he founding of the Association for the Education of Woman in Oxford (the A.E.W.) in June 1878 resolved what had been the actual if unacknowledged situation since 1866, when a few Oxford women first obtained special permission to attend lectures given by their relatives or friends. By 1873, classes and lectures for women were being offered on a much more organized basis, and women who had participated in the "experiments" of 1866 and 1873 were ready, after another five years, to carry out the mission of the new Association: "...to establish and maintain a system of instruction having general reference to the Oxford Examinations for Women".
By 1879 - one decade after Emily Davies established the College for Women at Hitchin near Cambridge - women could gain access to an Oxford education through membership in one of three structures: a somewhat loosely defined association of students residing in private homes in Oxford, or in one of two residential colleges. The largest group of women attending Oxford lectures at that time did so as members of the first group, which remained nameless until the title Society for Oxford Home Students was adopted. They were undergraduates of traditional age, residing (usually) with Oxford relatives; they might also include numbers of older women from overseas who preferred not to live in a hall. St. Anne's College traces its ancestry in line of direct descent from the Society and sees itself as the offshoot closest to the parent plant of women's education at Oxford. It acquired its current name in 1942 and collegiate status in 1952.
Two residential colleges, Lady Margaret Hall and Somerville, were founded in the same year (1879) that the Society for Oxford Home Students emerged as a visible entity, and are similarly, if less directly, rooted in the A.E.W. The chief point of difference between them at their founding was the question of the importance of church affiliation, with Lady Margaret Hall embracing Anglican Church principles, while the founders of Somerville promoted the concept of an undenominational hall. The following two decades produced two more women's colleges at Oxford - St. Hugh's in 1884, and St. Hilda's (as St. Hilda's Hall) in 1893. Of those original five, only Somerville and St. Hilda's remain single-sex institutions today. The University directive to Somerville in the summer of 1992 would have moved it into the ranks of mixed colleges except for a vigorous (and successful) campaign of opposition in which undergraduates and illustrious graduates spoke loudly, angrily, and conclusively for Somerville to continue as a college for women.
As at Cambridge, I had made an unfounded assumption about appropriate delimiters for my survey. Prior to arriving in Oxford, I believed that I needed only to look at the archives of the two colleges - Somerville and St. Hilda's - which, of the original five, still remain dedicated to single-sex education. It became clear almost immediately that all five were essential to an understanding of the original concept of Oxford education for women, and that documentation at all of them overlaps in such a way that makes it essential to look at them together.
Colleges in the following sections have been arranged by founding date. The three institutions founded in 1879 - Lady Margaret Hall, St. Anne's and Somerville - are dealt with first in alphabetical order. St. Anne's inclusion in this group is by virtue of the date of founding of the Society for Home Students.
Lady Margaret Hall
he position of Archivist at Lady Margaret Hall is filled on a limited part-time basis by Mrs. Courtenay, a professional archivist by education and training. Requests for access to the Archives are addressed to Mrs. Courtenay, but must be granted by the Governing Body of College, to which she reports. At the time of my visit, there was minimal administrative crossover to the Library. Records of the Governing Board are closed for 80 years from the date of origin; most other records remain closed for a period of 30 years. The Archives occupies a specially designated suite of rooms adjacent to the Principal's Office, and when Mrs. Courtenay is not at the College, messages for her are accepted in the office of the Principal.
Lady Margaret Hall completed its first century as a college for women in June 1978, and celebrated the event with pomp and ceremony. That milestone and the details of its celebration are in the Centenary number of the College Brown Book for December 1978. In the following year (1979), however, LMH joined the ranks of "mixed" colleges with the admission of male undergraduates. Whether it is a result of the neat closure implicit in finishing an unambiguously female first hundred years or some other factor, the original mission of female education and the woman's "voice" survives emphatically at LMH , with a well-bred modulation suited to the impeccable mallards that strolled the entrance quad at the time of my visit.
Archives holdings are described in a 9-page statement, compiled mainly by Susan Reynolds, completed in April 1992, and made available to me. In addition to functioning as an inventory - largely at the group and sub-group level - it contains a clear and economical exposition of policies and enumerates the specifics of access to the collections.
