Where Originality Thrives

‘From the start, Girton’s Fellows, students and indeed many alumni have occupied the knowledge frontier. By growing the graduate school, Girton has become a creative haven for the intellectually daring, set within a research-infused environment where innovative thinking thrives.’

Professor Susan J. Smith, Mistress

  • 1969

    The first 100 years

    1969

    The first 100 years

    Centenary Ball Poster

    Centenary Ball Poster

    After 100 years, Girton had achieved its foundational aims. It was a permanent institution, integral within the collegiate University, offering a full range of subjects and graduating over 100 women each year. There was much to celebrate and in 1969, 750 alumnae returned to do just that with current students, staff and Fellows and the Visitor, HRH The Queen Mother. The centenary was not, however, a time for complacency. It was rather a call to action. There would be a new round of expansion, a decision to move to co-residence and an enthusiasm to position the College at the leading edge of a new drive to widen participation.

  • 1972

    Poised for expansion

    1972

    Poised for expansion

    Lord Wolfson of Marylebone opens Wolfson Court, 12 June 1972

    Lord Wolfson of Marylebone opens Wolfson Court, 12 June 1972 (photo: Cambridge News)

    One hundred years from its foundation, and with student numbers rising nationally, the time was ripe to begin a new phase in Girton’s history. In 1969, with help from a generous grant from the Wolfson Foundation, and the invaluable support of our alumnae, a three-acre site for a brand-new College building was acquired on Clarkson Road, close to Cambridge University Library and the central Faculties. Building work began in 1970, and by 1972 ‘Wolfson Court’ was open, offering 100 new undergraduate study-bedrooms, ten rooms for graduate students, several teaching rooms and a cafeteria that quickly became popular with students and staff, residents and non-residents alike. In June 1972, Lord Wolfson of Marylebone attended the official opening ceremony and unveiled a plaque to mark the occasion. That year, about one-quarter of Girton undergraduates lived in the new building. In the 1970s, universities across the UK were expanding: Girton too was ready to grow.

  • 1977

    Going mixed

    1977

    Going mixed

    Statute XXVI Admission of Men to the College (archive reference: GCGB 1/2/2 pt)

    The late 1960s and 1970s brought great change in universities in Britain and across the globe as well as increasing debate in single-sex institutions about co-residence. In 1969, under the clear-eyed guidance of the new Mistress, Muriel Bradbrook, the College began the process of amending its Charter and Statutes to allow a future vote to admit men, an amendment that was in place by 1971. Five years later, in 1976, the vote was taken: Girton became the first of the women’s Colleges at Cambridge and Oxford to embrace co-residence. The Fellowship changed first, with men admitted in 1977. The first male graduate students arrived in October 1978 and the first 58 male undergraduates in 1979. Co-residence was a great success. By 1983, there was a gender balance at the undergraduate level in the College – something that continues today (and without quotas). Although there is no statutory requirement, Girton’s current Senior Officers are all women, and the Head of House – uniquely in Oxford and Cambridge titled ‘Mistress’ – has never been a man.

  • 1989

    Mass expansion of higher education

    1989

    Mass expansion of higher education

    Image and caption to come

    Image and caption to come

    The early 1960s saw growing demands for British higher education to expand to admit more students. The Robbins Report of 1963 (Committee on Higher Education, 1963) supported this aim, and called for university places to be made available to all ‘qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so’.

    The 1960’s and 1970’s saw a gradual increase in numbers attending higher education institutions from less than 5% to around 12% of 18 year olds. There were no student loans, fees were paid by local education authorities, and a means-tested annual grant helped cover living costs.

    In 1989, Kenneth Baker, Conservative Secretary of State for Education, called for a further increase in student numbers, leading to a rapid rise between 1988 and 1992. By 1992, participation had reached 30% of school-leavers.

    In 1998, tuition fees were introduced for most British students. This presaged the introduction of student loans. Subsequent increases in tuition fees have brought an average debt today of £50,000 for an English graduating student, or one from Scotland attending university south of the border.

  • 1959

    Legal high flyers

    1959

    Legal high flyers

    Dame Rosalyn Higgins (1959, Law) addresses alumni and current students at the 2018 Law and Finance event.

