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Commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the first admission of women to degrees of the University

A Commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the first admission of women to degrees of the University was held in the Senate-House on 4 July 1998.

Music was played by the King's Trumpeters.

The Orator addressed the assembly, followed by the Vice-Chancellor. An alumna responded on behalf of each matriculation group.

Speech by the Orator
IN Paradiso, si creditur famae, quae feminis inest cupido discendi bene intellegebatur. quae cur per multa saecula quasi reprimi posset non nunc est opus dicto, sed doctae fuerunt nihilominus feminae: quid enim sine Egeria sapit Numa? quid Aeneas sine Sibylla Cumaea? quis denique e principibus nostris sapientior Elizabetha priore eius nominis regina? quae cum olim Orator diu Latine alloquebatur non modo audiuit sed etiam omnia eius uerba percepit.
in uniuersitate prius multo quam feminis ipsis studere licuit erant tamen quae quid ualeret in ciuitate doctrina memores beneuolentia mirabili effecissent ut alteri studerent, qualis Elizabetha domina de Clare cum familiari sua Maria comitissa de Pembrochio; uel quales par reginarum Margareta de Andibus atque Elizabetha Woodville; uel qualis Margareta mater regis, quae non modo duo collegia fundauit Christi Sanctique Iohannis Euangelistae sed etiam theologiae suo nomine cathedram iam D annos superstitem qua nulla nostrarum diuturnior; uel qualis Francisca Sidney comitissa de Sussex. neue Radegunda illa omittatur cuius in nomine nonnarum domus instituta (idque prius quam uniuersitas ipsa) rursus uoces laudem Dei cantantium accipit feminarum.
bonum uobis et antiquum manebat heredium - sed maturius ad recentiora perueni. interim tamen aderant quas hodie primas salutamus, non sine auxiliantium frequentia maiore quam hic mentioni uacamus, Aemilia Davies et Anna Clough, quae pro parte feminarum ipsarum fundamenta iecerunt. mox celebrabantur Agnata Ramsay et Philippa Fawcett, illa in rerum antiquiorum scientia optima iudicata, haec mathematicarum; quibus adiungatur Marion Bidder, quae uirtute in studiis rerum naturae probata animalium plantarumque docuit collegio in utroque rationes. quas feminas quod non in eadem tabula qua homines nuncupari tum licuit uix scio an uniuersitati sit potius dedecori quam laudi uobis quia uim potestatemque feminarum in studiis hominis ingenio ut credebatur aptioribus uindicauerunt.
ascendendi tamen, ut in aedificium hoc, etiam tum gradus erant cathedraeque capiendae: forsan et haec olim meminisse iuuabit.1
1 Vergil Aeneid i 203.
IN the garden of Eden, according to the story, women's innate desire for knowledge was very well understood. For many centuries their enthusiasm was repressed, for reasons we need not go into here; yet learned women are to be found in all ages. What would the wisdom of Numa have been without his Egeria, or that of Aeneas without the Sibyl of Cumae? What sovereign has this kingdom had more wise than Elizabeth I? The Orator once addressed her in Latin for half an hour: she heard him through, and understood his every word.
In the University, long before they were free themselves to study, there were women who knew the importance of learning and whose generosity furthered the studies of men: women such as Lady Elizabeth de Clare, and her friend Mary Countess of Pembroke; such as that pair of queens Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville; such as Margaret, mother of Henry VII, who founded not only Christ's and St John's Colleges but also the Lady Margaret Professorship of Divinity, the oldest of our Chairs; such as Lady Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex; even such as Saint Radegund, in whose name a nunnery was founded long before the University itself, where the praise of God is now sounded once again by voices of women.
A good and enduring inheritance they created - but I anticipate. Meantime, and not without the help of more friends and supporters than could easily be mentioned here, two women had established foundations for their own sex, and those women come first in today's celebrations: Emily Davies and Anne Jemima Clough. Soon came Agnata Ramsay and Philippa Fawcett, taking top Firsts in Classics and Mathematics respectively, and Marion Bidder should be mentioned too, who took a First Class in both Parts of the Natural Sciences Tripos before lecturing in Physiology and Botany in both your Colleges. Was it more shame to the University that their names could not be read out with the men, or glory to you that in those subjects traditionally thought fitter for men they proved the capacity of women?
Yet even then there were steps to climb (into this Senate-House, for instance), and places to win. As Aeneas observed, however, there are eventually things to remember with pleasure.