Lady Margaret Hall: Administrative Records: The LMH archives contain comprehensive documentation of the College's origins and governance. Council minutes and log books exist from 1878 and 1879, and Annual Reports from 1880 to the present, supplemented by extensive financial records. Treasurer's Account Books exist for 1879-1936, and a variety of financial records in other forms fills out the decades through the 1960s, with many categories tagged with an asterisk, to signify ongoing collecting. Committee records range widely, from.War Work Committee minutes 1942-46 to over 40 years of uninterrupted Garden Committee minutes, listed through 1967 and ongoing. There is a folder of information relating to Chapel at LMH ("Bishop's license 1885), and then little seems to be available on the subject until the 1930s. Library committee minutes, on the other hand, begin relatively early (1898) and are currently collected. Principals' papers and personnel files, listed by Susan Reynolds, may provide further insight into administrative matters for the researcher who requests the appropriate detailed inventories from the Archivist.
Under the heading of General Administration, administrative records for LMH overlap with some relating to the other Oxford colleges for women, and are part of what led me to expand my original survey. For instance, LMH holds information about St. Anne's incorporation in 1950-51, along with three folders about Principals' meetings of the five women's colleges 1968-73. There is also a suggestion of involvement with Cambridge in the file for the "Newnham alliance, 1933-58".
Lady Margaret Hall: Student and Alumnae Records: These are largely grouped as "Educational Documentation", and break down into categories familiar to overseas researchers: admissions materials, student registers, teaching schedules (1893-1909), and a promising collection of files for students which are in regular series from 1955 on, and occasional prior to that time. Offerings of the LMH Association ("formerly Old Student Society/Senior Members Association") might come closest to what we characterize as "student and alumnae records", the latter especially in Brown Book files (1892 to the present), with a range of coverage similar to an American women's college alumnae quarterly, plus student notes. Throughout, careful attention has been given to the chronology of records, so that a researcher interested in a specific period would be able to track it with ease across the inventoried groups.
The inventory also contains a listing of deposits apparently not yet processed and interfiled, but accessible by subject and date so that an interested researcher attempting to gain some sense of the scope of existing material, can do so, regardless of its level of arrangement.
St. Anne's College
r. David Smith, as senior librarian, provides access to St. Anne's archives as well as administering, with a second professional librarian, the College library of 100,000 volumes. The Library is a busy place, and traffic seemed to flow more quickly there than in the other Oxford colleges I visited. Both Dr. Smith and the woman's "voice" of the Society of 1879 seemed equally difficult at first to locate and isolate. As at Lady Margaret Hall, single sex education was offered to women at St. Anne's for 100 years, and the first male students entered in the fall of 1979. In contrast to LMH, however, which seems most accurately described as a woman's-college-which-now-admits-men, St. Anne's comes across as if it has always had a student body diversified not only by gender but by age as well (reflecting an early commitment to post-baccalaureate study). It would be interesting, but beyond the point of this study, to examine whether the prevailing ambience is due to this, to the high ratio of out-of-country students currently enrolled there for graduate study, the relatively late development of the physical plant, a blend of these, or to something else entirely. In any case, I felt like an anachronism in search of an anachronism as Dr. Smith led me to a modest cupboard at the top of a flight of stairs and produced a key before he headed down the stairs to reenter the swirling currents of mainstream library activity.
St. Anne's College: Administrative Records: The cupboard contains an arrangement of ten or a dozen groups, more like sub-groups, described partly by a list which outlines them and partly by a small card index. The combination of list and cards, both pragmatic and direct, provides access to the contents of the Archives cabinet. St. Anne's records are designated "SA"; further documentation about the modern physical plant exists in "AA" for Art and Architecture. Generally, chronology is not clear from the list alone, but one could establish it, and retrieve materials, by making more use of the card file than I took time to do. The development of the college appears to be documented also in parallel files of personal papers. The papers of Bertha Jane Johnson, secretary of the AEW, lists materials relating to the question of degrees, a topic which appears also in the papers of her successor, Annie Mary Ann Rogers, as "the first move for degrees, 1895/96", and "the second move, 1908-1920".