    Dame Rosalyn Higgins (1959, Law) addresses alumni and current students at the 2018 Law and Finance event.

    Law students of the 1960’s and 1970’s formed an outstanding cohort securing some notable firsts in the legal world, including:

    Baroness Brenda Hale (Law, 1963) the first woman member, and then President, of the UK Supreme Court.

    Dame Elizabeth Gloster (Law, 1967), first female judge of the Commercial Court, is now a judge of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales.

    Dame Rosalyn Higgins (Law 1959, LLB 1962 and Harkness Fellow from 1959-61) was the first female judge elected to the International Court of Justice, becoming President in 2006.

    Dame Mary Arden (Law, 1965) was, in 1993, first female High Court judge to be assigned to the Chancery Division. Currently she serves on the Court of Appeal of England and Wales and is Head of International Judicial Relations for England and Wales.

  • 1965-86

    Leadership in Medicine

    1965-86

    Leadership in Medicine

    The rod of Asclepius adapted for the Girton College Medical Society (created by Life Fellow, Peter Sparks)

    The rod of Asclepius adapted for the Girton College Medical Society (created by Life Fellow, Peter Sparks)

    Although Medicine as an academic discipline has long been studied at the University, it was only in 1976 that the University’s Clinical School opened, with Girton Fellows, Professor of Radiology, Tom Sherwood and Dr Carol Seymour, Research Fellow, at its leading edge.  Girton also believed passionately that empathy for their future patients was as important as scientific academic excellence, admitting candidates from diverse backgrounds including one who left school at 14 years and others who read diverse subjects such as music and archaeology. Building on the success of Girtonian doctors, such as Professor Wendy Savage (1953), Dr John Marks (1979) and Professor Sue Iverson (1958), several today are leading Presidents of UK Medical Societies, including:

    Professor Veronica Van Heyningen (1965) President of the Genetics Society
    Dr Sarah Clarke (1984), President of the British Cardio-Vascular Society
    Dr Suzy Lishman (1986, President of the Royal College of Pathologists
    Professor Lesley Regan (Bye-Fellow, 1985), President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

  • 1970

    Engineering the future

    1970

    Engineering the future

    Ann Dowling (1970, Mathematics) in her former undergraduate room (F35) with the current undergraduate occupant. Photograph credit: Alastair Levy

    Ann Dowling (1970, Mathematics) in her former undergraduate room (F35) with the current undergraduate occupant. Photograph credit: Alastair Levy

    The glass ceiling of Engineering, traditionally a male-dominated profession, has been shattered by a string of notable Old Girtonians, and stellar engineers in this period include:

    Professor Dame Ann Dowling (Mathematics, 1970), is the first woman President of the Royal Academy of Engineering. She is a mechanical engineer who researches combustion, acoustics and vibration, focusing on how to reduce road vehicle and aircraft noise. In 1993 Dowling was appointed as the first female professor of Engineering (Mechanical) at Cambridge University where, from 2009 to 2014 she was Head of Department.

    Profressor Sarah Springman (Honorary Fellow) (Engineering, 1975) is Rector (Head of Academic Affairs) at ETH Zurich, one of Europe’s top 5 Universities.  She is also a triathlete, representing Great Britain from 1983 – 93, and becoming the President of British Triathlon.

    Professor Helen Atkinson (Metallurgy and Material Sciences, 1978) was named as one of the UK Research Council’s Women of Outstanding Achievement 2010 for leadership and inspiration in science, engineering and technology, and awarded CBE in the 2014 New Year’s honours.