Speech by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Alec Broers
VISITORS to Cambridge often ask 'Where is the University? Is there a single place that can be picked out as the heart of this great University?' The answer is that it must be this Senate-House, where the University confers its degrees and where, every fort-night, members of the University Senate, a body which includes all the M.A.s of the University, express their opinions on current issues. It was here in 1947 that the Regent House, then comprising only men, finally voted to open full membership of the University to women.
The Senate had previously refused these rights, amid shameful scenes of rioting, in 1897 and again in 1920 and 1921, but by 1947 the reform for which so many women and men had worked for so long was at last realized. The necessary change in the University Statutes was approved by the Privy Council in April 1948. The following October H.M. Queen Elizabeth came here to this Senate-House to receive an honorary Doctorate. And later in the same autumn, it was here again that the first women received the Doctorates, Masters', and Bachelors' Degrees which they had earned. Some of them are with us today.
Coming right up to date, our Chancellor admitted this year's honorands to their degrees here only ten days ago, and it seems particularly appropriate that in this fiftieth anniversary year the majority of the honorands were women. It was made all the more memorable because Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother came back to Cambridge to congratulate them.
It is difficult today to understand why previous generations made reform so gradual, no matter how inevitable it now looks in principle, and no matter how such partial change seems to us indefensible intellectually. Like so many changes from the nineteenth century across Britain, equality in Cambridge was approached slowly and piecemeal, but one has only to look at the lives led by the women whom we honour here today to see that they did not let themselves be daunted by recurrent refusals to recognize their academic achievements. From 1882 women received a certificate on completion of their courses, but not the title of a degree. From 1923 they did receive the titles of degrees, but a different certificate from the men, and from that which is used today. And they were still excluded from participation in ceremonies; they were not allowed to wear University gowns, and were allowed no part in the government of the University. Real powers and responsibilities as well as their symbols came only in 1948. The reforms of that year probably meant most of all to the women academics of the University. How astonishing it is to realize that great Cambridge figures like Helen Cam and Jane Harrison had not been entitled to wear gowns or to take part in University ceremonies. This situa-tion surely reached absurdity with the appointment of Dorothy Garrod as Disney Professor of Archaeology in 1939. The reforms that we are commemorating righted many personal wrongs. They also allowed the two pioneering women's Colleges, Girton and Newnham, to take their place as full Colleges of the University.
Today Cambridge is a very different place in almost every way. All the Colleges are open to women, who make up forty-five per cent of the undergraduate population. The number of women reaching senior academic ranks is still much lower than I would like, and than I think appropriate for the UK's leading University. The fraction of women studying the scientific and technological subjects that are generating today's revolution in human behaviour is also seriously below the ideal of fifty per cent. However, the University is strongly committed to equal opportunities and has a range of policies to support women. Women are strongly represented on the University Council, which is the principal executive and policy-making body of the University. Following in Dame Rosemary Murray's pioneering footsteps as our first woman Vice-Chancellor, Mrs Anne Lonsdale, the present President of New Hall, became this month one of the two Pro-Vice-Chancellors.
Placet - 'It pleases' - was the word that rang through the Senate-House when the Grace was approved. As Vice-Chancellor fifty years on it pleases me immensely to welcome to the Senate-House so many of those women whose lives were directly affected by that historic decision.

