Guide to women students at the University of Oxford
The following is a guide to the sources of information available in the University Archives and elsewhere concerning women students at Oxford University prior to 1920.
Women were not allowed to matriculate or graduate at the University until 7 October 1920 (see 'First Woman Graduate' for more information). As a result, they do not appear in the main sources outlined in our guide to members of the University before 1920, unless they decided to retrospectively matriculate and graduate after 1920, which some did.
This guide gives details of what material the University Archives and other Oxford archives hold, and how to access these records, as well as useful information on published sources which should be available in major reference libraries or online. The guide is broken down into the following sections:
Women students prior to 1877
Arrangements for classes and lectures for women at Oxford University were first made in 1866 by Eleanor Smith, although this scheme was short-lived. In 1873 the 'Lectures for Ladies' series was started, and continued until the establishment of the Association for the Education of Women in Oxford (AEW) in 1878. Women did not begin to take University examinations until after this period. We do not hold any records of the women who attended these lectures.
How to access the records
The records of the AEW, as well as a minute book for the Lectures for Ladies for Ladies Committee, are held by the Bodleian Library's Department of Special Collections. For more information on these records, please email them at email@example.com. Please be aware that they will not normally undertake genealogical research for remote enquirers.
Women students 1877–1911
The Examination for Women was established in 1875 by the University Local Examinations Delegacy, the body responsible for setting non-University examinations (eg those for schools) and was first taken by female students in 1877. The Examination was similar to, but distinct from, the examination leading to the degree of BA, and it consisted of a Preliminary Examination and a Further Examination (renamed the First Examination and Second Examination in 1880). The Further Examination could be a pass examination or a subject-specific honours one. The examinations were held in Oxford and at centres elsewhere until 1900, but neither the University nor the Delegacy were responsible for preparing women for them. In 1894 the Higher Local Examination (equivalent to the Final Pass School) was also established just for women, and though from 1902 men could take the examination, few did so.
Prior to 1920 instead of graduating, women received a certificate from the Local Examinations Delegacy for passing examinations. From 1895-96 to 1913, following a failed campaign to allow women to obtain University qualifications, the Association for the Education of Women (AEW) awarded its own diplomas and certificates.
From 1884 women were gradually allowed to sit for various University Honours Moderations and Final Honour Schools, and by 1894 they could take all University examinations for the degrees of BA, BMus and DMus although they could still not matriculate or graduate until 1920.
We hold the annual reports that the Local Examinations Delegacy maintained for the Examination of Women from 1877 to 1911, which include examiners' reports, class lists and details of those who gained certificates. We also hold the Pass and Honours register for the Examination for Women which the Local Examinations Delegacy maintained from 1888 to 1902. This also includes results for the University examinations women were now permitted to take, as well as the Higher Local Examination. They record the date of the examinations, the examination centre, the name of the candidate, the subjects they offered, the subjects passed, and the class of the passed subjects.
From around 1899 (although some entries date from a few years earlier), the Local Examinations Delegacy also began to keep progress registers solely for women students who were taking examinations in arts (ie for the BA) and in music. They contain the names of candidates, examinations passed, and BAs conferred from 1920 to c1925 for those who retrospectively matriculated and graduated after 1920.
The First Examination was abolished in 1899, and the Second Examination was phased out as women were admitted to more and more University Honour Schools. The last Higher Local Examination was taken in 1929.
How to access the records
Please contact us to find out more about women students who passed the Examination for Women 1877-1911, the Higher Local Examination 1894-1929, and University examinations 1884-1911, or for more information on these examinations and the Local Examinations Delegacy.
The records of the AEW are held by the Bodleian Library's Department of Special Collections. For more information, please email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please be aware that they will not normally undertake genealogical research for remote enquirers.
Women students 1911–1918
In 1910 the Delegacy for Women Students was established. In 1911 it took over the supervision of women students at the University. From this point, all women students, whether taking examinations or not, were required to register with the Delegacy for Women Students, whereas before only women seeking to take examinations had been required to register with the Local Examinations Delegacy. The Women Students Delegacy was also responsible for the approval of lodgings for women and arranging the admission of women to University examinations. It continued to maintain the progress registers started by the Local Examinations Delegacy around 1899, described in section 2 above. These registers contain the same information as they did when kept by the Local Examinations Delegacy: names and colleges of candidates, examinations passed, and BAs conferred from 1920 to c. 1925 for those who retrospectively matriculated and graduated after 1920.
