • The National Conference in May 2013 will be both a celebratory 90th anniversary event of the gains made by South African women over the decades as well as an opportunity to highlight areas which need to be currently addressed
  • More marketing will be undertaken so that young women students become more aware of our association.  A successful bid for the 2016 IFUW conference would certainly stimulate this profile raising.

November 2012