In 1951, Gwen Woodroofe, then a young MSc graduate from the University of Adelaide joined the fledging John Curtin School of Medical Research working on myxomatosis with Professor Frank Fenner. Those were pioneering days, as the University was still establishing itself and Canberra was only a small country town with few amenities.
They were fruitful years for research, nevertheless. Indeed, in a recent book on the history of myxomatosis, Professor Fenner credits her with 'a major role in virological investigations of myxomatosis betweeen 1951 and 1966', the period of their justly famous work on the virus to control rabbits - trailblazing work indeed. By that time, Gwen Woodroofe was quite familiar with the life of a trailblazer, having graduated with a BSc (Hons) from the University of Adelaide in botany in 1940 at a time when women in the sciences were a small minority!
The encouragement and support to pursue an academic career came from her mother who was determined her children should achieve their potential. Gwen Woodroofe's sister Kathleen also pursued an academic career, becoming an historian and ultimately Associate Professor of History at the University of NSW. Kathleen was the author of the internationally recognised standard work From Charity to Social Work in England and the United States (1962). Gwen gained her PhD from The Australian National University and retired as a Fellow at the John Curtin School.
Following her retirement, she became involved in UNICEF and found herself running its Christmas card activities for many years. For that important community work, she was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1997. Unfortunately, Kathleen Woodroofe passed away a few years ago and Gwen began thinking about how to realise their shared dream of making an investment in the future. Gwen's own and her sister's research experience made her very aware of the importance of encouraging young researchers through scholarships. She saw in the University's Endowment for Excellence the opportunity to make a lasting contribution to encourage their academic successors by endowing postgraduate scholarships for PhD students.
For Dr John Hooper, the Dean of the Graduate School, this generous offer was doubly welcome. More research scholarships were a major priority for the Graduate School. Secondly, he had known the late Professor Kathleen Woodroofe as a social history colleague in Sydney and was delighted to have this opportunity for the ANU to remember her contribution to scholarship in this way. The Vice-Chancellor had no hesitation in agreeing to match the donations. The University decided to establish the Gwendolyn Woodroofe Postgraduate Scholarship in the Sciences and the Kathleen Woodroofe Postgraduate Scholarship in the Humanities or Social Sciences. The first awards were made in 2002. For her great generosity, Gwen Woodroofe was admitted as a Perpetual Member of the Endowment of Excellence.