  • 1986

    Creating literary waves

    1986

    Creating literary waves

    Shakespeare’s second Folio given to College in memory of Joan Bennett (1896-1986) (archive reference GCAR11-4a-27)

    Shakespeare’s second Folio given to College in memory of Joan Bennett (1896-1986) (archive reference GCAR11-4a-27)

    In this period we would highlight a number of eminent English scholars who held (or still hold) Girton Fellowships, including:
    Professor Anne Barton (1933-2013), alumna (1954, English), an Elizabethan scholar, Research Fellow (1960–1962) then Fellow of Girton (1962–1972).
    Professor Dame Gillian Beer, FBA, Fellow of Girton for over 40 years (Research Fellow 1965–1966, Fellow 1966–1989, Professorial Fellow 1989–1994, Honorary Fellow 1994), King Edward VII Professor of English Literature at Cambridge, later President of Clare Hall. Her scholarship lies mostly in the field of Victorian studies.
    Joan Bennett (1896-1986), alumna (1916, Modern and Medieval Languages), Fellow 1953–63, published on the Metaphysical Poets.
    Professor Muriel Bradbrook (1909-1993), alumna (1927), Mistress of Girton 1968–1976, whose scholarship lay in the field of Elizabethan theatre.
    Anita Desai, Visiting Fellow 1986–1987, Honorary Fellow since 1988, Indian novelist and emerita John E. Burchard Professor of Humanities at MIT.
    Professor Gillian Mann, FBA, a Fellow since 1972, who specialises in medieval and Renaissance English, particularly the work of Chaucer.

  • 1970

    Student activism

    1970

    Student activism

    Midi Berry (1964, English) punting in Cambridge c1965

    Midi Berry (1964, English) punting in Cambridge c1965

    International activism animated 1960s Cambridge and Girtonians were among those who campaigned and demonstrated on a wide range of issues. Midi Berry (English, 1964), born Hughes-Owen, remembers protests in London and Cambridge and especially events around the Garden House Hotel in late winter 1970:

    ‘After a Test Ban Treaty diluted anti-nuclear campaigning, Vietnam became a demonstration target. Most Cambridge students at a London March, 1968 antiwar rally, side-stepped Grosvenor Square violence, and November saw 800 anti-Enoch Powell demonstrators outside the Cambridge Union protest peacefully. A student-run Shilling Paper fired late-60’s dissent. Its leaders organised an anti-Junta blockade of a Garden House Hotel dinner in the centre of Cambridge held to promote Greek Tourism in February 1970. Property damage, injuries to police and students, and harsh prison sentences shocked the world beyond Cambridge. Disaffected radicals returned to their studies, leaving moderates to address University domestic issues.’

  • 1979

    First male students

    1979

    First male students

    Matriculation photo of male undergraduate students, 1979 (photo: Layfayette)

    Matriculation photo of male undergraduate students, 1979 (photograph: Lafayette Photography)

    The first male undergraduate intake of 58 students came in 1979. One was Jon Harbor (Geography 1979), now Professor at Purdue University in the US: “It was a place with lots of friends many of whom were like older or younger sisters to me for some years.”

    Also, Ian Power (Natural Sciences, 1979): “On that first visit, that first drive under the archway (at Girton) there was something special, somewhere that I would dearly love to be. It was only much later I realised the significance of Girton as a place, not just for now and the future, but for its unique past too”.

    The first man admitted as a graduate was Canadian Piers Bursill Hall (PhD HPS 1977).

  • 1979

    Sport going mixed

    1979

    Sport going mixed

    Image and caption to come

    Image and caption to come

    Sport and sporting success has been a feature of Girton since its earliest days. Girton’s grounds boasted excellent on-site sports facilities including a hockey field, tennis courts and a swimming pool. But when Girton went co-residential, sport took on another dimension. Space for rugby and football pitches was needed and a cricket pitch was re-introduced. The first intake of male students threw themselves into forming teams, regardless of prior experience.

    “By the end of the first week of the 1979 Michaelmas Term, Girton had a men’s team in rugby, soccer and squash as well as an eight on the river — all taken from some twenty men who understood at least the principles of these sports, if not the finer points.” So wrote John Marks, recalling “an enduring memory is the men’s eight winning blades for the first time and rowing back with flag flying and bagpipes playing in the bow seat”. Girton’s list of Blues rapidly acquired male names: in 1979 an early Blues footballer was graduate student Mike Power.

