Women of Oxford

Posted 2 months ago

Celebrating 100 years of Oxford University accepting women

The following blog is written by guest writer Etsegenet Herschmann, University of Melbourne

Almost 100 years ago this month, Oxford University granted women the opportunity to obtain official degrees. While the privilege had been awarded to men since the 12th century, women fought for the right to complete their studies at Oxford with a recognised degree - a major milestone for women and education globally.

Most notable beneficiaries of this historical statute of admission are women who have commanded our political stages, dominated our screens, revolutionised our economies and mesmerised us with their haunting words. They have been politicians, academics, actors, philanthropists, researchers, ground breakers and role-models for hundreds of thousands of women to follow.

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Infamously known as the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, a chemistry graduate of Oxford transformed London into a global city during her leadership from 1979-1990. The former Prime Minister’s implementation of deregulation policies has impacted the actions of her successors. In our recent past, British leaders such as Tony Blair have borrowed the philosophies of Thatcher, as evident in his promotion of the free market.

Amal Clooney graduated from Oxford with a Law degree and proceeded to gain a Master of Laws from NYU. Her passion for the law and fluency in Arabic and French has enabled her to become a successful and respected Human Rights lawyer. Clooney has represented notorious individuals such as the former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and has fought for the government of Greece in their battle against Britain to reclaim the Parthenon sculptures.

A modern multilinguist, Kate Beckinsale, studied Russian and French literature at Oxford’s New College. Oxford’s Playhouse provided Beckinsale with the opportunity to showcase her talents as an actor, specifically in Tom Hooper’s A View from the Bridge. Beckinsale’s obsession with language and performance come together in the reimagined Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship, a reimagined film of Jane Austen’s novella, Lady Susan.

These brilliant women were very fortunate to have had their characters affirmed and celebrated by one of the top institutions in the world. Prior to Oxford University granting women full membership, females were permitted to study but not gain degrees.

Annie Rogers, the muse for Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, should be a reminder of how much women have struggled to gain the education that we now so readily take for granted. Raised in a progressive family who aligned themselves with women’s suffrage and liberal politics, Rogers’ upbringing very much delineated from the rhetoric accepted by the University.

In 1873, four years after women were finally able to sit Oxford University exams, Rogers beat out her fellow competitors becoming the first female to gain first-class honours. Due to the anonymity of her initials provided in her examination paper, A.M.A.H.R., two Oxford colleges, Worcester and Balliol, both offered Rogers scholarships. Upon the realisation of her gender, they retracted their offers immediately.

Annie was not to be hindered.

In 1877, she became the first female to achieve first-class honours in Greek and Latin and later in Ancient History. A true academic and suffragette, Rogers became a committed member of the first council of AEW (Association for the Education of Women). Annie served the council for over 40 years, starting at the tender age of 22.

In 1879, as a Founding Fellow of the Society of Oxford Home Students, Rogers and her Founders provided residency and education for women students, driven by their purpose to “make university life accessible”.

The achievements of Oxford University graduates like Thatcher, Clooney, Beckinsale and Annie Rogers, who fought for acceptance, continue to inspire current and future generations of women to fight against institutional limitations.

The only question remains is will you join the likes of those who have gone before you to make your own mark on the world? After all, power comes from a great education as evidenced by these amazing female graduates of Oxford and Cambridge.

For more information on what day to day life is like for an Oxford student in 2020, hear from Oxford music student Chloe. You can also watch this amazing video from Crimson alumni Caitlin - now a Chemistry student at Oxford.

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