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Her Oxford

Judy G. Batson

Publication Year: 2008

For over six centuries, the University of Oxford had been an exclusively male bastion of privilege and opportunity. Few dreamed this could change. Yet, in 1879, twenty-one pioneering women quietly entered two recently established residence halls in Oxford in the hope of attending lectures and pursuing a course of study. More women soon followed and, by 1893, there were five women's societies, each with its own principal, staff, and identity. Only eighty years after women first appeared in Oxford, the five residential societies were granted full status as colleges of the University-self-governing entities with all the rights and obligations of the men's colleges-and women students constituted 16 percent of the undergraduate population. Though still a distinct minority, women had gained full access to the rich resources, opportunities, and challenges of the University. Her Oxford looks at the people and the political and social forces that produced this dramatic transformation. Drawing on a vast array of biographies, histories, obituaries, and archives, Batson traces not only the institutional struggles over privileges and disciplinary rules for women, but also the rich texture of everyday life-women's amateur theatricals, debating societies, sports, and college escapades (Dorothy Sayers is the subject of quite a few). She tells the stories of women's active roles in two war efforts and in the suffrage movement. An unusual feature of the book is the set of more than 200 biographical profiles of women who attended Oxford between 1879 and 1960. They constitute a Who's Who of women scientists, anthropologists, psychotherapists, educators, novelists, and social reformers in the English-speaking world.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Her Oxford: Cover

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiv

Oxford and Cambridge universities hold a special mystique for Americans. Not only are they two of the world’s oldest universities, but also they educated many of America’s first colonists and served as models for the earliest American universities. When Americans began to envision Harvard and Yale, they thought of Oxford and...

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pp. xv-xvi

Walking around Oxford today, one sees what appear to be almost equal numbers of male and female students mingling easily together. Yet, until 1879, women had no share in what had been an exclusively male university since the Middle Ages. In that year, a small group of pioneering women practically crept into Oxford and...

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pp. xvii-xviii

I am particularly indebted to Pauline Adams, librarian and archivist at Somerville, for reading a draft of the first ten chapters and providing both constructive comments and encouragement and for always answering the numerous queries I have put to her through e‑mail. Special thanks to Dr. David Smith, librarian at St. Anne’s, for a mountain of photocopying...

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1. Parting the Curtains

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pp. 1-14

If queried, Victorian Englishmen would probably have answered that most middle-class women of marriageable age were, or soon would be, wives and mothers. These Englishmen might have been surprised by the 1851 census. Out of a population of almost eighteen million, women outnumbered men in Great Britain by over 500,000, and more...

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2. A Little Leavening

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pp. 15-32

What progress was made at Oxford after girls were refused admittance to the University Local Examinations in 1862? A second application was rejected in 1866, but in 1870, Oxford finally agreed to allow girls to participate. In 1873, the Oxford Senior Local Examination produced unexpected results. Heading the list of senior examinees was A.M.A.H. Rogers, who was...

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3. Plain Living and High Thinking

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pp. 33-45

The women students at Oxford entered a very different world from the one inhabited by undergraduates (a designation reserved for male students in those days). Men lived in the Oxford most often featured in guidebooks—a magnificent architectural treasury of pinnacles, domes, and ancient quadrangles. Their colleges provided them with...

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4. A Turning Point . . . and a Third Sister

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pp. 46-56

To those who had worked so hard to organize the Lectures for Ladies, it seemed a wonderful concession when Oxford instituted the special women’s examinations in 1875. There were problems, however. As Edith Pearson (LMH 1879) later explained: “Nobody very clearly understood what was their scope or the standard expected. Consequently...

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5. First Adventurers, 1879–1889

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pp. 57-73

Although the Oxford women’s societies can single out many women of distinction among their students, they produced a remarkable crop during their first decade of precarious existence. We rarely hear about these women today—they are found in few history books, with the possible exceptions of Cornelia Sorabji and Gertrude...

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6. Emerging from Adolescence [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 74-90

The 1890s were years of transition and growth for the Oxford women’s colleges, as they attempted to become more autonomous. Somerville appointed a new principal; the Oxford Home-Students gained their first principal; St. Hilda’s was established as the fifth women’s society in Oxford; the halls began expansion programs; some restrictions...

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7. Honored Guests

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pp. 99-111

Rarely in the forefront of social change, Oxford began debating degrees for women in 1894, sixteen years after London University conferred its first degrees on women (with the exception of medicine). Yet “Britain had blazed no trail,” as one educational historian put it, “in the long struggle to obtain university degrees.”1 Women...

