Introduction

Thackeray's decorated initial T

his is a survey of archival resources relating to the higher education of women in England at 13 colleges, conducted during four months (April through August) in 1992. The colleges, located at four universities, were chosen because all had been founded to educate women prior to the close of the 19th century and had remained dedicated to single-sex education for a significant time after the founding. In that sense, they can all be described as pioneers in women's higher education. I consulted archives in the following locations:

University of London: Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, Queen Mary and Westfield College, King's College

University of Cambridge: Girton College, Newnham College, New Hall, Lucy Cavendish College

University of Oxford: Lady Margaret Hall, St. Anne's College, Somerville College, St. Hugh's College,St. Hilda's College,

University of Durham: St. Mary's College

Most have since become mixed institutions, educating both men and women; a few are wrestling with the choice; a few seem not to consider it a question at all. I was curious about the forms of documentation which survive, how they are organized, and what conditions govern access to them. Specifically, I questioned whether a researcher might expect to find records in England which parallel what is available in the United States, from the 1820s and 1830s in the archives of such early women's colleges as Mount Holyoke College, and from the middle of the century to 1900 at what later became known as the "Sister Colleges" - i.e. Vassar, Smith, Wellesley - among others. Practical constraints of geography and time also determined the selection. While I would have liked to include in the survey colleges throughout the United Kingdom, I was able to spend more time at each location by limiting myself to a group within England, and could revisit collections relatively easily, when necessary, during the four months of academic leave granted for the study.

In the background at the start of the project, but becoming increasingly persistent as it advanced, was the question of the extent to which the women's "voice" continues to be heard when men are admitted to institutions whose original mission was the education of women in a single-sex environment.

I begin with the University of London, because among its colleges is the one which is arguably the first to take up the cause of women's higher education - Bedford College, founded in 1849. At Durham, with which I deal last, St. Mary's College came on the scene close to the turn of the century, dedicated to single-sex education as I stlll found it committed in 1992, though struggling with the decision. Between the two, Emily Davies made a place for women at Cambridge in the nearby village of Girton in 1869. A decade later (in 1879) at Oxford, women who had found ways to attend lectures at the Oxford colleges as early as the 1860s became a visible entity with a name: The Society for Oxford Home Students (later St. Anne's College). That same year, Lady Margaret Hall and Somerville College (visible structures as well as entities) opened as residential colleges for women.

I have listed recommended readings following the section for each university, as well as a few general texts following this introduction. My initial search for literature about the schools I planned to visit revealed that the availability of information was generally uneven - predictably available for those colleges with Oxbridge affiliations, less so for others. Patricia Methven, Archivist at King's College, University of London, provided critical early assistance with a general bibliography of suggested readings, among them the three sources immediately following this section. I compiled additional readings from catalogue searches, and found several publications on the spot, at porters' lodges of the individual colleges, which I purchased whenever they were available. Some publications may only be available through that route, but researchers should search national data bases (e.g. OCLC, RLIN) before making that assumption.

Because I had difficulty getting the information from sources available in this country, I have included with each entry a brief indication of the administrative context in which the archives is placed, as well as the name, title and mailing address of the person responsible for the collection at the time of my visit. Each was uniquely helpful. In addition to Patricia Methven's assistance, noted above, the titles for each section came from a remark by Joan Kenworthy, Principal of St. Mary's College, University of Durham. Not only did she spend the better part of a day patiently walking me through the intricacies of the English system of colleges and universities, she communicated her hope that some day the total picture of "women at Durham" would be treated in a way that would make it available to a wide audience. I have adopted that resonant phrase as I looked for a framework in which to present the information I had gathered, although I have in no way undertaken her study. Beyond this, the remainder of the description and discussion of each archives is determined by its unique engaging, even idiosyncratic, personality.

Pauline Adams of Somerville College, Maria Croghan of St. Hilda's College, Juanita Cutler of Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, Kate Perry of Girton College, Janet Sondheimer of Queen Mary and Westfield College, Elisabeth van Houts of Newnham College all endured and responded graciously to lengthy letters from me during the nearly two years of the planning for my project. I am grateful to them for that, and for the further extensions of their hospitality when I arrived, from the special bus ticket from Juanita Cutler that saved me a long uphill walk to RHBNC, to a lift to Girton in Kate Perry's car that gave me an earlier start to a day's work than the Cambridge bus schedule allowed. And I am especially grateful for the cooperation and good humor of those on whose doorsteps I arrived with practically no advance announcement once I decided to expand the scope of my study - in Cambridge, Sarah Newman at New Hall, Jane Renfrew and Marie Lawrence at Lucy Cavendish College; in Oxford, Julie Courtenay at Lady Margaret Hall, David Smith at St. Anne's College, and Deborah Quare at St. Hugh's College.


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Last modified 18 March 2013