In addition to the records for St. Anne's, other holdings look extremely promising for information about interrelationships among the colleges and organizations which were instrumental in bringing women to Oxford. The determined researcher can trace the beginnings of the Association for the Education of Women in sets of annual reports and "calendars" complete from 1879 through 1920. "Delegacy for Women Students" encompasses nine sub-headings which include "Women Students' Union", "Memo from Women's Colleges", and "Entrances, degrees, results, etc.".
St. Anne's College: Student and Alumnae Records: Information about the women of St. Anne's does not seem to be readily available from the cabinet list, although the "OHS" group looked like promising documentation for Oxford Home Students and St. Anne's Society. More might be gleaned from two publications. The Fritillary, a magazine of literature and poetry, was an intercollegiate effort begun in 1896, and an issue for 1897 lists editorial representatives from the Home Students, Somerville, Lady Margaret Hall, and St. Hugh's. It provides information about student organizations, political activities and the like. The files also contain issues of The Daisy, a similar publishing effort. Named for ephemeral aspects of summer, both seem to have waxed and waned from season to season, with files at more than one college, though no attempt seemed to have been made to assemble a single complete set.
Access to the cupboard materials is granted informally and readily by Dr. Smith, and for the time at least their location within the Library guarantees that they will continue to be available to researchers. This small but important gathering of materials seems to have potential for illuminating records at other Oxford colleges for women, and is in turn enhanced by them. One hopes that in time its seminal importance and the context which it shares with other similar records in the University will become more widely recognized and established via appropriate mechanisms, even such simple ones as cross-listings and the distribution of relevant inventories.
iss Adams, Librarian of the College is also an alumna. Her part-time responsibility for the Archives is clearly an active one, well supported within the administrative structure and facilitated by library staff members occupying one and one-half positions in addition to her own. Administratively, Miss Adams reports directly to the Library Committee and the Governing Body of the College, and appears to have been and to continue to be quite free within this arrangement to develop the Archives. In 1990, her efforts and planning brought about the creation of an Archives Room, dedicated space consisting of a suite of three rooms outfitted with compact shelving. Acid-free storage materials seemed to be readily available and used with consistency.
Somerville College. 1903. [Click on image to enlarge it.]
Miss Adams grants access to the collections and I was able to use a finding list which she has compiled from a survey of records stored both in the Library and throughout the College in what she described as a variety of "offices and cupboards and attics". The Library has generally housed older materials, while administrative units throughout the College have tended to retain their own records. Miss Adams has identified five locations where archival materials exist, and has adopted a system of color-coding to facilitate the ready integration of dispersed materials, when that becomes possible. If the Archives Room cannot accommodate all groups, Miss Adams has designated which would be shelved there, as well as the disposition of the others.
Somerville: Administrative Records: Nine categories of records established by Miss Adams' list document the administration of Somerville. The categories are as follows:
B. Council/Governing Board and its statutory committees
G. Gifts and bequests
Constitutional records and those of the Council/Governing Board/committees (A and B, above) will remain shelved together in the space I saw. If not brought to the Archives Room, categories F through Q will be kept together in another location; E and R will be retained by appropriate offices.
Even at this preliminary stage of survey and description, the scope of the collections can be ascertained. Governing Board and Committee records in the Archives Room exist from the founding in 1879 through 1914. The gap which seems to exist until the 1940s and from the 1960s may well be filled in by materials in those categories I noted in two other locations ("Darbishire cupboard" and "Safe Cupboard"), where they are listed without chronological information. Educational records ("E") exist up to 1920 in the Archives Room, later records in a fourth location. Included are minutes of meetings of the "Society of Oxford Women Tutors" from 1909 to 1921, when the University finally voted to admit women to degrees. A minute book for the Central Committee of Oxford Women Undergraduates, 1921-32, documents the ten years following that significant victory.
The papers of Madeleine Shaw Lefevre, Agnes Maitland, Emily Penrose are presently shelved in the Archives Room, as are Principal's papers from the turn of the century and records for the Senior Common Room from 1934 through the second World War, into the 1950s. As in other cases where such papers exist, they supplement the administrative documentation.
