Unisa appointed Mabel Palmer to its Senate in 1929 and in 1947, awarded her an honorary doctorate for her service to education.
Born in England, Palmer was among the first women to graduate from Glasgow University. She went on to pursue an academic career in economics. In an age when lectures were segregated according to gender, when authorities sought to keep campuses “chaste”, and when female academics could be dismissed for marrying (let alone “living in sin”), Palmer became a prominent feminist campaigner. She was also a trade unionist and a pioneer of working-class adult education. Palmer arrived in South Africa in 1920 to lecture at Durban Technical College and later Natal University College (NUC), which was then a constituent college of Unisa. She fought with characteristic determination to make higher education accessible to black and Indian students and at one stage, frustrated by NUC’s racial barriers, “dragooned” friends into teaching “non-white” classes in her living room. She was also the first to propose that Unisa become a correspondence university, which it later did.