Archiving the pandemic

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Francis J.H. Jenkinson by John Singer Sargent (1915), Cambridge University Library

‘His long librarianship was uneventful on the whole’ (Gaselee)

In an April blogpost, I described how in 1915 Cambridge University Librarian Francis Jenkinson began work on a groundbreaking project to commemorate the First World War. Throughout the war years he gathered a huge collection of flyers, posters, pamphlets and books in English, French & German to produce as detailed a documentary record as possible of the European conflict. Cambridge residents were invited to take part in the project. “Such flying pieces as those which are dropped from aeroplanes or posted on hoardings would be particularly welcome”, read a 1915 advertisement in the Cambridge Magazine.

The material that was amassed by members of the public and Jenkinson’s worldwide contacts (one librarian was even sent to France to buy material) includes trench journals and pamphlets in German, French and English, produced by soldiers at the front line, magazines from internment camps, official histories and reports and propaganda posters. The collection was carefully preserved at the University Library as the ‘War of 1914-1919 Collection’ or War Reserve Collection, and today most of the material is so fragile that it has to be consulted on microfilm.

Now Francis Jenkinson’s unique archive has inspired a new collaborative project at the Cambridge University Library, which aims to document our experiences during the coronavirus crisis. Called “Collecting Covid-19”it involves the University and the wider Cambridge community in collecting material that will be used by future historians. It is organized by Caylin Smith, the UL’s Digital Preservation Manager, and Jacky Cox, the Keeper of the University Archives. They want to collect all kinds of digital and physical materials, including (but not limited to) videos, photographs, leaflets, journals and diaries. In London the Wellcome Collection is expected to coordinate efforts to collect similar material on a nationwide basis. We are all invited to act as our own archivists, and to store our individual collections safely until the libraries and museums open their doors again.

©Ann Kennedy Smith 3 May 2020

Sources: Stephen Gaselee, ‘Francis Jenkinson, 1853-1923: an address to the Bibliographical Society, 15 Oct. 1923’, Trans. Bibliog. Soc. . N.S.; v. 4, no. 3, Oxford, 1923

More about Francis Jenkinson’s War Reserve Collection here: https://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/collections/departments/rare-books/rare-books-collections/war-1914-1919-collection

‘Collecting Covid-19’ Cambridge University website: https://www.cam.ac.uk/stories/CollectingCovid-19

Francis Jenkinson and the quiet storm

UL

Like many people, I felt sad when Cambridge University Library had to close its doors last month because of the coronavirus pandemic. I miss the Manuscripts department, the friendly tea-room and the generous presence of librarians, archivists and staff. But it’s good to know that the library remains open online. This blogpost is my take on a personal crisis in the life of Francis Jenkinson, who was University Librarian from 1889 until 1923.

At the end of 1891 Francis Jenkinson, aged 38, had been working at the Cambridge University Library for just over two years. Then in its original location in the Schools building near King’s College, the old library was ‘a chaotic but atmospheric medley of disparate rooms, uneven floors and dark places for which readers could borrow lamps to light their way’ (Whitelock). Jenkinson’s prestigious position of University Librarian was the job he had been born to do. He had been mentored by a previous holder of the post, Henry Bradshaw, and knew the contents of every book in the library; as well as deeply knowledgeable about early printing, Jenkinson was practical and had a warmth and generosity that made him as popular with his colleagues as he was with scholars and students. He had an uncanny, almost symbiotic connection with the library itself. One friend recalled how ‘he would rise from his bed when his subconscious mind told him there was a window left open, and go down in the small hours to shut it’ (H.F. Stewart). But during the darkest part of the winter of 1891-92, Francis Jenkinson seriously considered giving it all up.

Jenkinson

Francis Jenkinson, 1880s

He had taken up the role of University Librarian during a time of great personal sadness. His wife Marian Sydney Wetton had died aged thirty in January 1888, just six months after they married. Marian was one of seven sisters from a musical family who lived in Surrey: her older sister Jennie had married Jenkinson’s friend, the Irish composer Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. After Marian’s death, Jennie and her unmarried sisters remained in close contact with Jenkinson, often dropping in at his home on Brookside, near the Fitzwilliam Museum, to play the piano and sing together. Early in December 1891, Francis confided in his friend Ida Darwin a momentous piece of news. He had fallen in love with Marian’s younger sister Mildred Wetton, a twenty-eight year old governess who worked in London, and they planned to marry.