Somerville: Student and Alumnae Records: Student files as such are not available to researchers, nor are there any plans to make them so. While it may prove difficult in the future to reconstruct the female experience at Somerville without access to them at some time, it will still be possible to do so from alternative groups of material which parallel similar groups at the other colleges. Volumes of The Somerville College Register, together with a card index to it, exist in the College Secretary's Room, as do manuscript ledgers from the opening in 1879, which provide information about entering students. Miss Adams will entertain requests for access to these materials. The records of the Junior Common Room, 1894-1920s, and of the Somerville Students' Association can be expected to fill out the picture of undergraduate life. In addition, "Women" appears as a subject heading in the Oxford University Gazette, and after 1921 as a second and separate alphabetical listing of the colleges, following the A-Z listing of men's colleges.
If St. Anne's swirls with activity and Lady Margaret Hall's tone is gently modulated, Somerville projects confidence. It may or may not be relevant that Somerville is the first women's space one encounters walking north from the concentration of the men's colleges in the center of Oxford and thus physically closer to them than the other colleges which were or remain dedicated to women. I found the experience of sitting at High Table in the Senior Common Room that I recognized from a Dorothy Sayers television presentation a powerful reinforcement of the sense of place, and suspect it works that way for most who sit there. In addition, and somewhat unique among English colleges (though becoming less so, as they look to American models), the Alumnae Association is more than an abstraction at Somerville. The network is strong, and has always been so - and was visible to all in 1992, when Margaret Thatcher and Iris Murdoch, among others, entered the debate that preserved Somerville's single-sex status, at least for the time being. Should that status be preserved, its archives for the 1990s will be at least as important as those for the 1890s.
St. Hugh's College
n what seems to have become a pattern, St. Hugh's rounded out a complete century as a college for women before admitting men in 1986. This statement in the 1992 Prospectus presents a forward looking self-image: "After one hundred successful years as a college for women, St. Hugh's is now firmly established as one of Oxford's newest mixed colleges". Deborah Quare, who administers a library of 69,000 volumes with the help of a graduate assistant, has responsibility for the archives as well. She grants access to all but student records, which reside in the office of the Secretary of the College, just across the hall from her own, a physical arrangement which facilitates interaction between the two.
To establish control over the archival collections, Miss Quare makes use of computer technology, in part as a logical extension of computer applications already in place in the main Library, and in part as a necessity to compensate for the absence of supplementary staff for either the library or archives. Collections can be accessed through two finding aids: a word processor list, essentially of titles, alphabetically arranged, and by subject. At the time of my visit, Miss Quare had used dBase III software to establish subject access by individual names, building names, organizations, events (both College events and such entries as Boer War and World Wars I and II), and by publication titles and two categories of Junior Common Room records, "New" and "Old". The advantages for quick reference access were clear as she produced a lengthy list of sources for information about "May Morning", a traditional observance at St. Hugh's.
Somerville: Administrative Records: The alphabetical inventory will be integrated into dBase III as time and staff allow,. Even in its current form, it provides a picture of the archives of the college, confirming the existence of college by-laws, statutes and registers. While one expects to find documentation of St. Hugh's history in these forms, similar and extensive entries for Somerville College (e.g. Somerville College Reports, 1896-1937),come as a surprise and underscore the apparent overlapping of documentation throughout the five colleges. It is not possible to elaborate within this survey how Somerville materials at St. Hugh's relate to similarly described materials at Somerville. A comparison would be interesting, and it would also be interesting to examine more closely the listings which appear in the St. Hugh's inventory for St. Anne's and St. Hilda's, and for the Association for the Education of Women. Files of the Fritillary, an intercollegiate literary magazine which appeared in 1896, exist at St. Hugh's for 1913-15, and sporadically through 1927, possibly supplementing runs of that periodical at St. Anne's and St. Hilda's.
Somerville: Student and Alumnae Records: Listings of scattered holdings for the AEW, International Student Service (1920s) and the Somerville Student Association (1909-1925 passim) suggest the range of resources relating to student life at St. Hugh's, together with the nature of its interrelationships with its sister institutions. The St. Hugh's Chronicle appears to be published yearly, and is a remarkably complete amalgam of what we find separately published in American colleges as a variety of administrative reports which review the distant and immediate past of the institution and Alumnae Quarterly features (especially the exhaustively researched obituary accounts). If what I found in the one issue I examined (1990/91) is typical of the publication in general, this could be a uniquely accessible tool for examining the lives of women who attended St. Hugh's during its first century, made especially significant given the relatively greater difficulty at other Oxford women's colleges of gaining access to student records.
