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he emergence of women in Cambridge's long history begins in the 1860s with two events: the opening of the Cambridge Local Examinations to women in 1863, and Emily Davies's founding of a college for women at Cambridge, which opened first at nearby Hitchin (1869), and moved closer to the center of Cambridge in 1869, to the present campus in Girton, from which the college also takes its name. In 1871, Henry Sidgwick - differing from Miss Davies on many specifics, but convinced of the importance of educating women - opened a residence for women in Cambridge, which in 1875 relocated to Newnham Hall as Newnham College. Although women entered Cambridge lecture halls slightly earlier than those at Oxford, Oxford was the first of the two to admit women to degrees and full status in 1921, 26 years before Cambridge followed suit in 1947.

My expectation that women at Cambridge could be documented simply by surveying the records available at Girton and Newnham turned out to be mistaken. At the scene, I discovered a broader picture, and in a sense "another" Cambridge, dating from the years following World War II. Two additional colleges emerge in this broader context, both founded as women's colleges and both remaining so: New Hall (founded 1954) and Lucy Cavendish College, which began as a Dining Society in 1950, and passed through society and foundation status to become a college in 1986. Girton, indisputably the senior institution for women in Cambridge and arguably in England, has admitted men since 1977. Newnham remains committed to single-sex education, bringing the number of colleges for women at Cambridge to three.

Girton College

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s. Kate Perry administers the Girton College Archives on a close to full-time basis, and reports directly to the Librarian. In the pattern that has emerged elsewhere, administrative records are clearly within the jurisdiction of the Archivist, while the responsibility for student records rests with the Secretary of the College, with access initiated by the Archivist. In its development within the administrative structure, and in the role of the archivist, Girton had the familiar feel of an American academic archives. Researchers are accommodated in office space that serves as an archives reading room, and initial access is accomplished through the Location Shelf List which identifies material located in a series of "bays", "cupboards" and numbered shelves. From this starting point, the researcher is led to detailed inventories which are shelved with specific collections and which function most efficiently to extend access, readily and effectively, to a wealth of detail about collection contents.

[Emily Davies Court] Girton College, . University of Cambridge. c. 1890-1900. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Girton: Administrative Records: These are comprehensive and offer insights into the establishment of Girton prior to its actual founding, since Executive Committee minutes start in 1867. Although the first volume of minutes is missing, volumes II through XXIII (1871 through Oct. 1924) are all indexed. Index books also exist for 1924-1928, although my admittedly cursory examination failed to turn up Executive Committee (after 1910, Council) minutes books to match. There is, however, no dearth of minutes of other administrative entities to span the years to the late 1980s. Unusual times seem to have called forth unusual minutes, such as those for the Air Warden's Committee (1931-1942). A joint Girton/Newnham committee of 1919-1921 suggests that Oxford's capitulation on the question of admitting women to full status by awarding degrees at that time may have precipitated some discussion at Cambridge, although the decision to follow suit was delayed for 25 years.

Girton: Student and Alumnae Records: The Secretary's Office retains control of student records, but the picture of how old Girtonians occupied themselves as students and how they have pursued their lives as alumnae is also sharp and clear in such archival records as examination papers (dates and topics, from 1871); records of clubs and societies (1880s to 1940s); The Raven. "published by past and present Girtonians" (which dealt in 1922 with, among other things, Russian Famine Relief); and in Registers (published in 1946 and updated in 1969) which offer a wealth of demographic data, especially in the 1946 edition, not only about students but teaching/administrative staff and research fellows as well. At the time of my visit, two shelves contained essays and theses by students, as well as poems, songs, and parodies reflecting a number of aspects of student life.

The richness of Girton's holdings of personal papers was recognized in part by the project which filmed the papers of Emily Davies, founder of Girton, and the diaries of Constance Maynard, a significant figure not only at Girton but also the founder of Westfield College (Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London, where her papers are available on microfilm at the College Library. See Women at the University of London, preceding). Collections of personal papers accessible by name of individual remain a significant part of Girton's archives, as are subject collections ranging from suffrage material (1909-1913, with a 2-page inventory) through records of the Working Women's Summer School (1945-1947), to "Women in the University" (1960s).

Collections are augmented by files of clippings, and by an indexed collection of photographs. Among the colleges I visited, only the archives at Girton and at St. Hilda's College at Oxford listed oral histories in their collections. The Girton oral histories consist of ..................interviews, conducted with ..............by..................in [span of years?]

Fifteen years after the decision to admit men, Girton seems strongly aware of its origins as an institution for the higher education of women, an awareness absent at the University of London with the exception of Royal Holloway and Bedford New College. At RHBNC as at Girton, archives exist in richness and variety, and receive broad-based administrative support. It will be interesting to see, in the years ahead, whether these factors will serve to preserve the voices of the founders of institutions whose mission has changed significantly in this century, and enhance the likelihood that origins so documented and so supported remain visible in the emerging and evolving institution.

Newnham College

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r. van Houts, a medievalist, is a Faculty Fellow at Newnham. She had been archivist for approximately 18 months at the time of my visit, devoting approximately six hours weekly during term to archives duties, expanding that if and as time allows during the rest of the year. She worked previously on an oral history project with Kate Perry, Girton Archivist, some of whose approaches she is incorporating into her work with the records of Newnham.

