Ellen Ida Benham
On March 12th 1871, just outside Kapunda, in the town of Allen's Creek, was born Ellen Ida Benham. The third of eleven children born to Aimie and William Huggins Benham.
Ellens father was a solicitor and could afford a better than average education for his children. Ellen was sent to Kapunda Model School for her education, and later to The Adelaide Advanced School For Girls, where she was under the tutelage of the headmistress, Rees George.
Ellen then went on to study at The University of Adelaide in 1889 and graduated with a B.Sc in 1892. Ellen returned to Kapunda to teach, as headmistress for the Anglican Christ Church Parish for two years, before moving to Europe in 1895 to continue her studies.
Upon her return, Ellen taught science at the Dryburgh House School from 1896 through until 1900, then at Tormore House School in North Adelaide
In 1901 Ellen was approached by the University Of Adelaide's Professor Ralph Tate, to take over his botany lectures as he was unwell, later that same year he died. Ellen held the position of lecturer at the University from 1902 until 1911. She also, at times, held the roles of “Head Of Department”, “Sole Lecturer” and “Keeper Of the Herbarium”.
Ellen visited England in 1908 to attend Oxford and complete a Diploma of Education, returning the following year to Adelaide to continue at the University.
In 1906, The South Australian government appointed her to reorganise the botany curriculum and to classify a major collection of flora and fauna presented to the Herbarium
Ellen's aim was to educate girls to “become a useful and effective woman in whatever position she may have to fill”. Ellen achieved this by offering a well-balanced education that included hockey, tennis and cricket matches for the girls. She also incorporated a 'prefect' system, and a willingness to communicate with parents of children about how to effectively teach each child using; “the right adjustment of work to the physical and mental powers of the children”.
Ellen also gave the school it's motto “Virtute et Veritate.” - “With Truth And Courage”
Ellens achievements were vast. She helped to found “The Women's Student Club” and the “The Women's Graduate Club”, being the first recognised female academic in South Australia and earned a Bachelor of Science Degree.
Ellen Benham has been honoured by Adelaide University with the naming of the “Benham Building” which houses the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and with the Benham Lecture Theatre.
Ellen is also honoured at the Walford Church of England Girls' Grammar School with the “Benham Wing”
|Benham Building, University of Adelaide|
Miss Ellen Benham died on April 27th 1917, of a hepatic abscess (an abdominal infection caused by appendicitis) in Adelaide and was interred in Christ Church Cemetery Kapunda.
Researched and written by Allen Tiller © 2012.