Response by Baroness David of Romsey in the City of Cambridge on behalf of those who matriculated in the years 1921-38
VICE-CHANCELLOR, Orator, on behalf of all of us who were up between 1921 and 1938, I thank you for your warm welcome and generous words. It seems to me a tremendous tribute to Cambridge and to our two Colleges that nine hundred of us have wanted to come to this celebration, half a century after the Grace was enacted in 1948 granting women full membership of the University. Our oldest celebrant is 97. We seem to last well.
The years 1921-38 were effectively the inter-war years. We have to remind ourselves that women - and then only those over thirty - first got the vote in 1918. A Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was passed in 1919, and the first woman was called to the Bar in 1921. So perhaps the opposition to granting women full membership in 1920 and 1921 is not surprising. What still continues to shock is the violence which attended undergraduate celebrations of the rebuffs to women. In 1897 the undergraduates lighted a bonfire in the Market Square and caused hundreds of pounds' worth of damage. In 1921 they vandalized the gates at Newnham.
I must confess that thinking back to my time here from 1932 to 1935, I do not remember great feelings of resentment that I could not become B.A. Cantab and would only be a mere titular B.A. I think most of us were just so thrilled to be here in Cambridge. Also, there were certain advantages to our deprived position: we did not have to wear gowns; we were not subject to proctorial authority. What I am sure about is that it must have been intolerable for our women Fellows not to be full members of the University and to have no say in matters that concerned their subjects, Faculties, and Departments, even though eleven women were appointed to University Lectureships in 1926 and a woman Professor, Dorothy Garrod, was elected in 1939.
Our life in the thirties was very different from the freedom women students now enjoy. Men had to be out of our Colleges by 7 p.m. and, if we visited men in their Colleges, we were supposed to have a chaperone. We could enjoy thés dansants at the Dorothy (long gone); and my friends and I gave the very first sherry party in Newnham in 1934. My great friend Frances Rowe was the first woman to take part in a Marlowe Society production. She played Cleopatra. Dick David, my future husband, played Anthony in a brilliant production by Dadie Rylands.
We mark, of course, not simply the vote of 1947 but also the long years of patient work by our predecessors, looking all the way back to the five students with whom Emily Davies opened her college in Hitchin in 1869. Unlike them, we do not always have to wear hats and gloves, or to negotiate for access for women to University laboratories and the University Library. But there is still much to be done. Cambridge, like other universities in the UK, presents a very flat pyramid: 45 per cent of the students may be women but only 14 per cent of the Lecturers and 6 per cent of the Professors are women. The University Press has contributed a splendid book for this occasion. It is encouraging to read in its final section of the initiatives the University is currently taking to alter that pyramid shape and to think about ways of advancing the education of women at Cambridge in the next hundred and twenty-five years.
Vice-Chancellor, it is an enormous pleasure for all of us to be here today, and I feel very privileged to be speaking for us elderly folk. I shall remember this occasion as vividly as I remember taking my M.A. (we got two degrees then for the price of one) in 1948 with my husband and two young sons watching from the gallery.

Response by Baroness Platt of Writtle in the County of Essex on behalf of those who matriculated in the years 1939-43
TODAY, in this historic Senate-House, we gladly celebrate fifty years of women's full membership of our great University, and I thank the Vice-Chancellor with much pleasure for his encouraging speech.
We women of the war years remember principally the hard work of two-year degrees, clothes and food rationing, blue lights in the corridors, black lines to regulate five inches of bath water, and the overriding anxiety as to whether we would win the war, until Pearl Harbor brought in our American allies and hopes were raised. However, there was the joy of the arrival at Fitzbillies of fresh bread or occasionally cake, swan for lunch on Sundays, and May Balls which we organized to the tunes of the Mildenhall RAF band. They were still the magic years when, to quote E.M. Forster, 'you see up here what you could not see before and may not ever see again'.
After I went down, I always quoted my B.A. Degree with confidence, as did my friends; and certainly no one questioned it, even though a female Mechanical Sciences Tripos was almost unheard of in those days. I nevertheless had a feeling of legitimacy when I collected my M.A. in person in the Senate-House in 1956; and was very greatly honoured by my alma mater with my Honorary Doctorate of Law in 1988 at the end of my term of office chairing the Equal Opportunities Commission. How grateful we all are to Cambridge for that astringent and demanding education we received, such a marvellous preparation for the challenges and problems we have since had to deal with in our subsequent lives. In that, we follow in the hallowed footsteps of our founders, Emily Davies and Anne Jemima Clough, who worked to transform the lives of British women. Without the fight of those early pioneers for women's higher education, women would not have achieved so many other advances which have benefited not only themselves but humanity as a whole.
Enough of history. We look forward today to the future of equal opportunities between men and women, which must remain our vision achieved in partnership, men and women together. Women are now full members of the University and in many Faculties well represented in both the subject and its results. We still need to do more to encourage able women into the sciences.
Then there is the so-called 'glass ceiling'. There are not enough women Heads of Houses, Professors, Readers; we are still a long way from achieving equal representation in the higher staff echelons of the University.
The main difference between men's and women's lives is that, as women proceed successfully in their careers and pass the age of thirty, they begin to be more aware of the biological clock ticking. There is only about a decade of child-bearing left. Family-friendly policies are developing in this University to enable women and men to combine happy and responsible family life with successful careers, so that hard-won qualifications and Cambridge-orientated expertise and understanding are not lost. Now is the time for Cambridge to take the lead, to pioneer new employment policies and redeem its laggardly early performance in equal opportunities.
As Shakespeare said, 'There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune'. That led to the publication of the Government Report in 1994 'The Rising Tide', with all-party support. It refers particularly to women in Science and Technology, and Dr Nancy Lane from this University chaired its working group. Its recommendations are relevant to all professional women in a society where technology will continue to accelerate change throughout the new millennium. The University needs to swim strongly with that tide and establish a new reputation for the twenty-first century of nurturing both men's and women's God-given talents to the service of future humankind.