Unfortunately, some of the later volumes of the progress registers maintained by the Delegacy of Women Student are missing and they only go up to 1918. As a result, we do not have records of women who registered with the Delegacy for Women Students after 1918 and before 1920, when women were first allowed to matriculate. The Oxford University Gazette began publishing candidate and class lists for women who took examinations in 1890, and the 1918–20 issues contain lists of women who took examinations during this time period. More information about the Gazette and how to access can be found in 'Other Sources'.
How to access the records
Please contact us to find out more about women who took University examinations 1911–18, or for more information on these examinations and the Delegacy for Women Students.
Women students after 1920
From 7 October 1920, following the University Statute allowing women to become full members of the University (Statuta, 1920, Tit XXIII 'Of Women Students'), the Delegacy for Women Students was abolished. From this date onwards, women appear in our main records of students. See our Members Guide for more information on these sources.
Some functions carried out by the Delegacy for Women Students continued and were transferred to other bodies. The Delegacy for Lodging Houses took over the approval of lodgings for women. The Women Students' Property Committee was created in 1922 and became responsible for the management of all property vested in the University for the benefit of its women members. The first Women Students Fund was also established in 1921 as a fund administered by the Committee, to be used in any way it saw fit 'for the benefit of women members of the University generally' (Statuta, 1922, Tit XXIII.I). In 1960, following the statute of 1959 by which the women's college were admitted to full collegiate status, the Women Students Property Committee was abolished. The assets of the Women Students Fund were then transferred to the control of the Curators of the University Chest. Any available funds were to be distributed equally between the women's colleges for them to user 'at their absolute discretion for the purposes of the colleges' (Statuta, 1960, XX.28). In 1973 the Women Students Fund ceases to appear in the University Statutes.
How to access the records
Please contact us to find out more about women students who matriculated and graduated after 1920, including those who retrospectively did so, or for more information about the Delegacy for Women Students, Delegacy for Lodging Houses, Women Students Property Committee or Women Students Fund. The Bodleian Library's Department of Special Collections also holds material relating to the Women Students Property Committee and the Delegacy for Women Students. For more information on these records, please email them at email@example.com. Please be aware that they will not normally undertake genealogical research for remote enquirers.
In 1879, under pressure from the Association for the Education of Women (AEW), two colleges were founded solely for women: Lady Margaret Hall and Somerville College. At around the same time, the Society of Home Students was formed, again for women only. This became St Anne's College in 1952. St Hugh's College was founded for women in 1886 and St Hilda's in 1893. Oxford colleges maintain their own archives and contact details for the archives of the former women's college can be found on the Oxford Archivists' Consortium website.
The records of the AEW, as well as a minute book for the Lectures for Ladies Committee are held by the Bodleian Library's Department of Special Collections. Enquiries concerning these should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additionally, the AEW's Calendar for the years 1887-88 and 1909-10, which contain schedules of lectures and examinations, and lists of student and committee members, are available online to members of Oxford University via SOLO.
In 1885 the Oxford University Calendar began to include lists of women who gained honours in their examinations. Most issues of the Calendar 1810–1887 are available to view online via SOLO.
From 1890, women students who sat for examinations began to appear in the class lists published in the Oxford University Gazette, and they also appear in the published Oxford Historical Register. The Gazette also published reports of the Delegacy for Women Students 1912-21, and the issue of 26 November 1919 includes a six-page supplement discussing proposals in the Women's Statute, with a history of the University's involvement with women. The Gazette and Oxford Historical Register can also be found online via SOLO.
In the early 1900s, a number of new diploma courses began to be established by the University. These were one-year, postgraduate courses available to both members and non-members of the University, usually in subjects which were not offered as part of the traditional BA curriculum such as geography, economics, public health and anthropology. Because they were open to non-members of the University, women could study for these diplomas alongside their male counterparts on an equal basis before 1920. Both received the same qualification at the end of the course. Women can therefore be found in the records of diploma students here. Please contact us to find out more about these diplomas and the women students who studied for them.
Published and web resources relating to women at Oxford
- 'In Oxford but...not of Oxford', Janet Howarth, in The History of the University of Oxford, Volume VII: Nineteenth-Century Oxford, Part 2 (Brock and Curthoys, eds., 2000)
- 'Women', Janet Howarth, in The History of the University of Oxford, Volume VIII: the Twentieth Century (B Harrison, ed. 1994)
- The Women at Oxford: A Fragment of History, Vera Brittain, 1960.
- Women Making History, the University's 2020 celebrations of the centenary of women's membership of Oxford University.
- Education and Activism, Women at Oxford University: 1878–1920, a collaborative research and engagement project in the University celebrating the centenary of women's admission to Oxford.