Exhibition Celebrates 150 Years of Female Students at Cambridge

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The University of Cambridge is opening an exhibition commemorating 150 years since women were first allowed to study at the University. 

Women were first admitted into the University’s Girton College back in 1869, but it was not until 1948 that they were awarded official degrees. 

This made Cambridge the last of the major educational institutions in the UK to do so. In addition, though women had the opportunity to study, they had to ask to attend lectures, and were not allowed to sit exams without special permission. 

As the exhibition also demonstrates, women were not just fighting for equal educational rights, but also recognition and inclusion in a variety of university activities, including sporting events. 

Now, female undergraduates make up about half of the annual intake of students. 

Co-curator Dr Lucy Delap said that the exhibition would showcase:

“Persistent marginalisation of women at the University, as well as their ongoing campaigns for gender justice. 

Entitled ‘The Rising Tide, Women at Cambridge’, the exhibition will also feature stories from women who tell of the struggles and successes of female academics, staff and students over the years; and how greatly their experiences differed from those of men. 

The 400 page petition that demanded women be allowed to study for, and be awarded degrees, will also be on display as part of the exhibition, with the violent opposition to such demands shown by the fragments of eggshell and fireworks. 

These will be on show alongside a note written by undergraduates from the time, apologising for the damage done to women’s college Newnham during a riot in 1921. 

Image: Getty

Despite women’s educational rights improving enormously during the past 150 years, the exhibition demonstrates that equality is still an ongoing battle. As Dr Lucy Delap says:

“Women who are here today are still very concerned about things like the university’s gender pay gap. There aren’t really the same number of women in the highest positions of authority in the university at the professor level.” 

The exhibition, located at the University library, opens on the 14th October and will be running until March of next year.