Yesterday was a day for all women to celebrate when the Queen, accompanied by the Princess Mary, visited Oxford to receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Law. What made this occasion so special was the fact that it was the very first time Oxford has conferred an honorary degree on a woman.
At the ceremony in the Sheldonian, the Chancellor of the University addressed the Queen, mentioning previous visits by former Queens – Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Catherine of Aragon, Henrietta Maria and Catherine of Braganza, of whom he quipped “came here three times with her volatile husband (Charles II) who on each occasion was presented with a Bible, whose lessons he seemed to have insufficiently absorbed.”
After receiving award, the Queen asked the Chancellor speak on her behalf and express how pleased she was to be able “to testify in a public way her interest in the cause of education of women.”
Having lunched in Balliol College, the royal party visited Lady Margaret Hall, where they met representatives of the five women’s societies (LMH, Somerville, St Hugh’s, St Hilda’s and the Oxford Home Students) before then visiting Somerville College.
On the way to Lady Margaret Hall, the Queen stopped at the Girls’ High School, as pictured above, to receive a bouquet from the Head of School, Mary Campbell, who was at the OPS (1911-14) and is a sister of Old Dragons Percy (one of our first war casualties), Maurice and Pat.
The Queen’s visit to Lady Margaret Hall also enabled all our boys to see Her Majesty and Princess Mary. As they drove up past the blue line of Dragons, the Princess said, “Oh! look at all those little boys! Who are they?” They answered with a characteristic Dragon cheer.
It was only last October that a University statute allowed women to be admitted, yet alone graduate at Oxford. Whilst they had been permitted to attend lectures and take the examinations since the 1870s, they were not allowed degrees. However, forty such ladies were finally able to graduate at a ceremony also held in October.
Of yesterday’s events ‘The Times’ correspondent noted in today’s edition, “Both the women students and the women of Oxford generally appreciated the honour done to their sex, and they preponderated in all the demonstrations of loyalty that took place during the day. The visit, therefore, became something like an official celebration of the grant by the University of rights and privilege to women students equal to those of men.”
Unfortunately, this does not help one worthy Old Dragon: Naomi Mitchison (then Haldane), who qualified for the University in 1914, having taken the Oxford higher local examination. She became a member of the Society of Oxford Home Students and was able to take a degree course in science. The outbreak of war in 1914 prevented her from completing the course, however, when she went off to train to become a nurse.
Hopefully Cambridge will follow Oxford’s lead and allow another of our Old Dragons, Norah Jolliffe, to get her just rewards. On leaving Cheltenham Ladies’ College, Norah entered Girton College to study Classics, finishing her Tripos with first-class honours in both parts in 1918.