Category Archives: Women

Geography in the Long Vacation

The Long Vacation in August has, since the 1880s, been used by University departments to hold summer schools and vacation courses in Oxford while the undergraduates are away. The School of Geography (established in 1899 as a joint venture between the University and the Royal Geographical Society) began holding its own biennial summer vacation courses in 1902.

Geography at that time was very much perceived as a masculine subject – men of high social status exploring far-flung places, climbing mountains in their shirt-sleeves. The students of the School of Geography at the turn of the century, however, were much more diverse than this. Women made up a large number of the School’s students.

Although women were still not able to become members of the University at this time, they could study for a number of diploma courses which were introduced in the early 1900s. These were usually in subjects not offered to undergraduates as part of the BA course: subjects such as public health, anthropology and geography. Women often outnumbered the men in geography diploma classes which began in 1900, although some parts of the subject, such as surveying, remained male-dominated. The women students were also often a little older than their male counterparts and from a wider range of social classes, many of them schoolteachers.

1904 vacation course details

Details of the 1904 vacation course (from OUA/GE/4A)

The summer vacation courses were designed chiefly for schoolteachers. Held to coincide with the school holidays, they were open to anyone. Those attending spent a couple of weeks in Oxford during August for a special course of lectures and practical work in geography. The courses included field trips (for surveying and map drawing) as well as excursions to local places of geographical interest.

Photograph of 1910 field trip

Vacation course field trip, nd (1910) (from OUA/GE/5A)

Women not only attended the summer vacation course in significant numbers – of the 196 students on the 1912 course, 119 were women – they were also heavily involved in its administration. The 1912 course was organised by Nora MacMunn, Demonstrator in Geography and only the second woman to be appointed to an academic teaching position in the University. She was aided by Fanny Herbertson, wife of the Director of the School, AJ Herbertson, a writer and unofficial Geography staff member for many years.

Photograph of 1924 vacation course

Staff and students at the 1924 vacation course (OUA/GE/5B/1)

Geography eventually became part of the BA course in 1932. From that date it became possible to obtain honours in geography as part of the undergraduate curriculum. As a result, however, both the diploma and the vacation courses were abolished – the new geography Final Honour School needed increased staff time to teach it. The number of women studying geography declined as it became a more masculine subject once again – dominated by men looking to move into the civil service or armed forces – and its connections to schoolteaching declined.

A group of women scholars from the School of Geography has been researching the often forgotten history of women geographers in Oxford including their role in the vacation courses. Links to their work, from which some of the information here has been sourced, are available at:

Centenary Event recording ‘A thing inexpedient and immodest’: women in the University of Oxford’s School of Geography now available online | News | School of Geography and the Environment | University of Oxford

‘Must it be a Man?’ Women’s contribution to the University of Oxford | University of Oxford Podcasts – Audio and Video Lectures

Series 2: Nora MacMunn (1875 – 1967) – Women in Oxford’s History Podcast (wordpress.com)

Royal velvet

Vivid purple and gold artificial flower made from Queen Elizabeth's 1937 coronation robe by the Girls of the John Groom's Crippleage

Artificial flower made from Queen Elizabeth’s 1937 coronation robe [click to enlarge]

This gorgeous purple lily with downward-curling petals and a golden stem is one of two pieces of royal fabric in the archive of the Earls of Clarendon (2nd creation), along with a swatch from a dress of Princess – later Queen – Alexandra. The artificial flower was made in 1937 from the velvet coronation robe of Queen Elizabeth and presented to Verena, Countess of Clarendon, who attended the coronation.

It deserves a better picture (sorry about that) but you can see just how vivid and deeply coloured the purple velvet still is, as are the petals’ golden undersides, the gold thread-wrapped stem and the five tubular stamens at its centre. Although a tiny gold bauble “anther” is still delicately glued in place at the tip of one stamen, it looks like it might have lost four others, and if so, perhaps that’s because it was actually worn by the Countess enough times to damage it slightly. But for an artificial flower (and fabric!) made so long ago, it’s in remarkable condition, thanks to the fabric spending the last 84 years safely hidden and protected from light, damp and insects in its small presentation box.