  • 1969

    Third College Visitor

    1969

    Third College Visitor

    Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother, plants a tree to commemorate Girton's centenary, 10 June 1969

    Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother, plants a tree to commemorate Girton’s centenary, 10 June 1969 (photograph: Cambridge News)

    On June 10 1969, Girton welcomed a very special guest to help mark its Centenary. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother (1900-2002), attended a lunch in Hall followed by a Garden Party where she met students, Fellows, staff and friends of the College, and other guests from the University and city of Cambridge. Musical entertainment and relaxation in the sun-filled College grounds were topped off by a ceremonial tree planting, and a champagne toast to the College on its 100-year anniversary. The Queen Mother held the post of Girton Visitor since 1948 – the third person, and the first woman, to take up that office since its establishment in 1924. The role of Visitor is to oversee fair play in the application of College regulations, and to resolve disputes arising between the institution and its members.

  • 1971

    Portresses

    1971

    Portresses

    The Porters' Lodge as it is today

    The Porters’ Lodge as it is today

    In 1971, Ada Woods retired from Girton after 34 years working in one of the most distinctive offices in College. She was first Assistant then, from 1955, Head Girton Portress. The Portress was a famed figure – part student-support, part door-keeper and lodge, parcel and visitor-manager. She greeted new students on arrival, and quickly came to know them all well. Until the 1970s she lived in a College bed-sitting room. On retirement Ada Woods moved to a Cambridge flat, taking ‘surprisingly happily to housekeeping and cooking after her many years of residence’.

    The first Girton Portress we know of was 45 year-old widow Elizabeth Allpress who was in office in 1901. Emily Hill was the longest serving Head Portress who was in post from 1923 till 1955 and fondly remembered by generations of students. After retirement, she too moved to Cambridge city, where she would welcome College friends to tea at ‘about 4pm’. The modern Porters’ Lodge is staffed night and day by a hardworking group of men and women, though no-one any longer lives in.

  • 1977

    First male Official Fellow

    1977

    First male Official Fellow

    John Marks MA MD FRCP (1924-2016) at the turf cutting ceremony in 2011 for the sports pavilion named after him

    John Marks MA MD FRCP (1924-2016) at the turf cutting ceremony in 2011 for the sports pavilion named after him

    On 3 March 1977, Girton formally admitted its first male Fellows: Dr John Marks (1924–1926) and Dr Samuel (Frank) Wilkinson. John Marks had been Girton’s Co-Director of Studies in Medicine since October 1976 – the beginning of many years encouraging generations of Girton medics. Having qualified as a doctor in London in 1946, John Marks’ wide-ranging career included medical research in Cambridge, 20 years working in the pharmaceutical industry, and a sustained commitment to medical teaching. He was a Fellow and Life Fellow of Girton for almost four decades.

    Dr Frank Wilkinson’s connection to Girton also began in 1976, when he was appointed College Lecturer and Director of Studies in Economics. A mature student at Ruskin College, Oxford, and King’s College Cambridge, Frank Wilkinson was a founder member of the think tank, the Institute for Employment Rights, and the Cambridge Political Economy Society (CPES) where he has recently been appointed a Patron. He was also a founder (and remains an) editor of the Cambridge Journal of Economics. His many years of research focussed on the effects of institutions and organisations on economic performance. John Marks and Frank Wilkinson began a long line of distinguished male scholars on the Girton Fellowship, and both now have College Fellowships named in their honour.

  • 1990

    A great tradition of music

    1990

    A great tradition of music

    Martin Ennis conducting the College Chapel Choir in Hong Kong, 2015

    Martin Ennis conducting the College Chapel Choir in Hong Kong, 2015

    1990 was a defining year for Music at Girton thanks to a generous act of philanthropy that led to the establishment of an endowed fellowship in Music.  Dr Martin Ennis joined the College in 1990 as the first – and, as yet, only – holder of the Austin and Hope Pilkington Fellowship and as Director of Music.

    The momentum provided by the new appointment helped establish Girton as one of the foremost destinations for prospective Music students, and recent Girton graduates have been among the strongest in the University.  Notable Music alumni of recent years include Sasha Siem (Music, 2002), Charles Siem (Music, 2005), Mateusz Borowiak (Music, 2006) and Benjamin Comeau (Music, 2011).  The fabric of musical life in Girton has been much enriched by additional appointments in music.  Margaret Faultless, who has held a bye-fellowship since 2010, and Jeremy West, Musician-in-Residence since 2011, have helped confirm Girton’s reputation as a centre for early music.  This focus has been enhanced by a sequence of notable Directors of Chapel Music, including Nicholas Mulroy (2011), Andrew Kennedy (2014) and Gareth Wilson (2015).

