Archive for the ‘equality’ Tag

The Steamboat Ladies

Girton College Cambridge September 2018I am sitting in the middle of Woodland Court at Girton College, Cambridge, my alma mater. From this bench I have a good view of the college chapel in one corner and the library in the other. Due to its Victorian gothic red-brick style (built 1874-87) everything here looks like a chapel – the library, the dining hall – one of the main reasons I came here was that I had been reading ‘Northanger Abbey’ just before choosing a college, was really taken with it, and thought this infidel place looked like it.

Next year Girty celebrates her 150th birthday and through that I came across the ‘Steamboat Ladies’. The Steamboat Ladies were female graduates of Cambridge and Oxford who were not granted degrees by their university but were awarded them instead by Trinity College, Dublin which was more progressive with regard to equality in higher education.

This took place between June 1904 (the year in which ‘Ulysses’ is set) and December 1907. The ladies were forced to board the steamboat for Dublin because their own universities, at which they attended the women-only colleges of Girton, Newnham and Sommerville, refused to confer degrees upon women.

Trinity College, Dublin started admitting female students in 1904. Cambridge and Oxford ghettoised the women in separate female colleges. Girton sits here on the edge of town, a good cycle ride from the centre, because that’s as near as the women were allowed. Before here it was in Hitchen, an even safer distance away, 35 miles away in Hertfordshire. The University of Dublin had a tripartite arrangement with Oxford and Cambridge of ad eundem mutual recognition.

Students at Benslow House, Hitchin, in 1872. In 1873 it reopened just outside Cambridge and became Girton College.

Students at Benslow House, Hitchin, in 1872. In 1873 it reopened just outside Cambridge and became Girton College.

By December 1907 Trinity College had granted degrees to around 720 Steamboat Ladies. They had all passed the exams at Oxbridge that earned male students a degree.

By the time I came here in 1983 this was 50/50 mixed, the only such college in Cambridge.

Girton College Cambridge officials mistress

Girton founders

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