For me, though, the most interesting thing is the label which tells us who made it: the Girls of The John Groom’s Crippleage.

Who were they?

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Jenny Joseph poetry notebooks digitised

Digitised copy of 'Warning', from Jenny Joseph's poetry notebooks [MS. 12404/41]

Digitised copy of ‘Warning’, from Jenny Joseph’s poetry notebooks [MS. 12404/41]

Five of Jenny Joseph’s poetry notebooks [MS. 12404/41have been digitised and you can now see every page on Digital.Bodleian.

The notebooks are a rich distillation of 60 years of Jenny Joseph’s writing career, starting in 1949, just before she came to the University of Oxford to study English. The third notebook (page 3) includes a draft of her most well-known poem, ‘Warning‘ – When I am an old woman I shall wear purple / With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me – two famous first lines which you can see corrected in this draft.

She wrote the poem in 1961 and first published it in the newsletter of the old people’s home her husband was working in at the time, and then in the magazine The Listener in 1962. She revised it further for her 1974 Cholmondeley Award winning poetry collection Rose in the Afternoon. The poem was a slow burner which surged in popularity in the 1980s, particularly in America, and it was widely anthologised and re-used for everything from tea-towels to cancer campaign adverts. The poem took on a life of its own, even losing its author at times – the Jenny Joseph archive includes a poster that attributes the lines to a mythical ‘Anonymous’. In 1996 ‘Warning’ was voted Britain’s favourite post-war poem and it even inspired new social groups like the Red Hat Society, a club for women over 50. You can find recordings of Jenny Joseph reading ‘Warning’ on YouTube, and readings of four other poems at the Poetry Archive.

 

A pottle of strawberries (on this day in 1842)

Two evocative lists from the Clarendon archive show the impressive range of foods that a Victorian country estate was capable of producing.

The Grove, an estate in Hertfordshire on the outskirts of Watford, was the country seat of the Earls of Clarendon (2nd creation) for about 170 years after it was purchased by the 1st earl Thomas Villiers in 1753.

A list of fruit and vegetables sent from the Grove estate, 22 July 1842

Fruit and vegetables sent from the Grove estate, 22 July 1842 [click to enlarge]

Two lists addressed to the Countess of Clarendon itemise the vegetables, fruit, game, poultry, fish, wood, eggs, butter and bakery items ‘Sent from the Grove the 22nd day of July 1842′, presumably to the Clarendons’ London house. It includes heads of artichokes, pecks of french beans, dozens of carrots, bushels of peas, sticks of rhubarb, baskets of salad and bunches of sorrell, and, since the printed list was not sufficient, there are handwritten additions itemising pecks of black cherries, pottles of mushrooms and strawberries, and a box of cut flowers, amongst other wonderful things.

A list of provisions sent from the Grove estate, 22 July 1842

Provisions sent from the Grove estate, 22 July 1842 [click to enlarge]

The list of non-vegetable items sent that day looks sparse by comparison but it’s still a staggering amount of food: 1 fawn, 1 leaveret (hare), 12 eggs, 5lb of butter, 5 loaves of bread and 36 fagotts of wood. It’s notable that this is only the list for one day. There is another printed list of fruit and vegetables sent on the 19th of July 1842 with very similar amounts of food. The household was catering on a grand scale.

I was reasonably familiar with pecks and bushels and heads, but curious what a ‘pottle’ amounted to. The Oxford English Dictionary came to my rescue, as it often does. A pottle was, when used to measure liquids and dry goods like corn, equal to half a gallon (approximately 2.3 litres). But when used for strawberries it is, enigmatically, just a small basket of conical shape, designed to protect soft foods in transit.