Ida had met Francis shortly after she moved to Cambridge as a new bride in 1880. Jenkinson was a Trinity College fellow at the time, and supplemented his income by teaching Classics to students at Newnham College, one of the first women’s colleges. He tutored Ida in Ancient Greek and she and Francis became good friends, united by their love of music and gardening as well as literature. Francis was a frequent visitor to the Orchard on Huntingdon Road, where Horace and Ida lived with their three young children.

In early December 1891, love was in the newspaper headlines. Prince Albert Victor, who was Queen Victoria’s twenty-seven year old grandson and second in line to the throne, became engaged to Princess Mary of Teck on 3 December 1891. The royal family heaved a collective sigh of relief. Albert Victor was usually associated with rather more unwelcome publicity, including affairs with chorus girls and his name being linked to the Cleveland Street scandal after a male brothel there was raided by police. What Queen Victoria privately described as Albert Victor’s ‘dissipated life’ began when he was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge in the early 1880s. It’s not known what Francis Jenkinson thought of him, but one nameless tutor complained that the college’s royal student ‘hardly knows the meaning of the words to read‘ (Magnus, 178). After Albert Victor’s unsuccessful stint in the army and lengthy trips overseas, it was decided that he needed to settle down with a sensible wife, and his distant cousin Princess Mary of Teck fitted the bill perfectly. Their marriage date was set for 27 February 1892.

Albert_Victor_late_1880s

Prince Albert Victor, late 1880s

The royal engagement was the good news story that the nation badly needed. That winter the papers were full of reports of a new wave of influenza that was killing people in England in ever larger numbers. This was the second of two epidemics that followed on the heels of the so-called ‘Russian flu’ of 1889-90, the pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands worldwide. In 1890 Winston Churchill, then a fifteen-year old schoolboy at Harrow, wrote a poem called ‘The Influenza’ about it: ‘The rich, the poor, the high, the low/Alike the various symptoms know/ Alike before it droop.’ As Mark Honigsbaum writes in ‘The Great Dread: Cultural and Psychological Impacts and Responses to the ‘Russian’ Influenza in the United Kingdom, 1889–1893’, ‘the Russian flu was extensively documented and seen to spread rapidly between European capitals via international rail, road and shipping connections in a westward progression that was the subject of widespread commentary in both the daily and periodical press.’ According to a report published by the Wellcome Institute, 1892 was characterized by ‘a marked excess of deaths from influenza and pneumonia.’ It was a frightening time for people of all social classes, as the young Churchill was aware.

Ida was worried for Horace and their small children as well as their household staff, as more and more people they knew fell ill. But she was aware that, if word about Jenkinson’s engagement got out, it would cause a scandal in Cambridge no less shocking than Albert Victor’s rumoured visits to Cleveland Street. Under the Marriage Act of 1835 it was illegal in the United Kingdom and colonies for a man to marry the sister of his deceased wife. In his book, Marianne Thornton   17971887: A Domestic Biography (1956) EM Forster wrote about how much unhappiness this law caused, describing it as  ‘yet another example of the cruelty and stupidity of the English Law in matters of sex’ (see my article here). Throughout the Victorian period the issue was hotly debated every year in parliament, but Anglican bishops in the Lords helped to ensure that the prohibition remained until the Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act of 1907.

If the law did not change, Francis and Mildred would have to go abroad to marry and would be ostracized if they ever returned to England; any children they might have would be considered illegitimate in the eyes of most Anglicans. Ida was afraid that if others heard of his engagement, Jenkinson might lose his job as University Librarian. The situation would have to be managed in the most inconspicuous way possible. Ida needed to stay at home to care for her household, and so was not able to go to visit Francis as much as she would have liked. So she did the next best thing: she wrote to him, hoping that she could change his mind.

