The provision of postgraduate Fellowships to women has been a way of expressing the long held aims of women graduate associations worldwide to encourage educated women to improve their skills and their contribution to a better world, and promote better understanding between women of different nations. These objectives were enunciated at the first International Federation of University Women (IFUW) in London in 1920 and by the University of Queensland Women Graduates Association (UQWGA) at its inaugural meeting in the same year. In 1922, UQWGA linked together with similar organizations in other States as the Australian Federation of University Women (AFUW), that in turn affiliated with IFUW.
Despite the changing demands of a country in the 20th century, the provision of fellowships and scholarships to women graduates has always been important to UQWGA (later renamed Australian Federation of University Women - Queensland (AFUWQ), now Graduate Women Qld Inc.) and associated organizations. Initially funds were contributed to fellowships offered by international and national associations and as early as 1930 a fellowship fund was established, became dormant during the Great Depression and World World II and was revived in 1948. Fund-raising for these took many and varied forms and was supported by voluntary contributions from members.
It was in the early 60s that the business of academic dress hiring commenced when the then principal of Women's College of the University of Queensland, Molly Budtz-Olsen, with the help of friends borrowed gowns to ensure students attended graduation ceremonies. Eventually the operation grew in size and Molly Budtz-Olsen offered AFUW-Q the opportunity to provide this service.
In February 1963 The University of Queensland asked graduate women to hire regalia to its students for the Matriculation ceremony. AFUW-Q members saw this both as a means of supporting educational opportunities for women, and at the same time a way to provide a much-needed service to their alma mater. It accorded with their strong beliefs that the provision of educational opportunities for women was the best contribution they could make. For this first ceremony in 1963 the hire charge was five shillings a gown. The first graduation was robed in May in the same year and this work continued over more than 50 years. Eventually the enterprise grew in size and complexity to such an extent that it was considered prudent to separately incorporate this work as FFI in 1983.
FFI continued the business of Academic Dress Hire until 2017 when a number of commercial operators entered the field and changes in technology offered institutions a different way of running graduation ceremonies with imported, souvenir quality gowns and computerised procedures. This made the high quality regalia, requiring dry-cleaning and high maintenance costs, held by FFI redundant and The Fellowships Fund withdrew from the business of regalia hire and sale in late 2017.
Because of the shoestring budget and low administrative costs, proceeds from gown hiring built up gradually over the years. From an initial amount of $2,000 awarded to a single graduate in 1972, the number of Fellowships has increased so that several new one-year and one three-year Fellowships can be awarded each year. Fellowships are now funded from investment gradually saved from the surplus of the regalia business. The stipend is set at 10% more than the APG Awards and increases in line with that award. Since 1972 AFUWQ and FFI have, together, awarded over 200 Fellowships.
Our Fellowships have been awarded to women graduates from more than ten countries, and have supported studies in a wide range of disciplines, for example: marine biology, architecture, law, literature, radiography, mathematics, social work, archaeology, economics, molecular biology, management, music, information technology and performing arts.