And what might they have done with their strawberries? This recipe for strawberry salad, by the celebrity French chef Alexis Soyer, published in his useful work of affordable, plain cookery A Shilling Cookery for the People (1845), might not have been fancy enough for the countess, but it does at least make good use of a pottle of ripe strawberries, should you also have a gill of brandy handy.

These papers, of the Earls of Clarendon of the second creation, are currently being catalogued and will be available to readers in 2022.

A flying woman

Letter from the Viceroy of India to the 6th Earl of Clarendon, 1932

Letter from the Viceroy of India to the 6th Earl of Clarendon, 1932 [click to enlarge]

My dear Bertie

writes the Viceroy of India to his friend the 6th Earl of Clarendon in a letter of 15 March 1932:

Thanks so much for your letter, & the personal one enclosed. My poor boy has had a very rough time, & the girl appears to have gone mad about this pilot. […] it will be hard for him to start again all alone. I really thought my two young people were the happiest couple in the world.

When I read an opener like that I lean in for the whole story: please continue, Viceroy! But that, sadly, is all he divulges about the girl or her pilot.

Luckily, it was not difficult to find out more.

The ‘poor boy’ was the Viceroy’s son, Inigo Freeman-Thomas, and the girl was Maxine “Blossom” Miles. And she, it turns out, led an absolutely fascinating life.

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Centenary of the first woman to receive an honorary degree

It’s often said that the first woman to receive an honorary degree from the University was Queen Mary. She received a Doctorate of Civil Law (DCL) by diploma on 11 March 1921. A degree by diploma is similar to an honorary degree, in that it’s conferred without the recipient having to study or sit any exams. The difference is that degrees by diploma are for royalty and heads of state only.

The first woman to receive an honorary degree proper was Charlotte Byron Green who received an honorary Master of Arts (MA) on 14 June 1921. Honoured for her work as a longstanding campaigner for women’s education in Oxford, Charlotte had been a founder member of the Association for the Education of Women (or AEW) which had promoted women’s education in Oxford since 1878. She had connections with Somerville and St Anne’s Colleges, as well as with the city of Oxford, having trained as a district nurse at the Radcliffe Infirmary.

Charlotte was shortly followed by the second female recipient, Elizabeth Wordsworth, former Principal of Lady Margaret Hall and founder of St Hugh’s College (both women-only colleges at that time) who received her honorary MA on 25 October 1921. She was also honoured for her work promoting women’s education in Oxford.

It’s interesting to note that neither Charlotte nor Elizabeth received their degrees at Encaenia, and both were awarded the lesser honorary degree of MA (rather that the doctorates usually conferred at Encaenia). The two ceremonies appear to have been held with very little fanfare and no documentation from either survives in the University Archives. The only record is the decision made on 30 May 1921 by Hebdomadal Council, the University’s executive body, to confer the degrees on Charlotte and Elizabeth.

Given their ground-breaking nature, it’s perhaps surprising that more was not made of these events at the time. Although the University was finally acknowledging the achievements of these women in their long fight for equal academic opportunity (both were elderly by this time: Charlotte, 78, and Elizabeth, 81), there was maybe an irony in honouring them for achieving something which the University had spent so many years resisting.

In the new few years Charlotte and Elizabeth were followed by more eminent women receiving honorary MAs, nearly all of whom were honoured as campaigners for women’s education. The first honorary doctorate was not conferred on a woman until 1925 when Harvard astronomer, Annie Jump Cannon, received an honorary Doctor of Science (DSc).

 

The search is over…

Haggis the dog, Papers of the Earls of Clarendon (2nd creation), c. 1932

Haggis the dog, from the papers of the Earls of Clarendon (2nd creation), c. 1937

…I think I’ve found history’s cutest dog.

This is Haggis, in a photograph sent by an unknown friend to Verena Villiers, the Countess of Clarendon, in the 1930s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These papers, of the Earls of Clarendon of the second creation, are currently being catalogued and will be available to readers in 2022.