All through December and into January, letters flew back and forth between Brookside and the Orchard. The normally mild-mannered, bookish Jenkinson raged against the Anglican Church and its bishops, while Ida remained calm and sympathetic, soothing him like a feverish child. The only other people who knew about the crisis were two family members who could be trusted to be discreet: his sister Nelly Jenkinson, and his distant cousin Daisy Stewart. Daisy had grown up in Edinburgh but now lived in Grantchester, where she worked as a music tutor. She had been in love with Francis for years, but accepted that he saw her only as a friend. She hated to see him so unhappy.

Why did he behave so recklessly, and risk losing the job he had worked so hard for? I think that the answer might lie in how the repeated flu epidemics affected the way that people thought during this time of national crisis. Jenkinson’s appointment as University Librarian in 1889 had coincided with the ‘Russian flu’ pandemic, which was the first recorded outbreak of influenza in England since 1848. Four million Britons fell ill and 127,000 died. Then another killer wave of flu struck the country in May 1891. Six months later, as the third epidemic reached Cambridge, Jenkinson must have wondered if he would live to do the work that he wanted to do. Overwork and anxiety were considered to be contributing factors in those who caught the flu, and for all his energy, Jenkinson had frequent bouts of illness. In 1890 The Times warned that the influenza’s impact on the imagination was ‘disproportionate to its actual destructiveness’ (Honigsbaum), but the fear that gripped everyone was very real. The number of deaths peaked in London in the third week of January 1892, when it was recorded that over five hundred people died of influenza and pneumonia. The poor suffered most, of course, but no one was safe. Prince Albert Victor became ill with flu symptoms at a shooting party at Sandringham in early January. Pneumonia set in, and he died a week after his twenty-eighth birthday on 14 January 1892.

There would be no royal wedding that year, and the nation went into mourning. In the months following Albert Victor’s death, his younger brother George, the Duke of York, became close to his (almost) sister-in-law. There was no taboo on their love, and in May 1893 they married with Queen Victoria’s blessing. In 1910 he was crowned George V, and she became Queen Mary (the present Queen is their granddaughter). Some twentieth-century historians have rather unkindly suggested that Albert Victor’s early death was ‘a merciful act of providence’ (Magnus, 239) allowing his sober brother and his equally responsible wife to steer the country through the crises of World War One and the depression of the 1920s and early 1930s.

By the middle of January 1892 in Cambridge, there was a gap in the storm clouds for Ida, as her household slowly recovered from the flu. Now she decided to take action. First, she wrote to Mildred, who replied with a subdued note of thanks and promised not to visit Brookside for a while. Then she wrote to Mildred’s older sister Jennie. Her husband Charles Stanford’s mother and two of aunts had died of the flu just a few weeks before, and Jennie herself had been very ill, so it’s likely that Ida did not want to involve them earlier. But now the Stanfords took charge. It seems that they talked sense into Francis, and by February the idea of an engagement was quietly dropped. The storm had passed, and most of their friends, family and work colleagues never even knew that it had happened.

Francis_J._H._Jenkinson,_1915

Francis J.H. Jenkinson by John Singer Sargent (1915), Cambridge University Library

Francis Jenkinson worked as University Librarian for the next thirty years, until shortly before his death in 1923. His contribution to the library was immense. He sorted and catalogued valuable acquisitions, including 140,000 fragments of the ancient Cairo Genizah and the contents of Lord Acton’s library, and appointed one of the University’s first woman librarians, the Sanskrit scholar and former Girton student, C.M. Ridding. In 1910 he was sent a collection of suffrage posters, which he carefully preserved in the library’s archives. This rare collection was recently displayed at the UL to mark 100 years since some British women got the vote (read more here).

Unusually for the time, Jenkinson was passionately interested in collecting ephemeral matter such as flyers, postcards, and posters. He felt that such “unconsidered trifles” told stories about people’s lives that would be lost otherwise. During the First World War he gathered a huge collection of this so-called disposable literature, and his War Reserve Collection is now an invaluable source for researchers. In 1915 the American artist John Singer Sargent was commissioned to paint Jenkinson’s portrait to mark his twenty-five years as University Librarian, and this beautiful painting still hangs in the library today.

