Adjunct Associate Professor Merle Thornton AM

14 November 2020


Award of Doctor of Letters honoris causa

Adjunct Associate Professor Merle Thornton AM


Adjunct Associate Professor Merle Thornton AM is a celebrated activist, author and academic. She has had a profound impact on women’s rights in Queensland and Australia, through her pioneering advocacy and campaigning on equal opportunities issues.

Adjunct Associate Professor Thornton graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in 1952, majoring in English Literature. After graduating she gained a position as a clerk with the Commonwealth Public Service, and was subsequently appointed Executive Assistant to the Managing Director of the ABC.

After being forced to resign from the public service in 1956 when her pregnancy became apparent, Adjunct Associate Professor Thornton became determined to remove the barriers that prevented women’s full participation in Australian society. 

In 1965, she famously chained herself to the bar at Brisbane’s Regatta Hotel, along with her colleague Rosalie Bogner, as a protest against the prohibition on women drinking in the public bar of Queensland hotels. Their protest is regarded as a defining moment in second wave feminism – and it ultimately led to the repeal of section 59A of the Queensland Liquor Act, in 1970.

Following the Regatta Hotel protest, Adjunct Associate Professor Thornton founded the Equal Opportunities for Women Association, which successfully campaigned for changes to laws and practices that prevented women’s full participation in Australian workplaces. This led to the removal of the “marriage bar” in 1966, which required women to resign from the Commonwealth Public Service after marriage.

Adjunct Associate Professor Thornton has a deep association with The University of Queensland (UQ), having worked at the University in a range of roles from 1960 to 1980. She founded the Women’s Studies course at UQ in 1972 – the first of its type in Australia.

Beyond her contribution to academia and social issues, Adjunct Associate Professor Thornton is also an accomplished screenwriter, playwright, author and director, with a long list of contributions to Australian television, theatre and literature. She was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2015 “for significant service to the community as an advocate for women and Indigenous rights, and to the arts as a writer and director”.
Chancellor, I present to you Adjunct Associate Professor Merle Thornton, Member of the Order of Australia, Bachelor of Arts (Honours) of The University of Sydney, for the award of Doctor of Letters honoris causa, bestowed by the Senate of The University of Queensland.


Doctor of Letters honoris causa