In the nineteenth-century, Emily Davies was a pioneering campaigner for women’s rights to university access Emily, together with Barbara Bodichon, led the founding of Britain’s first women’s college, Girton College at Hitchin, Hertfordshire.
22 April 1830 – 13 July 1921
Emily Davies was an English feminist, suffragist and a pioneering campaigner for women’s rights to university access. Born in Southampton, England to an evangelical clergyman and a teacher in 1830, She spent most of her youth in Gateshead.
In 1862, after the death of her father, Davies moved to London, where she edited a feminist publication, The Englishwoman’s Journal. Davies became a founder member of a women’s discussion group, the Kensington Society.
Emily Davies campaigned for a woman’s right to education. She was active on the London School Board and in the Schools Inquiry Commission and was instrumental in obtaining the admission of girls to official secondary school examinations.
She then advocated for the admission of women to the Universities of London, Oxford and Cambridge. Like all universities at this time, these were exclusively male domains.
She also became involved in the Suffrage movement, which centred on a woman’s right to vote. She was involved in organizing for John Stuart Mill’s 1866 petition to the British Parliament, which was the first to ask for women’s suffrage. That same year, she also wrote the book The Higher Education of Women.
In 1869, Davies (together with Barbara Bodichon – an English educationalist, artist, and a leading early nineteenth century feminist and activist for women’s rights.) led the founding of Britain’s first women’s college, Girton College at Hitchin, Hertfordshire. In 1873, the institution moved to Cambridge, Cambridgeshire. From 1873 to 1875, Davies served as mistress of the college, where she then served as Secretary until 1904.
Girton College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England. It was called the College for Women, and was located at Benslow House, Hitchin, a town in Hertfordshire, England. The first group of students were known as The Pioneers. In 1872 the present site, located about two and a half miles northwest of the centre of Cambridge, next to the village of Girton was purchased; the College was then renamed Girton College, and opened at the new location in October of 1873.
Over the years, many additions have considerably expanded the size of the college, most recently the award-winning library extension. Numerically and geographically, Girton is now one of the largest Colleges in Cambridge. However, the geographical separation means that the majority of people socialise within the College to a greater extent than at most other Colleges, which is said to create a distinctive, even cosy, atmosphere that is well renowned throughout the University. Girton also proudly houses an Egyptian mummy named “Hermione”, and is the only Cambridge college to have its own indoor heated swimming pool.
On April 27, 1948, women were admitted to full membership of the University of Cambridge, and Girton College received the status of a College of the University. However, to remember the time when women were not allowed to obtain degrees of the University of Cambridge, no gowns are worn during the college feast, when students in their final year are celebrated.
The motto of Girton College is:
“Better is wisdom than weapons of war “
Wisdom must have been an essential for Elizabeth Garrett Anderson when she fought for her own right (and the right for all women) to be accepted for medical training and to be admitted to the medical profession. Elizabeth’s story is coming next in the Soft Footsteps series.
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