Newnham College, Cambridge designed designed by Basil Champneys

The Archives is growing administratively closer to the Library, and occupies space provided recently within new space acquired by the Library. The Arts Faculty has traditionally supported the archives function at Newnham, and the College Council continues to allot funds for limited archives staffing, and for the appropriate development of new space. Researchers are provided with access to collections through a 48-page printout, "Shelflist Contents Newnham Archives", compiled by Anne Phillips during the Summer of 1991 and updated by Dr. van Houts following the move to current quarters in1992. The typed shelflist was completed less than three months before my visit. Researchers select materials from this shelflist, and use them, three items at a time, in the reading room of the Newnham Library, immediately adjacent to the Archives.

As at Girton and elsewhere, the archivist may initiate access to student/alumnae records, which are retained by another office - in this case, the Rolls Office, similar in many respects to an American college alumnae association. These records are officially closed for 50 years (from date of generation? ;after graduation?), but staff will, as time permits, attempt to allow access to less sensitive materials for specific projects.

Newnham: Administrative Records: Material identified by the title "Association for the Higher Education of Women 1855-1895" predates the opening of Newnham in 1871. Interestingly, however, there do not seem to be ledgers or minutes clearly identified as those of the governing board, council, or its equivalent and dating from the established date of founding. The 19th and early 20th centuries are well represented in the minute books and notebooks brought together as the Newnham Hall Company records, and these are supplemented as well by financial and fund-raising records covering the century from 1879-1979, by "lectures" records from the 1880s on, especially those relating to "science students and lecturers", 1896-1904, and by General Committee Minute Books and Library Committee Minute Books from 1880 and 1882, respectively.

Newnham: Student Records: Issues of student life seem well represented in Newnham's archives, in a wide range of records of societies ranging from the Debating Society (1878-1904) to the Newnham College Boat Club Records (1918-1950), succeeded by records of the Cambridge University Women's Boat Club (1955-1960). The major issues of the post -World War II years resonate more forcefully here than elsewhere, although that could simply be a reflection of titles and terminology, and I could easily have missed similar materials elsewhere which are less clearly named. The papers of R.L. Cohen, Principal 1954-1972 document student unrest of the 1960s/70s in files titled "sit-in of 1969";, "women student quotas", "mixed colleges...1972", et al. The controversy about degrees for women pulses across the years, in materials dated 1897, 1918, and ca. 1934.

Post World War II: New Hall, Lucy Cavendish College

New Hall and Lucy Cavendish are quite dissimilar, and I group them in this section for two reasons only: neither has a college archives as such at the moment, and both may in the near future be part of a very interesting plan to consolidate the archives of five post-World War II colleges at Cambridge - their own, as well as those of Fizwilliam, Churchill, and Robinson Colleges.

New Hall

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hen I was at New Hall, Angela Heap was on leave, and I spoke with Miss Sarah Newman, Miss Heap's predecessor, who had come back as Acting Librarian in Miss Heap's absence. It was Miss Newman who first informed me about the concern for archives of the five colleges which has led to discussions about how, in a period of tight funding, they might pool resources. All is in early stages as yet, perhaps not beyond considering an archival consultant to assist with planning. Timing has been partly determined by a fund-raising campaign for a new building (for which college? all colleges? ???) in which hopefully space could be incorporated for the consolidation of archives of the five institutions. The physical space problem would be thus addressed, leaving administrative problems to be faced jointly and for each institution. At New Hall, which has a tradition of full-time librarianship, the Library appears at this time to be the administrative unit involved in the planning process, although I did not raise this for confirmation during my interview with Miss Newman.

Miss Newman figures largely in the materials which have been collected and listed as "Archives Accessions and useful books" - a list which is available to researchers. Miss A.R. Murray, who was President of New Hall at the time, completed a history of the institution in 1979, which acknowledges the use of "papers" given to New Hall by the New Hall Association and its predecessor, the Third Foundation Association. It seems a safe assumption that these are regarded as the nucleus of New Hall's archives. (NOTE: The progression from founding as an association, through approval as a foundation, to acceptance as a college by the University is not one I will attempt to describe here, although understanding it is basic to the understanding of the origins and evolution of both New Hall (founded 1954, granted collegiate status 1972) and Lucy Cavendish (founded 1965, granted collegiate status 1986). There are full explanations in the histories of Lucy Cavendish and New Hall, written by C. Kate Bertram and A.R. Murray, respectively, which are helpful guides for one attempting to relate them to the American system - a relationship which, at least for me, was often so difficult it establish that it seemed, in many respects, not to exist at all.

Lucy Cavendish College

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t Lucy Cavendish as at New Hall, materials used for the published history of the college are regarded as the foundation for a future archives. In addition, the College owns correspondence and diaries of Lucy Cavendish (b. 1841), the noblewoman for whom the College is named, and whose diaries especially mirror the issues of her time relating to education, politics, and the like. At present, access to them is provided by Dr. Renfrew of the Tutorial Office. Unlike New Hall, however, where the archives seems to be conceptualized as an administrative unit within or reporting to the Library, at Lucy Cavendish, it seemed at the time of my visit more likely to evolve under the responsibility of the Office of the President. Dr. Marie Lawrence, a Governing Board Fellow and assistant to the President, represents Lucy Cavendish in discussions regarding a consolidated archives.

Rear view of College House, Lucy Cavendish College. University of Cambridge. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Lucy Cavendish College's unique mission of being dedicated solely to the education of non-traditional (i.e. older) undergraduate women is paralleled in the United States at three women's colleges which educate older women in special programs within the institution. All three are in Massachusetts, and all were founded as women's colleges in the 19th century - Mount Holyoke College in 1837, Smith and Wellesley Colleges in 1875. The archives of all of them document the development in this century of continuing education for women at women's colleges, and scholars could be admirably served if and when the time comes when Lucy Cavendish can offer comparable documentation.


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Last modified 18 March 2013