The Gryphon takes a look at the student life and times of former Gryphon Editor, Winifred Halliday, who held this prestigious position during the First World War – a time when female students did not enjoy the same freedoms we have today.
Female students have held their place at the University of Leeds since the institution received its charter in 1904. In the 1911-12 academic year, there were 981 ‘day students’ at the University and nineteen percent of these were women; day students were those taking full time courses, as opposed to part-time or night courses. In 2014/15 there were 31,030 students at the University of Leeds, and sixty-one percent were female. Showing just how significantly things have changed over the last 100 years.
The First World War showed a massive, if largely temporary, shift in the gender balance of the University, as many male students and staff had left to join the war effort. In October of the academic year 1915-16 there were 698 day students enrolled, although this figure dropped to 595 as men withdrew to join the armed forces. Out of the remaining 595, 39% were women.
One of the women who remained was Winifred Kirkwood, who later married and became Winifred Halliday. As well as holding positions on several society committees, Winifred was the Editor-in-Chief of The Gryphon for 1915-16, an unexpected but brilliant example of women taking part in university politics even before they had the right to vote.
Long after her time at university, aged eighty-four, Winifred sent a letter to the University archivist, discussing her experiences as a student; it is from this letter that all our information about her comes.
She was an undergraduate studying English and French from 1912-15, and then took a post-graduate course in teaching and whilst at university she lived at home and commuted in by train every day. Her letter contains details about social events such as musical evenings and society meetings in the original refectory, where committee members encouraged men and women to mix, apparently with little success. Women students were expected to put their hair up and wear long skirts, and men to wear hats or caps, be well-groomed, and many carried canes or sticks.
Incidentally, the University at the time would have been unrecognisable to us – nothing south of the Great Hall and the Baines Wing existed, and even the beloved Brotherton Library was not built for another twenty years.
Even the existing library was divided by gender, as men and women sat separately, and a man crossing to the women’s side for a book was apparently “almost an event”. Miss Hannah Robertson was responsible for women students in general and had the power to reprimand students for such undignified behaviour as talking to a male student in the hallway for too long.
It also seems that the academic atmosphere of the University was very different – Winifred says, “we had no tutors and never dreamed of approaching a professor or lecturer with any questions or problems”.
Talking about her time at The Gryphon, Winifred says that, “when I look back it seems to have been more like a school magazine than an expression of the outlook of university students”. However, this is not entirely surprising at a time when the student body was generally apolitical, greatly reduced in number, and printing was restricted by ink shortages during the war.
Perhaps the most remarkable occasion that Winifred was involved in was when King George V visited the University on 27th September 1915 to inspect the contribution to the war effort. Although it is not signed, we can assume that Winifred wrote the article in volume nineteen, issue one, of The Gryphon, as she also describes the visit in her letter.
She, along with other committee members and staff, watched the King’s arrival from the gallery of the Great Hall, where they were then held for an hour, due to security measures. It is interesting to hear about this event from the perspective of a female student at the time, rather than that simply from the men who were directly involved.
Many women students at Leeds, including Winifred, gave up their vacations to volunteer in the administration of National Registration, which was a kind of census undertaken in 1915. This was a significant contribution to the war effort and was recognised by men such as Sir Michael Sadler, who was the Vice Chancellor of the University at the time. Sir Michael Sadler had banned dancing at the University during the war, as well as the formation of any new societies; this is the reason that the Theatre Group hoodies read ‘est. 1919’, as Winifred herself tried to form a Dramatic Society in 1915 but was “hauled over the coals by Sir Michael”, as she put it, due to the new rules.
Winifred was clearly a great part of the University, made the most of her time in Leeds, and could be considered a pioneer for women students; she even later returned to work with the French department at Leeds.
So after learning more about Winifred’s story and student life in the 1910s, we might wonder how the student experience of the 2010s will be viewed in a hundred years’ time from now, and exactly how much will have changed by then.
Many thanks are due to Special Collections in the Brotherton library, and the University Archives, who provided all this information. For those who would like to get more information on this, the code for Winifred Halliday’s file is ‘LUA/PER/068’.
The University has also digitised all the issues of The Gryphon from the First World War, including the rolls of honour, which can be found by searching the Digital Library (http://digital.library.leeds.ac.uk/view/newspapers/).
Research on this has taken place as part of the FOAR2000 research placement module, and if you are interested in finding out more about student life during the First World War, a website will soon be launched at womenstudentsww1.wordpress.com, or you can follow the twitter account at @ww1leedsuni.
Image reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library.