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8. The New Woman

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pp. 112-129

Looking at Oxford in the nineteenth century from the vantage point of the twenty-first, it would be easy to characterize the university as an old-fashioned and hidebound institution that refused to grant degrees to women at a time when other British universities were turning out graduates of both sexes. Yet Oxford had undergone significant...

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9. New Principals, New Premises

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pp. 130-145

Somerville was forced to look for a new principal after Agnes Maitland’s death in 1906, and the council unanimously voted to offer the position to Emily Penrose, a Somerville student between 1889 and 1892. When she accepted the principalship, she became the first former student, but by no means the last, to return as head of an Oxford...

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10. On the Threshold

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pp. 146-160

During the autumn of 1908, H. T. Gerrans, mathematics tutor at Worcester and secretary of the Oxford Local Examinations, brought forward a proposal concerning Oxford and its women students, independent of the one raised by the chancellor in his memorandum. Long a friend to women in Oxford, Gerrans suggested to...

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11. A Time of Sacrifice

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pp. 161-175

Women who attended Oxford between 1914 and 1918 had the university very nearly to themselves, for almost the entire undergraduate population entered military service. Some women students left to undertake war work before completing their studies, but most remained, yielding to pleas from university authorities that...

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12. Out of the Wilderness [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 176-190

Women students easily outnumbered the males in residence at the university when peace was declared in November 1918, but their majority status quickly changed. By the start of the new term in January 1919, undergraduates were once again a visible presence. Male dons, scouts, and staff members were also part of the altered...

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13. A Changing Order

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pp. 199-215

The interwar years were ones of financial hardship for the Oxford women’s societies. They had always been poor, without endowments or well-heeled supporters, but student fees and no-frills budgets had enabled them to just keep afloat. During the postwar inflation that hit Britain, however, the cost of living rose sharply, and even the comparatively wealthy men’s...

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14. Weathering Storms

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pp. 216-228

During the turbulent 1920s, the Oxford women’s colleges were bedeviled by more than financial problems. An administrative crisis at St. Hugh’s would threaten the stability of all the women’s societies, and a proposal to limit the number of women students would highlight their still marginal status in the university...

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15. Looking Outward

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pp. 229-243

During the 1920s and 1930s, the rules of social behavior that guided young men and women in Britain were more casual than before the war, and the university and colleges had to adapt to the new social mores. The authorities also had to adapt to a changed political atmosphere within the university, as students searched for ways to...

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16. War Again

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pp. 244-259

When Britain declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939, few people heard the news with surprise. The British had lived in the shadow of European dictators for too long to hope that war could be kept from their island. Once again, the young men of Oxford had to respond to the call to arms, but there was no rush to destruction...

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17. An Austere Feast

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pp. 260-273

Oxford officially marked the end of war with a meeting of convocation on October 25, 1945, to confer honorary degrees on a distinguished group of war leaders, both military and civilian. Those admitted to the degree of Doctor of Civil Law were Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, chief of the imperial general staff; General Mark Clark, commander-in-chief of Allied forces in Italy; General Dwight D. Eisenhower...

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18. Full Status

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pp. 274-284

The seeds of change had been sown, and during the 1950s, rapidly and with little opposition, Oxford did away with a number of practices that had kept women in a separate category from men within the university. Beginning in 1952, the university no longer segregated women from men in published lists of examination results; henceforth, the names of all those taking...

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pp. 285-290

For the academic year 2006–2007, 6,371 men and 5,735 women were listed as undergraduates at Oxford. All Oxford undergraduate and graduate colleges now admit both men and women. Only two of the seven permanent private halls remain all male—Campion Hall and St. Benet’s Hall, which are Jesuit and Benedictine establishments, respectively. Clearly, the incorporation...

Appendix 1. Principals of the Oxford Women’s Colleges, 1879–1960

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pp. 291

Appendix 2. Some Notable Women Students, 1910–1920

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pp. 293-300

Appendix 3. Some Notable Women Students, 1921–1940

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pp. 301-310

Appendix 4. Some Notable Women Students, 1941–1960

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pp. 311-320

Appendix 5. Principals and Staff, 1945–1955

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pp. 321-330

Appendix 6. Building Programs of the 1950s and 1960s

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pp. 331-336


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pp. 337-358


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pp. 359-365

Index and Credits

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pp. 367-380

E-ISBN-13: 9780826592507
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826516107
Print-ISBN-10: 0826516106

Page Count: 400
Publication Year: 2008