Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pioneers

From the Economist's review of Jane Robinson's Bluestockings: The Remarkable Story of the First Women to Fight for an Education:
 
"IT IS clear what has to be done," said Emily Davies to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson during a fireside chat one evening in 1860. "I must devote myself to securing higher education while you open the medical profession for women." Each succeeded admirably in her allotted task. Garrett Anderson started practising as Britain's first female doctor in 1865, qualifying via the Society of Apothecaries when medical schools refused to admit her. In 1869 Davies rented Benslow House in Hitchin, a southern English market town, for herself and five young women who, with the support of professors who travelled from Cambridge, under an hour away by train, became the first women to study for a degree course in any English university. When in 1873 Benslow House was forsaken for the newly formed Girton College in Cambridge, there were 15 women enrolled.
 
Fifteen pioneers who could study what men studied, and take the same exams as men—but who could not graduate. In 1897, when Cambridge's Senate voted on whether to grant women degrees, (male) students rioted and an effigy of a suffragette in bloomers on a bicycle was suspended from the Senate House windows. The motion was defeated. Neither Philippa Fawcett, who in 1890 scored higher than any man in the mathematics tripos, nor Elsie Phare, who gained a starred first in English in the 1920s, gained degrees. Only in 1948 did Cambridge relent. It was the last English university to let women graduate...
 
More here.