Response by Dame Margaret Anstee on behalf of those who matriculated in the years 1944-48
I should like, on behalf of all of us, to thank the Vice-Chancellor for his words.
Our group differs from the previous ones in that only the first among us were denied full admission to the University, while those who came later were the first to enjoy that inestimable privilege.
Yet I did not detect then - nor do I now - any great sense of deprivation among the former, though the lack of the final accolade of a degree ceremony was undoubtedly an anticlimax to three unforgettable years. Perhaps it was because the first among us came up while the war was on, glad to be still alive and liable to be called away prematurely for service in the forces. Even after 1945, war and its aftermath were uppermost in our minds. Those years were imbued with a unique atmosphere. Older undergraduates returned to complete their studies, some of them disabled, all of them having experienced 'life' in a much more real sense than we who philosophized about it as we sipped NAMCO round our meagre coal fires, and they imparted some of that reality to us.
Perhaps it was also because entrance for women was severely restricted that we felt incredibly lucky to be here at all, and not disposed to upset the applecart by protesting against an anachronistic formality. It was not that we did not believe passionately in women's right to equality with men, but bra-burning was not yet in vogue, if only because clothing coupons were so precious! Discrimination afflicted us in more immediate ways: unlike male undergraduates, we not only had no 'bedders' but also had to do domestic chores for the College, because of staff shortages. But we were also aware of our advantages - of being outside the jurisdiction of the Proctors (though some present today may have the historic distinction of being among the first women to be 'progged') and, because of our limited numbers, a scarce commodity in high demand on the social scene.
Nothing could mar the sheer joy of being part of a long heritage of intellectual excellence and seeing unfold before us seemingly limitless horizons. 'Freedom' is the word several of my contemporaries have spontaneously used. It must seem strangely inappropriate to succeeding generations when they contemplate the restrictions that surrounded us - out-books, pink slips, gates locked at midnight, no men visitors after 10 p.m., and outings confined to the radius of a bicycle or a punt. But freedom there was - the freedom of having a room of one's own, of choosing what one wanted to read, of making friendships that would last a lifetime - and opportunities galore to hear famous people speak and to develop one's own talents, be it in acting, art, music, sport, or a myriad other things. That freedom was most keenly felt by those of us who came from modest homes with no history of higher education. I know I speak for many, and among them some who, sadly, are no longer with us, when I say that Cambridge opened a magic door on to a world that we had never dared to think we could enter - a world not only intellectually stimulating but a whole new universe that stretched our minds politically, culturally, and socially and gave us the self-assurance to enter the wider world that awaited outside.
Compared to all that, the matter of receiving only a title of a degree with the morning post was not so important. We were glad when the anomaly was - tardily - redressed and we are glad to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary today. But none of that can change our conviction that we have always belonged to Cambridge and that Cambridge belongs to us.

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Cambridge University Reporter, 22 July 1998
Copyright © 1998 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.