The progress of women in the university owes a lot to the pioneering work undertaken by Henry Sidgwick, fellow of Trinity. Together with Anne Clough – the college's first principal – and Eleanor Balfour (Sidgwick's future wife), in 1871 Sidgwick oversaw the purchase of 74 Regent Street, housing five female students who wished to attend lectures but did not live near enough to the university to do so. After moving to Merton House on Queen's Road the next year, in 1875 the first building was built on the current site on Sidgwick Avenue, now called Old Hall. Between 1875 and 1910 the college continued to grow with the construction of three more buildings.
In this initial period, all the buildings were designed by Basil Champneys in "Queen Anne" style to much acclaim. These and later buildings are grouped around some of the most attractive gardens in Cambridge, hidden from the road by the buildings that surround them. Not only are they lovely gardens, but (unlike most of Cambridge's colleges) all residents can walk on the grass for most of the year. Newnham also had laboratories because women were not permitted into the university labs. These now house a drama space and a library. This library was originally Newnham students' primary reference source since women were not allowed into the University Library. It remains one of the largest college libraries in Cambridge.
Newnham taught a varied curriculum, tailored to the students who generally had far less formal education than their male counterparts (unlike Girton which accepted women on the same terms, and taught them the same curriculum as men in the other colleges). Although it was usual for a male student to take his degree after three years of study, not all Newnham students completed an entire degree course after four years' work.
The idea of women attending the University was greeted with derision when first seriously raised in the 19th century, but matters progressed nonetheless; in 1868 Cambridge's Local Examinations Board (governing non-university examinations) allowed women to take exams for the first time. Concrete change within the university would have to wait until the first female colleges were formed, and following the foundation of Girton College (1869) and Newnham (1872) women were allowed into lectures, albeit at the discretion of the lecturer. By 1881, women were allowed to sit university examinations, and in 1921 were awarded "titles" as a result, although they would have to wait until 1947 before they were awarded degrees, and 1958 before they achieved equal rights to their male counterparts.
In 1954, a third women's college, New Hall, was founded. Darwin College was the first mixed college and was founded in 1964. 1972 saw three men's colleges (Churchill, Clare and King's) admit women for the first time. Cambridge now has no all-male colleges and Girton is also mixed, although both Newnham and New Hall remain all-female.
The college attracts a wide range of female students, including those who might not be willing or able to study at mixed colleges for cultural reasons.
With the conversion of the last men-only colleges into mixed colleges in the 1970s and 80s, there were inevitably questions about whether any of the remaining women-only colleges would also change to mixed colleges. This seems particularly unlikely at Newnham, which has a proud reputation in standing up for women working in the University (see first section).
|Mary Boyce||1920||2006||British Iranist and doyenne of Zoroastrian studies at SOAS|
|A. S. Byatt||1936||Writer|
|Sarah Dunant||1950||Writer, Broadcaster|
|Rosalind Franklin||1920||1958||Physical chemist, Crystallographer|
|Jane Goodall||1934||Primatologist, Anthropologist|
|Germaine Greer||1939||Australian academic, Feminist writer|
|Jane Grigson||1928||1990||Cookery writer|
|Patricia Hodgson||1947||Previously a main board director of the BBC and then Chief Executive of the Independent Television Commission. Now Trustee of the BBC Trust and Principle Newnham College|
|Isaline Blew Horner||1896||1981||PTS president, OBE recipient|
|Penelope Leach||1937||Psychologist, Writer|
|Jadwiga Piłsudska||1920||Architect, Pilot|
|Sylvia Plath||1932||1963||American poet|
|Alison Richard||1948||Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge|
|Audrey Richards||1899||1984||Social anthropologist|
|Constance Tipper||1894||1995||Metallurgist, Crystallographer|
For details of graduates in mathematics up to 1940 see