Your story, Girton’s story

In 2019 we are celebrating 150 years of Girton’s pioneering spirit and its ambitious plans for the future. An important aspect of this occasion is hearing from Girtonians about your story and experience; your route to Girton, your experiences while here, and the influence your time at College has had on you since leaving. Your recollections will add a richness and depth to the College’s records that is invaluable for telling the story of Girton. This project will recognise everyone’s unique life experiences, provide an opportunity for any Girtonian to have their voice heard, and provide a series of new insights and perspectives that will influence how Girton is remembered by future generations. Please scroll or click on the next story below.

  • The whole experience was life changing. I suspect there have been very few students at Girton who came from a less privileged background then mine. When I told one of my fellow students in the early weeks that my father was a bricklayer and I lived in a council house her response was "oh, you wouldn't tell!!" I'm not sure what she expected, but I realised she meant it as a compliment and we're still friends 56 years later.
    Girtonian, 1960
  • As a fresher from Malta in 1964, I found rituals like having to wear my gown to hall and supervisions, amusing and enjoyable in their theatrical pointlessness. I remember climbing out of a ground-floor friend's window at about 11pm, screaming in excitement, the first time I saw it snow, since it doesn't snow at all in Malta. My friend and I were called up to our tutor's the day after - she wasn't amused, but let us off. Gowns were meant to be worn after dusk outside the college too, and I wish I'd had mine on to roll about in. I'd probably have been cold and soaked through even with it on, but this memory is still one of the happiest of my life. My best friends in Girton are still my best friends today, 52 years later. I also recall the day I received my M.A. degree, I'd forgotten to bring proper shoes for the ceremony, so Miss Duke lent me hers and watched from the balcony in my boots.
    Maria Grech Ganado (Gando, 1964)
  • I believe it may have come to be a cliché, but this is a true story, and memorable not only because it occurred in my first week at Girton in 1969. I was following another student along the corridor on the way to Hall one day, at a distance of about 3 metres. She was wearing denim trousers and her gown. The then Mistress, Professor Muriel Bradbrook, entered the corridor and proceeded to walk beside me. Observing the girl in front, she said "We're not so much blue stocking these days as blue jean."
    Lizzie Emery (Crick, 1969)
  • My most memorable experience was the Three Day Week when the electricity was on at different times of the day in town and in Girton and we planned our days from Girton to libraries and back so we might enjoy as much light and heat as possible. In the evenings we would congregate in rooms with gas fires to keep warm and talk and drink coffee by candlelight.
    Martha Wooldridge (1970)
  • I enjoyed rowing as captain of the college Boat Club. I arranged for 4 pre-owned oars to be painted in Girton colours for the May Bumps in 1975 and ordered rowing scarves, which were unavailable in College colours when I arrived at Girton, partly green and partly red. I have good memories of the late chaplain Colin Slee who ended up at Southwark Cathedral, coaching us on cold mornings. Another memory was my interview with Lady Jeffreys - she seemed so gracious, when as a terrified candidate for a place at Girton I turned up in the interview room. It was at my interview I met Ursula Martin - now Prof Ursula Martin, CBE - and we've remained friends.
    Angela Hey (1972)
  • Arriving at Girton felt like the first time that I belonged, that I had found my tribe. Even now, when I am lost or struggling to believe in myself, I remember that time in my life and it feels like the rock and foundation of my identity, and it helps me to remember what I can achieve.
    Clare Allen (Murray, 1989)

Memories, photographs and material  which are collected for this project – such as the recollections featured above – will be held permanently in the College’s Archive and may be published on this page, on the College website or in other electronic or print formats, now or at a later date.  Please, however, be thoughtful if revealing information about others that they may wish to keep private, especially around the topics of health, religion, family, sex, and politics.