1880s Cambridge brides


Darwin 8 Ann KS talk _

Picture credit: Jeremy Peters @JezPete

Last summer I gave a talk at Darwin College as part of Literature Cambridge’s ‘Fictions of Home’ course. I highlighted the work of three women who changed Cambridge: Anne Jemima Clough (the first Principal of Newnham College), Helen Gladstone (a Newnham student, and later its Vice-Principal) and Ida Darwin, whose voluntary work for the Cambridge Association for the Care of Girls from 1883 onwards led to her twentieth-century involvement in mental health.

This week I will be speaking at the University Library about some of the women-led associations that sprang up in Cambridge in the 1880s. It was a time when the fledgling women’s colleges at Girton and Newnham were becoming established, and University statutes requiring Fellows to remain unmarried had been dropped. The change in rules “brought to Cambridge a number of young brides of graduate status with leisure and keenness,” Jessie Stewart later wrote, “and it was no accident that zeal for education brought social awareness.”

It would be many years before women were accepted as equal members of the University; they were not awarded degrees until 1948, and numbers of women students were capped until the 1980s, as the current exhibition ‘The Rising Tide’  shows. But the female students and wives who arrived in the 1880s also brought their own ideas about making Cambridge a better, fairer place. They were inspired by ideas of social reform, women’s suffrage and access to higher education. It wasn’t surprising that they organized their own societies and clubs, providing not only social networks and forums for discussion but also organizations to help local underprivileged girls.

My recent Literature Cambridge blogpost, with an extract from my July talk, is here. I’m delighted to be on their lecturer list, and looking forward to taking part in their summer course ‘Reading the 1920s’ (26-31 July 2020), discussing how Ida Darwin’s social welfare work developed, and had increasing national influence in the field of mental health, in the 1920s.

Ann Kennedy Smith (all rights reserved) 

Sources: Jessie Stewart, ‘Social Welfare in Cambridge’, The Cambridge Review, 5 November 1960

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