In 1902 Jenkinson married his ‘dear friend’ Daisy Stewart. The couple spent over twenty happy years together, travelling to the Alps with Ida and Horace and marking Mozart’s birthday with a piano concert at Brookside on 27 January every year. Mildred Wetton continued to teach English literature, and eventually became headmistress of her own private school in Kensington. She never married. In his biography Francis Jenkinson (1926) Hugh F. Stewart reflects that, until his second marriage, his brother-in-law lived a solitary life on Brookside, ‘save for the occasional presence of his sister, or of a sister-in-law, or of a scholar on bibliography intent.’ Perhaps this fleeting mention is a quiet acknowledgement of Mildred’s ephemeral, but important, place in Jenkinson’s life.

©Ann Kennedy Smith, 2 April 2020 (all rights reserved)

Notes: My warm thanks to Frank Bowles, Karen Davies, Carolyn Ferguson, Eve Smith and Jill Whitelock for their help. Any errors are my own.

Online sources (all accessed 2 April 2020):

Karen Bourrier ‘If this be error: marrying the sister of a deceased wife was illegal in Victorian England’ History Today, 11 April 2018, https://www.historytoday.com/history-matters/if-be-error

Stephen Gaselee, ‘Francis Jenkinson, 1853-1923: an address to the Bibliographical Society, 15 Oct. 1923’, Trans. Bibliog. Soc. . N.S.; v. 4, no. 3, Oxford, 1923

Mark Honigsbaum,  ‘The Great Dread: Cultural and Psychological Impacts and Responses to the ‘Russian’ Influenza in the United Kingdom, 1889–1893’, Social History of Medicine, Vol 23, Issue 2, August 2010, Pages 299–319 https://doi.org/10.1093/shm/hkq011

Mark Nicholls, ‘A Reason for Remembering: Francis Jenkinson and the War Reserve Collection’, https://www.jstor.org/stable/41154886?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents Jill Whitelock, ‘M.R. James and the ghosts of the old University Library’, Cambridge University Library Special Collections blogpost https://specialcollections-blog.lib.cam.ac.uk/?p=18923

‘Albert Victor, Prince, duke of Clarence and Avondale (1864–1892)’ and ‘Jenkinson, Francis John Henry (1853–1923)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, https://www.oxforddnb.com/

‘Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health, London 1892’, https://wellcomelibrary.org/moh/report/b18252412/1#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=4&z=-0.3124%2C1.3883%2C0.6249%2C0.2439

‘The modern library’ on Cambridge University Library’s website; https://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/about-library/historical-sketch/modern-library

‘Francis John Henry Jenkinson’ memorial on Trinity College Chapel website http://trinitycollegechapel.com/about/memorials/brasses/jenkinson/

‘Mr F.J.H. Jenkinson’, obituary in The Times, 22 Sep. 1923.

Books: Margaret Clifford Jenkinson, A Fragrance of Sweet Memories [Reminiscences of Francis Jenkinson], unpublished memoir, Cambridge University Library; P. Magnus, King Edward the Seventh (1964); H. F. Stewart, Francis Jenkinson: a memoir (1926); Francis John Henry Jenkinson by H.W. S[impkinson], Marlborough , 1923 [1 v.] ; 19 cm. Repr. from The Marlburian, 28 Nov. 1923.

Cambridge University Library Archives: Jenkinson, FJH to Ida Darwin, MS Add 9368.1: 16513 & ff.; letters from Jenkinson, Margaret Clifford ‘Daisy’ (1858-1933) née Stewart to Ida Darwin, MS Add.10286/1/40; from Jenkinson, Eleanor Louisa ‘Nelly’ (1855-1948) to Ida Darwin, MS Add.10286/1/42; Wetton, Mildred to Ida Darwin, MS Add.10286/1/70; Stanford, Jennie to Ida Darwin, MS Add.10286/1/67; FJH Jenkinson’s diaries and letters held at Cambridge University Library.

 

Clubs of their own

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“We were a very lively buzzing community, pushing along our way, very much amused with ourselves,” Blanche Athena Clough wrote of her time as a Newnham College student in the 1880s (she later became Principal). As well as studying Classics, she had lots of college clubs to choose from, including the Shakespeare Reading Society, the Browning Society, several French societies and the ever-popular debating society. Both Newnham and Girton had a rich associational life, as the section on ‘Social Life’ in the ongoing ‘Rising Tide’ exhibition at Cambridge University Library reveals. Most of the University’s student-run societies that began in the 1870s were exclusively male, as Clough confirms. “We had no part or lot in University societies except the Ladies Discussion Society and I think C.U.M.S. [Cambridge University Music Society]… in any case the University generally were hardly aware of our existence.”

