Women at Cambridge
Ancient Saxons rulers would distribute their wealth among their kith and kin upon death. The Normans, who replaced them as overlords, viewed this as an error of judgement. They thought this custom diluted power and allowed enemies to take advantage. Normans were convinced the key to lasting influence was to hand-on everything to one person – the eldest son. By the time Victoria came to the throne this was an ingrained cultural process that went largely unchallenged. The opportunity for women to escape the expected roles of bringing up children and managing the household were few. The daughters and sisters of the new breed of influential men were questioning the injustice ...view middle of the document...
Hugh Franklin, who studied at Cambridge University, attacked politician Winston Churchill with a horsewhip for trying to block equality advances in parliament. How much effect this had on the future prime minister is unclear, but the institution he founded (Churchill) was among the first male colleges in Cambridge to admit women.
Against a background of ferocious opposition Victorian reformers did much to launch higher educational programmes for women that included three all female colleges at Cambridge.
In 1869 the dynamic Emily Davies and her staunch supporter Barbara Bodichon, set up a small educational house for women in Hitchin, which was intentionally close enough to Cambridge to entice sympathetic university tutors to come and teach. This modest enterprise had quite an effect, generating enough donations from supporters to enable an audacious move to Cambridge just three years later.
Henry Sidgwick, with help from future wife Eleonor Balfour and staunch Cambridge feminist Milliant Garrett Fawcett, followed the template and set up a small female institution in central Cambridge for five students in 1871. Four years later, growing ambition and support enabled a moved to more spacious site at Newnham. Anne Clough, daughter of a cotton trader, had established a scheme for Higher Education for Women in the North of England in 1867 and was invited to become principal of Newnham Hall.
If observers imagined the feat of establishing two female Cambridge colleges to be impressive enough, they hadn’t taken account of the energetic and charismatic Miss Elizabeth Phillips Hughes who founded the third. The Cambridge Training College was established in 1885 and originally educated fourteen female students in a progressive and enlightened environment that believed in freedom of worship. The college later became known as Hughes Hall. Elizabeth was a passionate supporter of co-education and believed the goal of first-rate training could not be achieved by segregation. A woman before her time, as it was not until 1973 that changing attitudes allowed the introduction of men at Hughes.
The fight between the liberal and conservative wings of the university would take a century to resolve in favour of mixed colleges. Certificates, not degrees were at first issued to successful women. Between 1904 and1907 the gracious University of Dublin offered to award degrees to Cambridge (and Oxford) ladies if they cared to make the journey over the sea. As the trip was usually made by steam boat, the degree holders became known as ‘Steam Boat Ladies.’
When Cavendish College folded in 1894, its ready made spacious site was promptly purchased by the Homerton Academy, an established teacher training institution from London. They were keen to move away from their industrial area to the green and pleasant lands of Cambridge. To avoid controversy the previously mixed institution only transferred women to Cambridge. This proved to be a wise move as it...