St. Hilda's College
aria Croghan, a St. Hilda's alumna, administers the College Library of approximately 60,000 volumes with the assistance of two full-time staff members, and - as at the other Colleges I visited where no archivist exists - Miss Croghan also is responsible for and grants access to St. Hilda's archives. In the familiar configuration. student records are separate from the archives, and reside at St. Hilda's with the College Secretary.
At the time of my visit, St. Hilda's, founded in 1893, was approaching its centennial; at the time of this writing, it has passed it, and a centenary volume which was being prepared by M.E. Rayner is available/is expected to be available by ............. St. Hilda's completes its first century as a women's college whose single-sex dedication seems not to be in question As at Somerville, there is a strong alumnae association, which is growing stronger, at least partly because a Development Office has been established, along the lines of what exists at American colleges, which recognizes the importance of alumnae to College programs, and supports the strengthening of their ties with St. Hilda's.
Some of the most unique materials in St. Hilda, potentially of great importance to researchers, are the papers relating to Cheltenham Ladies' College, and especially to Dorothea S. Beale, headmistress at CLC and founder of St. Hilda's. She, her contemporary, Frances Mary Buss of North London Collegiate School, together with Lillian Faithfull of King's College and Royal Holloway, are figures who must be dealt with in any treatment of the how and why of higher education for women in England. In fact, St. Hilda's and CLC remained connected until their constitutional separation in the 1920s, at the time of the granting of full university membership to women. The archives include files of the Cheltenham Ladies' College Magazine, 1898-1952, and Beale's history of CLC, 1853-1904.
Correspondence at St. Hilda's is indexed by letter writer as well as by recipient, and includes Beale's correspondence. In addition, a promising adjunct to correspondence seems to be "Biography and original work, A-Z", which includes additional Beale material, and appears to encompass at least some files of personal papers of students, faculty, and administrators, arranged by surname.
The Archives is housed in the Library, but, as at Somerville, archival materials also exist in scattered locations throughout the College. A card catalogue which provides access by topic also assists in the identification of archival groups which parallel those at other colleges.
St. Hilda's: Administrative Records: The researcher interested in administrative records finds them under subject headings in the card catalogue: minute books of the Council and committees from the founding , staff meetings minutes, annual reports , reports of tutors and teachers (1898-1910) all provide access. While minute books of the Council begin three years after the founding, there are numerous listings under "History", from "prefoundation" to at least as late as the 1960s.
In what appears to be a significant departure from the pattern at the other Oxford women's colleges, St. Hilda's administrative records, appear to be far less dominant in the archives than records of students and alumnae.
St. Hilda's: Student and Alumnae Records: As in the St. Hugh's Chronicle, extensive biographical information about alumnae is included in the St. Hilda's Register, 1893-1944, with a comprehensive Centennial Register planned (released?? date?). The card catalogue heading for "Undergraduates" uncovers correspondence around the turn of the century, in which an undergraduate is often the subject rather than the author. This apparently unique feature needs further exploration. Programs of theatricals, records of tutor appointments, [student?] drawings and a 1979 Junior Common Room survey augment the body of information about undergraduates. The Fritillary has come to rest here as at St. Anne's and St. Hugh's, and St. Hilda's may well have the most complete set, 1896-1930.
Headings for "Women..." open a range of possibilities beyond St. Hilda's. For example, Lady Margaret Hall is mentioned in material relating to women and war (1913-18, 1939-45), and a 16-page brochure, The Four Oxford Women's Colleges, was published in 1923 and is inventoried under "Women's Education". Chronological notations spanning 1912 through at least 1930 occur throughout these materials. Oral histories, consisting of 30-33 interviews with ..............were conducted in.....................by..........They are listed as "Sound Archives". The only other oral history collection I encountered was at Girton College, Cambridge.
The card index suggests that material has been collected here and grouped rather more deliberately than elsewhere to reflect origins and interrelationships. If this is so, St. Hilda's records could be a useful element for a comparative study of the resources relating to the history of women at Oxford.
Last modified 18 March 2013