I believe that the women-led societies that began in the 1880s and lasted for so many years helped to make Cambridge a better, more inclusive place. These were not University societies, but associations begun in most cases by women married to professors, masters and college fellows after the University dropped its celibacy requirements. I’ve been talking quite a bit about these clubs recently. I was invited to speak to Selwyn College alumni about Kathleen Lyttelton and ‘The Women who changed Cambridge’ at the rather splendid Oxford and Cambridge Club in London last November. Then I gave a talk called ‘A Club of Their Own’ at the University Library in December, connected to the ‘Rising Tide’ exhibition. This month I gave another version of that talk to the Friends of Milton Road Library in a bright and welcoming new library setting.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to talk in such a variety of places, particularly as the societies that I discussed brought ‘town and gown’ women together in such an active, outward-facing social network. The Cambridge Association for the Care of Girls (founded in 1883) was practical and philanthropic in nature, helping underprivileged girls; it was co-founded by Ida Darwin and a small committee of married townswomen and dons’ wives.

downloadIn 1884 Selwyn Master’s wife Kathleen Lyttelton (pictured here) co-founded the Cambridge Women’s Suffrage Association with Millicent Garrett Fawcett, leading to the town becoming one of the major centres in the campaign for women’s votes. The Ladies’ Discussion Society, mentioned by B.A. Clough above, was founded in 1886 by Mary Paley Marshall and others with the aim of bringing University wives, townswomen and female students together to discuss social questions. Speakers included Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman to qualify as a medical doctor in England. In December 1892 she came to Cambridge to give a talk on the medical profession for women, and was ‘pelted with questions’ by Newnham and Girton students, according to a report in the Cambridge Independent Press.

IMG_8985Today, anyone who is interested in finding out more about these societies can access their extensive original archives in the Cambridgeshire Archives in a brand new, purpose-built site in Ely. It’s a bit harder to find out about the fourth club that I talked about, and have written about in this blog for the last few years. The exclusive Ladies’ Dining Society did not, as far as I know, keep minutes of their conversations or record details of the dinners they shared once or twice a term for almost twenty-five years. There are only intriguing snippets about the club in a couple of memoirs, and a handful of references in letters and diaries. It’s understandable that the women wanted to keep their conversations private, including from future researchers like me. The fact that it lasted for so many years shows that the Ladies’ Dining Society was deeply significant at a time when women’s voices and contributions to debate went largely unheard. I think that it’s a club worth celebrating, as we approach International Women’s Day on 8 March 2020.

‘Even to form a ladies’ social club was a mild assertion of women’s right to public space’, as Doughan and Gordon write. Below I have listed their useful book, along with archive sources and a selection of excellent books, essays and articles on women’s clubs.

The University has not always been welcoming to women, but the excellent Rising Tide exhibition and events show what women at Cambridge have achieved despite all the obstacles. The exhibition closes on 21 March, so do grab the chance to see it if you’re in Cambridge (and if you are not, my TLS review is here). The Friends of Milton Road Library provide a year-round programme of stimulating and varied talks: more information here.

©Ann Kennedy Smith 17 February 2020 (all rights reserved)

Cambridgeshire Archives: Cambridge Ladies Discussion Society minute book, 789/Q139; Cambridge Association for Social Welfare (1883-1985) [formerly CACG]  R106/097; Cambridge Ladies Discussion Society minute book, 789/Q139; CWSA Papers to 1919: 455/Q16-57, 59-60, 62-79; archives held at the Cambridgeshire Collection (in Cambridge Central Library) and the Museum of Cambridge.

