Significant changes in recent years have fundamentally affected access to higher education. Student funding arrangements have altered dramatically and student demographics are changing. However, one constant in this ever changing landscape is Girton’s commitment to widening participation. Nearly 70% of Girton’s home student intake is from the state school and maintained sector.
A key element of this commitment is our extensive outreach programme for schools which has twin aims:
(i) to encourage applications both to the College and to the University from students with high academic ability, enthusiasm and potential.
(ii) to raise the aspirations of students as they consider their futures and to help remove perceived barriers to considering applying to Cambridge, and university in general.
Girton is linked with the UK locations of Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull and Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, and with Camden in London where we run various events – masterclasses, taster days, visits, presentations – for students from Year 7 upwards as well as for parents, supporters and teachers.
Girton has one of the largest College libraries in the University holding in the region of 95,000 books. The 1930s McMorran Library, with its awe-inspiring vaulted timber ceiling, was complemented in 2005 by a multi-award winning extension, the Duke Building. Named after Alison Duke (1915–2005) (Classics,1934), Director of Studies in Classics and Senior Tutor, this new building created a spacious IT resource area and a state-of-the-art repository to house the Archive and the Special Collections. These collections range from rare Sanskrit manuscripts to gifts of books from Girton’s most notable early supporters such as Tennyson, Ruskin and George Eliot. They also include internationally important collections on the history of women and work, the suffrage movement, women’s education, and Girton’s
The College values sport for women and men. Students from diverse backgrounds learn to work together in teams developing leadership skills or compete individually to expand talents and abilities that complement their studies. All learn the value of a work-life balance. 1,060 Girton students have played for the Blues – Oxford versus Cambridge first team games – across 46 different sports, and in 2016 the College hosted its first University Blues cricket match, making use of the first-class facilities of Girton grounds and the John Marks Sports Pavilion. Other new facilities include the Grassie squash court, the refurbished indoor swimming pool and the multi-gym and ergo room, which were officially opened in 2013.
In October 2013, the College opened an award-winning new wing for accommodation to enclose Ash Court, the largest expansion of its buildings in 40 years, overlooking the courtyard, pond and orchard.The three-storey building, provides 50 en-suite study bedrooms, all of which are wheelchair accessible, as it houses a life to all floors. It also includes six rooms which are specially adapted for disabled users, six kitchens, a laundry and leisure hub. It is one of the most energy-efficient student accommodation buildings in the UK, providing half of its on-site energy requirements from renewable sources including roof-top photovoltaic panels.
In 1993 the College established its first Development Office (which was amalgamated with the Roll Office in 2013) working to twin aims of fostering the lifelong relationship between the College and its alumni and raising philanthropic funds from alumni and supporters to underpin the College’s financial sustainability. In 2010 A Great Campaign was launched in the run-up to the 150 Anniversary of the founding of the College. The target is ambitious – to raise £50 million from donations and legacy pledges – but with the help of our alumni over 60% has already been raised towards the endowment of student support, teaching and research, and growing the endowment capital.
Professor Pratibha Gai (1971, Physics) was one of four Girton L’Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science Laureates, who received her award in 2013. She won the award for ingeniously modifying her electron microscope so that she was able to observe chemical reactions occurring at surface atoms of catalysts which will help scientists in their development of new medicines or new energy sources. She said, ‘As a young girl I was always interested in the world we live in and science is the key to understanding it.’
The other Girtonian winners were Professor Frances Ashcroft (1971, Natural Sciences), Professor Athene Donald (1971, Natural Sciences) and Professor Philippa Marrack (Immunology, Research Fellow 1970). In addition to the eminent L’Oreal-UNESCO awards, Girton’s scientists have continued to win prestigious global awards for the transformational impact of their science.
Priscilla Mensah (2012, Politics, Psychology and Sociology) was voted the first black woman President of Cambridge University Students’ Union in a landslide victory in March 2015. Over 4,000 students voted, the highest in ten years. ‘My family originates from West Africa and I was born and raised in south London. My parents don’t have any formal education; they came to Britain in the early 1980’s so their children could have a better life. I wanted the freedom to choose because that is what my parents hadn’t had. Girton took a chance on me.’ Priscilla was Welfare Officer of the Girton JCR and organised major events for black and minority ethnic (BAME) women at Girton as well as graduating with a First class honours degree.
Gloria Carpenter, born in Jamaica, was the first female ‘Black Cantab’ (a matriculated, graduated member of the University), having received a Cambridge University degree in 1948 (a one year Postgraduate Law degree). She is the subject of a biography written by her daughter Patricia Cumper who is also an OG.
Another Girtonian, Amy Ida Louisa King, was probably the first woman of African Caribbean origin or heritage (she was Trinidadian) to study at Cambridge University. She studied Modern Languages at Girton for three years, from 1903.