Princess Alexandra’s Irish poplin dress

Royal marketing from William Fry & Co., Irish poplin manufacturers, March 1863

Royal marketing from William Fry & Co., Irish poplin manufacturers, March 1863 [click to enlarge]

This fabric sample and leaflet, a lovely slice of Victorian marketing ephemera, can be found in the papers of Katharine Villiers, Countess of Clarendon (1810-1874).

The Irish poplin fabric, a pale violet- or mauve-coloured blend of silk and wool, hand-woven in Dublin by Wm. Fry & Co., was made into a travelling dress worn by eighteen-year old Princess Alexandra of Denmark on the 7th of March 1863, the day of her arrival at Gravesend Pier and first journey into London. Three days later, at Windsor Castle, Alexandra was to marry the Prince of Wales, Bertie, who eventually became King Edward VII, so the reception for her was grand, the crowds enormous, and press interest high.

Princess Alexandra, it was reported, ordered (or simply received – accounts vary) the fabric as one of her wedding presents. It was woven in a colour that Queen Victoria apparently particularly liked, which was a smart diplomatic move but also a fun reminder that Queen Victoria, who is mostly remembered for her mourning black, actually had favourite colours. (What the reporters did not mention, for some reason, is that the British court was still in official mourning for Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, who had died in 1861, and all court ladies were restricted to wearing lilac, grey or…mauve.)

Princess Alexandra’s dress was a publicity triumph for the poplin manufacturer Wm. Fry & Co, and the company did not hesitate to capitalise. Their marketing leaflet proudly highlights their exhibition medals and also includes extracts from 14 different newspapers that covered the princess’s arrival and mentioned her poplin dress in glowing terms. And with this leaflet came a beautiful, and beautifully well-preserved, fabric sample: ‘Part of the Original Piece of Irish Poplin Worn by the Princess of Wales’.

It’s one thing to read about the dress, and another to be able to see that the fabric, which looks very plain at first glance, has a changeable quality when viewed from different angles, so it shimmers as it moves, a little like iridescent shot silk. You can see its lustre in Henry Nelson O’Neil’s (accurate!) oil painting which commemorated Princess Alexandra’s arrival at Gravesend. A style leader for the rest of her life, the painting also records Alexandra’s purple velvet mantle, the Russian sable around her neck, and her white silk bonnet trimmed with lilies and blush roses.

The princess’s travelling dress certainly needed a lot of poplin: 1863 was a high-point for the bell-shaped, hooped crinoline of the type illustrated here in a painting of Alexandra’s sister, so the yardage was impressive. On the back of the fabric sample sent to the Countess of Clarendon is jotted the cost of the 14 yards required for a full dress: £5 12s. A quick conversion via the National Archives reveals that that amounted to 27 day’s wages for a skilled tradesman in 1860, or the cost of one cow.

Most importantly, however, one of the news extracts included in the manufacturer’s leaflet is a 9th of March report by the Freeman (probably the Freeman’s Journal of Dublin) which notes:

As each working man gazes to-night upon the illuminations in honor of the marriage of the Prince, he will remember that the first public act of the Princess was one that will make the produce of the Irish loom ‘the fashion’ at court […] and will circulate thousands of pounds as wages amongst the artizans of Dublin

The choice of this fabric was not just a diplomatic triumph for Princess Alexandra, but a decision that would boost an entire industry: this single dress worn by one young woman had the potential to change the fates and fortunes of hundreds.

These papers, of the Earls of Clarendon of the second creation, are currently being catalogued and will be available to readers in 2022.

Dame Hermione Lee archive now available

Photograph portrait of Professor Dame Hermione Lee, by John Cairns (2020)

Professor Dame Hermione Lee, by John Cairns (2020) (reproduced with permission)

The archive of British academic and biographer Professor Dame Hermione Lee is now available at the Weston Library, comprising the working correspondence and papers of a notable author, academic, and public intellectual, including literary papers, academic and scholarly papers, and papers relating to Lee’s journalism, public lecturing and broadcasting work.

