Newnham College

About the College

The History of the College

Results but no degrees

Philippa Fawcett Many young women in mid-nineteenth century England had no access to the kind of formal secondary schooling which would have enabled them to go straight into the same university courses as the young men - Anne Jemima Clough herself was never a pupil in a school. So Newnham's founders allowed the young women to work at and to a level which suited their attainments and abilities. Some of them, with an extra year's preparation, did indeed go on to degree-level work. And as girls' secondary schools were founded in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, staffed often by those who had been to the women's colleges of Cambridge, Oxford and London, the situation began to change. In 1890 the Newnham student Philippa Fawcett was ranked above the Senior Wrangler i.e. top in the Mathematical Tripos. By the first world war the vast majority of Newnham students were going straight into degree level courses.

Newnham staff in the orchard, 1892 In tailoring the curriculum to the students Newnham found itself at odds with the other Cambridge college for women, Girton, founded at the same time. Emily Davies, Girton's founder, believed passionately that equality could only be expressed by women doing the same courses as the men, on the same time-table. This meant that Girton attracted a much smaller population in its early years. But the Newnham Council held its ground, reinforced by the commitment of many of its members to educational reform generally and a wish to change some of the courses Cambridge was offering to its men.

Mary Paley Marshall's sketch of an examiner rushing scripts to the ladies The University as an institution at first took no notice of these women and arrangements to sit examinations had to be negotiated with each examiner individually. In 1881, however, a general permission was negotiated. The next step was to try to secure for the women the titles of their degrees, not just a certificate from their colleges. A first attempt was rebuffed in 1887 and a second try in 1897 went down to even more spectacular defeat. Undergraduates demonstrating against the women and their supporters did hundreds of pounds worth of damage in the market square.

Effigy of a woman on a bicycle in the Market Square The crowd outside the Senate House

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Last updated: 10 September 2004
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