Of 556 Girton undergraduates in 2017/18, 181 are citizens of 45 non-UK countries and 122 are from black and minority ethnic communities.
‘The experience of a Cambridge education is that of being taught by the best minds in your field, and having access to the knowledge of renowned academics as supervisors,’ Professor Marilyn Strathern, Fellow of the British Academy, Mistress 1999–2009
Small group teaching is what makes Cambridge so special and Girton has created career positions for world-class educators. They work alongside colleagues from nearly every department in the University to inspire their students with a passion for learning and the courage to challenge ideas. Ten of Girton’s Fellows have become Pilkington Prize winners for teaching excellence, the first of which was Dr Josh Slater, Veterinary Medicine, in 2003, and the latest in 2018 was Dr Stuart Davis, Jean Sybil Dannatt Official Fellow, Medieval and Modern Languages, and Dr Stelios Tofaris, Brenda Hale Official Fellow, Law. In its 150 anniversary year, Girton is hosting the Pilkington Prize ceremony.
The introduction in the UK of student fees and loans in 1997 for both academic tuition and living costs has meant rising student debt. In 2018 students will be graduating from university with an average debt of £50,000. This debt poses a practical and psychological problem and can deter good students from applying to Girton. In order to ease this financial burden, the College is committed to offering means-tested undergraduate bursaries of up to £3,500 a year to those most in need of support. Indeed one in four of Girton’s undergraduates in 2018 qualified for this assistance and for many it is the deciding factor that makes a university education accessible. In addition many more students, both undergraduates and graduates, receive hardship funds for unexpected emergencies, easing their financial situation and allowing recipients to refocus on their studies and successfully complete their course.
There are now over 600 pieces in Girton’s vibrant and diverse art and sculpture collections (excluding the museum collection of artefacts) by more than 400 artists. The range is broad and features works created between the fourteenth and twenty-first centuries. These include, for example, pieces by Francesco di Vannuccio, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, Alexander Munro, Stanley Spencer, Winifred Nicholson and David Jones. Girton is also home to a unique collection of People’s Portraits – paintings of ordinary people from all walks of life. All the portraits – which now number over 50 – have been painted by members of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. This collection will celebrate its 20 anniversary in 2020.
Since 2013 our biennial Artist-in-Residence scheme has enabled a contemporary artist working across different media to be resident in College for up to a year. Their innovative art now also adorns College corridors.
Girton is distinctive in involving students so significantly in College decision-making as their senior officers elected by the Junior Combination Room (JCR) and Middle Combination Room (MCR) sit on Council. Students on the Student Representative Committee, which became the JCR in 1948, first attended Council at its meeting of 18 April 1975. Previously an exempt charity under UK Charity Law, Girton was required to register with the Charity Commission in August 2010, and all members of Council, including the student representatives, became trustees of the registered charity, Girton College (number: 1137541).
As Cambridge University celebrates the centenary of the Geography Tripos, it seems fitting that Girton has a geographer as Head of House. Geography is part of a long tradition at College. The first entrance exam for ‘The College for Women’ included a paper on Physical and Political Geography, for example. As a Tripos subject, Geography flourished almost from the start, thanks to a great degree to the efforts of Margaret Willis Anderson, (1902–1952) the first Girtonian to pass both Parts of the Tripos in 1924 and 1925, and first resident Lecturer in Geography from 1928. She was succeeded in 1953 by Jean Clark Grove (1927–2001) (1953, Plant Sciences), still our longest serving Director of Studies, who revolutionised the way physical scientists understand climate change. One of Girton’s earliest male Fellows, Roland Randall was, and still is, a geographer who pioneered the study of British and Mediterranean coastal ecosystems. Today, as in the mid-1920s, there is a large cohort of Geography students, with an all-women research-active teaching team anchored by Harriet Allen (a biogeographer) together with Mia Gray and Anna Barford (who, like the Mistress, work on austerity) and Amy Donovan (a volcanologist).
Computers have significantly impacted on ways of learning for students. At Girton, computer science is a relatively new subject at undergraduate level. Professor Ted Briscoe joined Girton in 1989 (tbc) and his research interests – and to date over 100 publications – are on computational and theoretical linguistics, automated speech and language processing.
Herman Narula, (computer science, 2007) is co-founder of Improbable which created SpatialOS, a platform that can be used to build advanced virtual worlds for anything from games to simulations of city infrastructure and cells in the body. His company has expanded from a staff of 50 to 180, and in 2017 finalised a $502 million investment from Japan’s SoftBank Corporation, which is thought to be the largest investment made in a European technology firm.