Hermione Lee studied English Literature here at Oxford University and then taught at the College of William and Mary, the University of Liverpool, and the University of York before, in 1998, returning to Oxford, where for ten years she was the Goldsmiths’ Professor of English Literature, as well as the first female professorial fellow of New College. Between 2008 and 2017, Lee served as the president of Wolfson College, Oxford (founding the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing), and is now Emeritus Professor of English Literature. In 2013 she was made Dame for her services to literary scholarship.

Hermione Lee is a major figure in the academic study of life-writing and the archive reflects her teaching life as both a university academic and public lecturer and speaker, including research notes and lecture texts in her principle teaching areas of American literature, post-colonial and Commonwealth literature and 19th-21st-century biography.

To the wider public, Lee is perhaps best known for her broadcasting and biographies. The archive contains extensive research material and drafts for her award-winning biographies of Virginia Woolf (1996), Edith Wharton (2006) and Penelope Fitzgerald (2013). It also includes research and drafts for her biographies of Elizabeth Bowen (1981) and Willa Cather (1989); her OUP Very Short Introduction to Biography (2009); her collection of essays on life-writing, Body Parts (2005); as well as research and drafts for scholarly articles and essays and for Lee’s decades-long career as a book reviewer and literary journalist.

Lee first came to prominence as a journalist and commentator as the presenter of Channel 4’s flagship literary discussion programme Book Four from the day Channel 4 launched in 1982. She has since presented numerous TV and radio programmes for broadcasters including the BBC, some in partnership with her friend, the author Julian Barnes. The archive will be a useful resource for those interested in the history of literary programming in the UK, not least because it contains multiple shooting scripts.

Another feature of the archive is Lee’s meticulous research for that ephemeral book festival phenomenon: the public interview and round table discussion. It includes preparatory material for a series of encounters with Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing, as well as authors including Margaret Atwood, Ben Okri, Joyce Carol Oates, John McGahern, Anita Desai and Salman Rushdie.

This extensive working archive of an academic, biographer and broadcaster is now available to readers in the Weston Library.

Cataloguing was generously funded by the Wolfson Foundation.

Sir Stafford Cripps

Black and white portrait of Sir Stafford Cripps, c. 1947 [Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANEFO)] [Creative Commons CCO 1.0]

Sir Stafford Cripps by Yousuf Karsh, c. 1943 [Dutch National Archives] [Creative Commons CCO 1.0]

Today is the 132nd anniversary of the birth of the extraordinary British politician Sir Stafford Cripps, whose archive, and that of his wife Dame Isobel Cripps, has been made available online*.

Sir Richard Stafford Cripps (1889–1952), politician and lawyer, was the youngest child of successful barrister, Conservative MP and Labour cabinet minister Charles Cripps.

Stafford received a staunchly Christian but undogmatic education. His strong faith would be a feature of his life and work until he died. He studied chemistry at university and met his future wife Isobel Swithinbank while campaigning for his father in the 1910 general election. They married on 12 July 1911, and had four children. Cripps was called to the bar in 1913, and during World War I used his chemistry training to run a munitions factory in Queensferry. In 1916, aged only 27, this work caused a physical breakdown which sidelined him for the rest of the war. He was affected by ill-health his entire life.

Cripps was made Britain’s youngest king’s counsel in 1927 and in 1929, he joined Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour government as solicitor-general, and was knighted. In January 1931, he won a by-election at Bristol East (which later became Bristol South East), where he remained an MP for the next 29 years.

His politics swung significantly to the left and he became a prominent member and then chairman of the newly formed Socialist League, and highly critical of the Labour Party. In 1939, this led to Cripps being expelled from Labour.

The Second World War changed everything.

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