1907 College of Domestic Economy founded in Melbourne

College of Domestic Economy, 1907 - Weekly Times, Melbourne

The College of Domestic Economy was founded to give women an education in domestic arts and sciences. It offered diploma courses for teachers of domestic economy and dressmaking and vocational training for the hospitality and clothing industries. The Superintendent was Miss M. Sandes, who had a diploma from the Technical College in Sydney.  In 1926, with the financial support of State Treasurer Sir William McPherson,  it became the Emily McPherson College.

The College of Domestic Economy began in a building in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, which had formerly been the Patents Office. Formally opened in 1907, the building was converted to serve its new purpose at considerable expense. The first principal of the college was Annie Mabel Sandes (later Mrs Clifton Smith). Just 25 years old at the time of her appointment, Sandes oversaw the renovation of the building and the administration of the new college, as well as teaching day and evening classes.

On 13 March 1907, The Age published the following article on the establishment of the new college. Later that month the Weekly Times also published an article, including a page of illustrations.


In the course of a few days Lady Talbot will formally open an institution the workings of which are likely to have far reaching results. For the last two or three years the Australian Institute of Domestic Economy, by means of practical talks given by experts on all sorts of subjects bearing on home management, has been rousing public interest in the necessity of forming a college.

The sympathies of the Education department were gained; and acting on expert advice Mr Bent was induced to grant the movement the sum of £1600 and a building as well. Hence the establishment of the College of Domestic Economy in Lonsdale street. Miss M. Sandes, who holds a diploma from the Technical College in Sydney, was appointed superintendent, and early in February a beginning was made with the actual working of the college. Within a few weeks it will be in full swing, and the probabilities of its resources being severely taxed are more than likely. 

The building in which the college is housed has been thoroughly reorganised in order to .meet incidental demands. It contains a capacious diningroom, a first class working kitchen, a smaller kitchen, and the necessary number of sculleries. The kitchen is lighted with three large windows and fitted in thoroughly up to date fashion. An ordinary range supplements the gas stoves, so that different kinds of firing can be negotiated by the students. The lecture room closely resembles a students’ theatre at the hospitals. The forms are arranged so that each individual has an unimpeded view of the demonstrator. A laundry with all modern appliances is already working. Upstairs, on the first floor, is a fine work room, designed for the dress making and millinery students, the superintendent’s suite and the rooms devoted to the staff being on the same floor. Above these again are the .students’ rooms. Accommodation is provided for eight resident students.

Seldom has any public institution been furnished in a more pleasing and practical manner. The furniture throughout is as simple as it is artistic, and as an example of local workmanship it could hardly be bettered. In the students’ rooms the suites are of Queensland booligum, or shebeech, a handsome wood with a close grain admirably adapted for strong furniture. The designs for each item are excellent, repousse work in copper lightening the effect of the dark wood admirably. The majority of the rooms are single, and each student has a firm table and a comfortable chair supplementing the other furniture. The presses, wardrobes, sideboards and overmantels, are all of equally attractive design. The floors throughout are covered with self-colored patterned linoleums which give a particularly .attractive appearance to the various rooms. Miss Sandes has personally superintended the furnishing, and the fact that she has put practically the best rooms at the disposal of her working staff indicates a clear grasp of the true principles of domestic management. 

 Already some 24 students have been enrolled — mostly in the cookery department. Other subjects being, or to be, dealt with at the college are domestic economy, needle work, dress making and millinery. To give an idea of the thoroughness of each course it may be stated that in domestic economy, cookery and laundry work respectively 40 lectures and 40 practical lessons are given. Needlework has a six months’ course, and ordinary dress making a year’s course, the same time being allotted to millinery. Certificates proving efficiency are granted to graduates after a year’s, tuition, but the teacher’s diploma is only accorded to students who have .successfully passed their examinations after a two years’ course. The fees are the same in all departments, and vary from 7/6 to 17/6 a term, with the exception of the diploma course, which is somewhat more costly. The college provides board and residence for £1 1/ a week. All students must be over fourteen years of age, and judging by the type that has already been attracted to the college much good may he expected to result from, its establishment.

By 1913, the college had around 300 students per term and offered a wide range of courses. One of the subjects was “housewifery”. Some suggested the ten-week course that included this along with cookery, laundry, needlework and dressmaking should be called the “Bride’s Course”. There were calls at this time for funding to establish the college in larger premises as the number of students it could enrol was constrained by the building’s capacity. It wasn’t until 1926 that the school was relocated to a new building on the site of the old Melbourne Gaol in Russell Street.

Dressmaking class, College of Domestic Economy 1915. State Library of Victoria

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