The College has had three computer officers who guided the College – from Val Robson (1992 tbc -1996), Simon Below (1997-2000) and Andrew Leader (2000-2017) – from the first Sinclair word processors and Apple Macs in the1990’s through to today’s fully digitised Computer Office with a staff of three, led by Kim Pearson (2017-to date).
It is gratifying to note that the most important legal official in the UK is both a woman and an illustrious Girtonian: The Rt Hon the Baroness Hale of Richmond, DBE PC QC FBA (1970, Law) received a starred First for exceptional distinction in that subject. In 1984 she became the first woman to be appointed a member of the Law Commission, a statutory body set up to promote the reform of the law. There she led the work of the family law team, which eventually resulted in some major pieces of legislation, principally the Children Act 1989 and the Mental Capacity Act 2005. She taught Law at the University of Manchester, becoming a High Court judge in 1994 and a Lady Justice of Appeal in 1999. In 2004 Lady Hale became the first woman to sit on Britain’s Supreme Court and she was appointed Deputy President in 2013 and President of the Supreme Court in 2017. Lady Hale became an Honorary Fellow of the College in 1995, before being appointed Visitor in 2004, a role she continues to hold.
This is a photograph of Baroness Mary Warnock DBE, Mistress from 1984 to 1991, Juliet Jeanne d’Auvergne Campbell, Mistress from 1991 to 1997, Professor Dame Marilyn Strathern DBE (1960 Archaeology and Anthropology) Mistress from 1997 to 2009 and Professor Susan Smith, Mistress from 2009 to date. All four Mistresses signed the legacy letter, highlighting the importance of legacies for the financial sustainability of the college. Their range of academic disciplines from Philosophy to Economics, Archaeology and Anthropology to Geography highlights the breadth of subjects taught at Girton.
Emily Davies (1830–1921) envisaged in 1866 a beautiful College, ‘with gardens and grounds and everything that is good for the body, soul and spirit.’ Acclaimed garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll (1843–1932) drew up planting plans for Cloister Court and Emily Davies Court, but it was Elizabeth Welsh (1843–1921), Girton’s sixth Mistress, who created the heart of the historic garden. The pond, Yew Walk, Home Garden, Fellows’ Garden and Old Orchard are all part of her legacy.
In the 1980s, conservation meant the creation of wild flower meadows and heritage apple collections; in 1983, 60 bird species were noted, and over 100 species of moths in 1986. In 1992, the distinguished designer Penelope Hobhouse created a new ‘green theatre’ design for the Fellows’ Garden. For the 150 Anniversary, the College garden team are re-creating the historic planting scheme in Honeysuckle Walk, which will include two donated sculptures of carved apple and chestnut both entitled Gazelle by Christine Fox (1922–2012). There will be a formal re-opening at the Girton150 Festival.
the number of students who came to Girton between October 1990 to October 2017. Of these, 4022 arrived to begin or continue undergraduate study, and 1652 joined as Research, Postgraduate, and Graduate Students.
the number of Girton students in October 2017: 143 first years; 140 second years, 120 third years, and 35 fourth years; two Junior Year Abroad students, one Affiliated Student, eight studying abroad, and 224 Graduate and Research Students combined. This last group included 22 students completing the Clinical Veterinary course, 27 the Clinical Medical course, and two Part III of the Mathematical Tripos.
the minimum number of students joining the College in this period (including graduates) born outside the UK (31% of the total). The largest cohorts came from the USA (180), China – excluding Hong Kong (175), Germany (176). This total includes a minimum of 979 graduates born abroad (59% of total graduates).
the minimum number of tripos subjects studied by Girton undergraduate students in this period. The largest subject cohorts were: Natural Sciences (701), Medical and Veterinary Sciences (465), Engineering (360), Law (267), English (260), Mathematics (247).
the number of Research and Graduate Students at Girton in 1917–18. Those studying for a PhD numbered 161.
the number of Girton Fellows in 2017–18. In addition there are 25 Honorary Fellows, 3 Visiting Fellows and 3 Musicians in Residence.
the number of full or part-time staff employed by the College in February 2018. This includes non-academic Fellows and the Mistress.
the number of Mistresses performing in a brass band.
the number of College cats with their own portrait displayed in Girton.
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.
Add your voice here!Girtonian
It has been an enlightening experience for me! Coming from a post communist country in transition (2001), it was a wonderful first touch of 'western life' and 'the best standard of education'! I cherish in my memory the time in Girton. Regardless of my immense worry due to the demands of the LLM, hospitality at Girton made my days beautiful. I have great memories in all the interactions with Girton College - from the Porters' Lodge (always helpful for everything I asked), to graduate studies coordinator office, great room and facilities at the graduate building, great meals at the graduate building. Thank you for the wonderful time!Luljeta Ikonomi (2001)
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.