Although higher education has been available in the United Kingdom for a long time, women were not as privileged as men to be educated equally. Brown (2011C) finds that 70% of men were educated compared to only 55% of women in 1851. These days, the situation seems to be inconsistent with the past as there are 10% more women entering into universities than men in 2010-2011. Moreover, there seems to be almost twice as many female students than male students. (Ratcliffe,2013). This essay aims to give a timeline of the key events that led to the equality of women in higher education as well as when degrees were awarded to women on Oxford and Cambridge.
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The movement for better education for girls and women started in 1843. (Gillard,2011). Both Gillard (2011) and Jones (2012) mention that the Governesses’ Benevolent Institution was established to train and certify governesses. This then led to the establishment of Queen’s College in 1848. Gillard (2011) mentions that the college followed a traditional boys’ curriculum. Subjects such as mathematics, and languages were taught by a specialist. The first higher education college for women was founded in 1849 which was known as The Ladies’ College. It became known as Bedford College in 1866 and then became part of the University of London in 1900.
Jones (2012) expresses the view that in the 1860s, only a few supporters saw education for women as a means to improve their lives and give them freedom. Most of them saw felt that educating women would make them better mothers and teachers. Girton College Cambridge was founded by Emily Davies, a member of the Langham Place Group in 1869. Davies had observed the “best girls’ schools” in England and came to a conclusion that they are the best because they offered “masculine” subjects like mathematics, Latin and Greek. Davies knew that if she wanted educational achievements by women to be recognised equally to men, women had to succeed in subjects that are considered prestigious for men. Therefore, she rejected the idea of having a special system for women to learn as she knew that “different” would mean “inferior”.
Newnham College Cambridge was a development in 1875 from Mrs. Eleanor Sidgwick’s lecture series for women. These lecture clubs offered extension lectures for women. This college operated differently from Girton. They did not want their female students to be conventional and follow the curriculum of the male students. Instead, the curriculum was tailored to fit the needs of their students allowing them to study on a part time basis and to have a longer time to prepare for examinations if needed. In the 1870s, Oxford opened 2 halls for women; Somerville and Lady Margaret Hall. (Jones,2012). According to Jones (2012), Bedford College was founded by Elizabeth Jesser Raid which was known as the Ladies College before it became known as Bedford College. Elizabeth’s aim was to make women “better mothers” through education. She was amongst other women who voiced their opinion that better education would help make women better wives and better mothers.
Problems faced by women’s colleges
Jones (2012) points out that traditionalists alleged that Women’s colleges were a threat to families as they tempted women to be diverted from their actual role of being a wife or a mother. They felt that this was “unchristian and dangerous”. Colleges then began showcasing traditional values by being on their best behaviour to counter the criticisms made. Students were expected to behave as “proper women” by way of appearance. When attending lectures or social events, students were chaperoned. This was...