Secondary sources: Elizabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 (1999) and ‘Rooms Of Their Own: Victorian And Edwardian Women’s Clubs: Hesitant Beginnings‘ & other articles on ‘Woman and her Sphere’ website (accessed 16 Feb 2020); Louise Creighton, Memoir of a Victorian Woman: Reflections of Louise Creighton, 1850-1936 ed. James Thayne Covert (1994); D. Doughan and P. Gordon, Women, clubs and associations in Britain (2006); Linda Hughes, ‘A Club of Their Own: The “Literary Ladies,” New Women Writers, and Fin-de-Siècle Authorship’ Victorian Literature and Culture  35:1, March 2007, pp. 233-260; (1947); Amelia Hutchinson, ‘The “Hidden Histories” of women at Trinity’ unpub. dissertation (2019) https://www.trin.cam.ac.uk/news/amelia-hutchinson-on-the-hidden-histories-of-women-at-trinity/ (accessed 16 Feb 2020); Mary Paley Marshall, What I remember (Cambridge, 1947); G. Sutherland ‘Girton for ladies, Newnham for governesses’ in Teaching and Learning in Nineteenth-Century Cambridge, eds. Jonathan Smith and Christopher Stray, 2001) pp.139-149 and In Search of the New Woman: Middle-Class Women and Work in Britain 1870-1914 (Cambridge, 2015); Christina Paulson-Ellis, The Cambridge Association for the Care of Girls: Social Work with Girls and Young women in Cambridge 1883 -1954 (2008); Ann Phillips, A Newnham Anthology (Cambridge, 1979); Tamsin Wimhurst, The Development, Importance and Influence of a Local Network of Women c. 1886 – 1930: unpub. MA dissertation, University of Cambridge 2007 (soon to be made available at Milton Road Library)

A revolutionary proposal

Churchill

In June 1958, plans were under way to build a new Cambridge college. It would be a memorial to Sir Winston Churchill, and promote teaching and research in science and technology. A campaigning group called the Women’s Freedom League wrote to Churchill directly with a proposal (“you may regard as revolutionary”) that he use his considerable influence to make it Cambridge’s first coeducational college. “You already know that great efforts are being made in all schools and colleges to increase the number of women scientists.” Churchill, 83, thought this sounded like a perfectly sensible suggestion. “I see no reason why women should not participate,” he told his friend, the civil servant Sir John Colville. But Colville, in charge of raising funds for the proposed college, was convinced that donors in British industry would withdraw their support if they heard that Churchill College was planning to admit female students. It would be, he told Churchill, “like dropping a hydrogen bomb in the middle of the University.”

Although women had finally won the right to Cambridge degrees in 1948, they were still very far from being represented equally at the University in the 1950s. Numbers were capped, and for every eleven males there was just one female student: Cambridge still had the lowest proportion of female undergraduates of any university in the UK. To help correct this, a third “foundation” for women students, originally called New Hall, was established in 1954, with just sixteen students in a house on Silver Street. In 1962 New Hall moved to its permanent home on Huntingdon Road, thanks to the generosity of Ida and Horace Darwin’s daughters, Ruth Rees Thomas and Nora Barlow who donated their former family home The Orchard and its grounds so that a college for 300 students could be built. The house had to be knocked down, and most of what Gwen Raverat described in Period Piece as Ida’s “poet’s garden” disappeared beneath the rubble, but it allowed this much-needed third college for women to come into existence, and Ida surely would have approved. The gardens of  Murray Edwards College (as it is now called) are still imaginative and beautiful.

MEC

Churchill’s 1958 letter to Colville (on loan from the Churchill Archives Centre) is just one of the many fascinating items on display in the new exhibition, “The Rising Tide: Women at Cambridge” at the University Library, which uses letters, costumes and audio-visual material to tell the story of 150 years of women at Cambridge. Today, all the formerly male colleges are fully coeducational, and Churchill College’s website boasts that it was “in the vanguard of dramatically expanding female participation in Cambridge University” as the first college to vote to admit women in 1972 (the same year that King’s and Clare also became coeducational). In her excellent independent blog, the current Master, Professor Dame Athene Donald (the first woman to hold this post at Churchill College) asks “How many ‘Firsts’ does it take to change a system?’.  She makes the point that, although in 2019 there is gender equality across the University in terms of students, women still hold only 20% of the professorships. “I am pleased to be part of the advancement of women in Cambridge”, Donald writes. “I am not pleased it is still so far from complete. Everyone – most definitely including male leaders – have a part to play in making the progression speed up.” One positive recent development is that out of Cambridge’s 31 colleges, there are now 15 female Heads of House, including the new Master of Jesus College, Sonita Alleyne, the first person of colour to head any college in Oxford or Cambridge. Hers is one of the 27 luminous portraits currently on view in the University Library’s Royal Corridor.

