The Struggle of Women to Get into Cambridge University

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Chung, Habin
Term Paper, AP European History Class, December 2006

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. North of England Council for Promoting the Higher Education for Women
III. Establishment of Colleges for Women
IV. Attending Lectures
V. Struggle for Recognition
VI. References

I. Introduction :
            Throughout the nineteenth century, women had less access to education than men had and what was available to them was inferior to that available to men. Not surprisingly, the percentage of illiterate women exceeded that of men. Most women were educated only enough for the domestic careers they were expected to follow. The idea of women attending to Universities were at first considered as 'absurd' when it was raised in the 19th century, but nonetheless matter showed progress. The first female colleges were established, and the existing universities gradually allowed female students to join in their curriculum. This paper will deal how women got in to Cambridge University in Britain.

II. North of England Council for Promoting the Higher Education for Women
            Anne Jemima Clough (1820-1892) , an active promoter of higher education for women, Josephine Butler (1828-1906), a woman who led numerous campaigns regarding the welfare of prostitutes, began to take a keen interest in women's education. They together formed the 'North of England Council for Promoting the Higher Education for Women,' a body representing associations of school-mistresses in several large northern English towns. Josephine Butler was appointed president of the council from 1867 to 1873, and Anne Clough was Secretary for the three first strenuous years of its existence.
            The council began its movements by establishing courses of advanced study for women. The campaign was initiated by Mr. Stuart, who began the University Extension Movement. He gave his first course on astronomy was attended together by 550 women in Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield in the autumn of 1867. The council organized other similar courses, and the idea was rapidly spread around England.
            In common with most other universities in the nineteenth century, Cambridge did not admit women. However one part of a campaign to improve the education of women focused on Cambridge, especially after Cambridge University created the 'Higher Local Examinations' for girls (1868), a special examination for women over the age of 18, and released programs to allow women to participate in Cambridge education in the following year. (1869) Josephine Butler initiated a campaign to persuade Cambridge University to provide more opportunities for females. The campaign resulted in the provision of lectures for women.

III. Establishment of Colleges for Women
            Lectures for Ladies had been started in Cambridge; however, the demand was high for residential colleges from those women who could not travel in and out on a daily basis. Emily Davies and others interested in the higher education of women initiated a scheme for founding a college for women designed to not only provide a more comfortable home and school teaching for girls but also serve an analogous to the residential colleges established inside of the universities for boys. In 1869, a residential college was opened under the name of the College for Women. The college occupied the present site and was renamed Girton College. (1872)
            Newnham College was first established as a lodging place for women in 1871 by the suggestion of Henry Sidgwick, a professor at Trinity College. Anne Clough who was invited to take charge of the five first ladies as the principle shared with him the commitment to the higher education of women. Henry Sidgwick was eager in promoting the higher education of women. He helped to also establish the local examinations and frequently held lectures to aid women in preparation for those tests. Newnham College occupied Newnham Hall which is now the Old Hall of Newnham College was founded as a residential college in 1875.
            However, these two first university colleges for women were not formally recognized by the university authorities until 1880. They were still on trial, and numerous authorities uneasily denied its success. Hence, the female population was basically separated from the male undergraduate population. Mary Hamilton, on of the first students in Newnham College later recalled that they most of the females 'did not feel or resent [the separation] at the time, but any contemporary student must find odd, even inexplicable.' The timid restrictions irked and sometimes even offended the females.
            The residential colleges, in respond, continued to improve their system domestically for their female students. Henry Sidgwick always took the deepest interest in the welfare of the college. In politics he was a Liberal, and became a Liberal Unionist in 1886. Anne Clough, who was eventually designated Principal, went through basically everything to improve the college system from negotiating with St John's for a stable college field to taking care for sick students. After the death of Anne Clough (1892) Eleanor Sidgwick, the wife of Henry Sidgwick, became the principal (1892-1910) and mostly followed her predecessor's footsteps.

IV. Attending Lectures
            When the two Cambridge women's colleges were first established in the early 1870s, women were not recognized as official members of the universities and therefore were not permitted to attend to certain lectures mainly designed for men if without a direct permission from the professor. The residential colleges often specially arranged lectures for women. Whereas Emily Davies of Girton College insisted in teaching her students the same subjects as man, Henry Sidgwick of Newnham opposed to teaching certain subjects such as Greek and Latin to the girls.
            The very early lectures were reluctant to provide natural sciences courses for females. In certain biology classes, many professors even expressed worries of startling the delicate females in his lectures. However, the female scientists from Newnham were granted permission to attend to Christ's College by 1878 and the first female resident lecturer of natural science was appointed at Girton College. In 1920, two distinguished professors from Cambridge, Professors Rutherford (Physics) and Pope (Chemistry) published letters, welcoming the appearance of women in the laboratories. Although this act was regarded sensational by the critiques, gradually, through a process of persuasion, professors opened their courses to women.

V. Struggle for Recognition
            In 1872 an Association was formed to maintain a College for the higher education of women to obtain students of degrees and generally to place the College in connection with that University. The struggle for recognition, the granting of degrees and full membership of the University, entered a long, slow struggle. Women won the triumph of passing in the Senate of the Graces of granting titles of degrees (not yet the degree itself) and the right of sitting for university examinations and being placed on the lists in 1881. However, after the Tripos exams, it was almost impossible for a woman, however valuable and significant her contributions might be, to conduct any research without private funding. The first research scholarships available to women were first endowed in 1902 at Girton College
            By 1910 there were just over a thousand women students at Oxford and Cambridge. However, they had to obtain permission to attend lectures. Although the senate house failed the admission of women to full University membership, (1920) a Royal Charter was granted for the Mistress and Governors of Girton College to carry on the work of the old Association and to do learning and research among women in Cambridge or elsewhere. (1924) Furthermore, University Statues were amended to allow women to be eligible for all teaching posts and all examining work in the University, and that they might be members of Faculty Boards, compete for University prizes, scholarships and studentships. (1926)
            By a number of Graces of the Senate and changes of the University statutes, members of the College were gradually admitted to the university. However, it in fact took forty years and a world war to persuade the authorities to grant degrees in 1947.

V. Bibliography

Note : websites listed below were visited in November/December 2006.
1.      A Brief History : The Revived University of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century, from Cambridge University,
2.      Newnham Biographies : Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900), from Newnham College,
3.      Newnham Biographies : Anna Jemima Clough (1820-1892), Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy and Founder, from Newnham College,
4.      College Arms, from Newnham College,
5.      Anna Jemima Clough, from Spartacus Schoolnet,
6.      North London Collegiate School, from Spartacus Schoolnet,
7.      Women in the Universities, from Spartacus Schoolnet,
8.      Josephine Butler, from Spartacus Schoolnet,
9.      Newnham College, from Spartacus Schoolnet,
10.      A Brief History of the College, from Girton College,
11.      Women at Cambridge : The History of Women and Science in the University, from University of Cambridge,
12.      Article : Henry Sidgwick, from Wikipedia,
13.      Article : College, from Wikipedia,
14.      Article : Newnham College, Cambridge, from Wikipedia,,_Cambridge

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