The “Rising Tide” curators Dr Lucy Delap and Dr Ben Griffin plan to add more archival items over the six months of the exhibition, which they describe as “a work in progress” – much like women at Cambridge, in fact. Professor Athene Donald will be speaking at the event closing the exhibition in March 2020, and my own talk “A club of their own: Cambridge women’s societies and associations 1883-1914” is on 5 December 2019 (tickets are free, but you’ll need to book here). And if you are in Cambridge visiting “The Rising Tide”, do go to Murray Edwards College to see the outstanding paintings and sculptures on view there; one of the world’s largest and most significant collections of contemporary art by women.

‘Militant, cussed and determined’: Women at Cambridge

download copy‘The Rising Tide: Women at Cambridge’ opens on 14 October 2019 at Cambridge University Library, and runs until March 2020. Curated by Dr Lucy Delap and Dr Ben Griffin, this free exhibition marks 150 years since women were first permitted to attend lectures at Cambridge University. As well as letters, portraits and petitions, fascinating objects on display at the UL will include a green Newnham College tennis dress (closely buttoned to the neck and wrists) as well as fragments of the eggshells and fireworks used in violent opposition to female students being awarded degrees in 1897.

To accompany the exhibition, there will be a wide range of events about the past, present and future of women at Cambridge. The curators are taking an inclusive and imaginative approach, telling the stories of different women who since 1869 have studied, taught, worked and lived in Cambridge, “from leading academics to extraordinary domestic staff and influential fellows’ wives” as the University’s website puts it. This includes the struggles of,  in Lucy Delap’s words,“militant, cussed and determined” women, who fought for gender equality in the University, as well as the way in which female students and other women joined forces to share knowledge and bring about change in wider society.

This is the subject of my forthcoming talk ‘A club of their own: Cambridge women’s societies and associations 1883-1914’ which takes place on Thursday 5 December 2019, 5.30pm- 6.30pm at the Cambridge University Library (admission free, booking required). It’s about some of the women-led groups that sprang up in the 1880s and 1890s and gave female students, lecturers and townswomen the opportunity to meet, debate issues of the day, learn about professional careers and forge important networks. These groups were, perhaps uniquely for the time, genuinely “town and gown” in their structure. The largest association was the Cambridge Ladies’ Discussion Society, formed at Newnham College on 17 March 1886 “to bring together ladies who are interested in the discussion of social questions… hearing papers read and discussing subjects arising”.

Originally connected to the (all-male) University Society for the Discussion of Social Questions (USDSQ), the Cambridge Ladies’ Discussion Society (CLDS) later became an independent women’s association but kept in step with the University’s terms and organisational principles. Newnham and Girton students were encouraged to join, with a reduced membership fee, and were among the large numbers who attended talks by a range of speakers including Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (pictured above) on ‘The medical professon for women’ and Beatrice Webb on ‘The expediency of regulating the conditions of women’s work’. Active founder-members of the CLDS included Kathleen Lyttelton, Louise Creighton and Eleanor Sidgwick. Together these friends would form a much smaller discussion group, the Ladies’ Dining Society in 1890. In 1913 the CLDS amalgamated with the National Union of Women Workers, and in 1918 became known as the National Council of Women (NCW), which is still active today.

Despite the difficulties and delays in obtaining full membership of the University (degrees were not awarded until 1948), active and determined Cambridge women have always worked together, helping to create the University that exists today. It is worth remembering that their work, like that of the male dons and students, was enabled by an army of (mostly female) domestic staff, and it is right that ‘The Rising Tide: Women at Cambridge’ recognizes their contribution. I will also be discussing the Cambridge Association for the Care of Girls founded by Ida Darwin and Kathleen Lyttelton in 1883, which aimed to help local girls by giving them training opportunities as domestic servants.

Ann Kennedy Smith, 29 September 2019

The full programme of ‘The Rising Tide: Women at Cambridge’ will be available soon, and I will post a link and booking details here when it does.