Amara Thornton describes how we have tackled the representation of women's education in this period.
Modelling our approach began with the Blue Papers – which in some cases list the degrees held by women being proposed for Fellowship of the Society of Antiquaries of London (and of these, some, but not all, included an indication of institution conferring degrees e.g. "Oxon", "Cantab", "Lond"). Sometimes degree status was given in other primary source materials, such as by-lines in journal articles – eg. Title of Article, by Miss XXX XXX, B. A., in lists of officers of learned societies, e. g. Hon Sec, Miss XXX XXXX, B. A., or in the context of a description of an activity – e. g. Mrs XXXX, M. A., undertook an excavation of xxx.). Educational information was also sometimes given next to the names of women contributing as authors to the Victoria County History project, in a VCH volume’s table of contents. As at least some women contributing to the VCH were educated at Oxford and Cambridge (which did not award degrees until 1920/1948 respectively) their educational credentials are often given as the exams they passed or the courses they undertook, e. g. Miss XXXX, Honours School of Modern History (an examination board at Oxford). For some women, obituaries, Wikipedia entries, and ODNB biographies provided educational details that we could follow up on in other records.}}
Based on pre-existing knowledge already in the team, we knew that there were a number of women in our growing database connected to Oxford/Cambridge Colleges, and to colleges of the University of London. In addition, a series of reports from various women’s colleges reporting on war work undertaken by their past students (that formed part of the Imperial War Museum’s Women’s Work Collection and was digitally available) provided a useful starting point to isolating which women went to which colleges. This was most useful for Oxford & Cambridge colleges, as there were too many women attending University of London colleges for these reports to be relevant at an early stage of the project. Once individual women could be tied to an individual Oxford/Cambridge college, we could check the College registers (available for both Cambridge women’s colleges and all but Oxford Home Students/St Ann’s in Oxford) for further details including start/end times, degrees including TCD degrees awarded (only relevant for so-called ‘steamboat ladies’) and academic subjects studies/examinations passed.
As the numbers of women in the database increased, we began checking individual college records looking for names of women we had already added to the database. For Oxford, we consulted both the physical and digital records associated with the Association for the Education of Women, as well as the digital records available via the Bodleian Library’s Education and Activism: Women at Oxford collection.
At Cambridge, we checked the manuscript admissions records for the two women’s colleges, Newnham and Girton, which are held in each respective college’s archives. These manuscript records overlap but do not duplicate, the information given in the printed College registers put together in the mid-20th century.
The University of London’s records are more complicated. Not only was it (in terms of women’s education) a much bigger institution than the Oxford and Cambridge colleges, but women could have attended (by 1909) 5 co-ed and 5 women-only colleges and schools in the UoL (a number that grew as time went on) with a number of other affiliated institutions open to women students having UoL recognised teachers. By contrast, Oxford had 5 and Cambridge 2 colleges for women, and a fairly low number of students per year through the course of our period.
During the course of the project we have consulted the institutional archives of University College London and the London School of Economics to look for student records up to 1920 (UCL)/1917 (LSE). The most useful records for gaining student names were fees books, which (mainly) list students by last name, sometimes first name, and title, and (for UCL only) by subject studied. We focused initially on these institutions as UCL had strong History, Archaeology and Egyptology departments from the 1880s onwards, and it became clear during the course of the initial phases of research that a number of women had been trained in historical methods at LSE, which had instituted advanced seminars in history from the early part of the 20th century (see Advanced Historical Teaching Fund Reports, LSE) following a campaign to establish a London-based “School for Advanced Historical Studies” (see RHS Scrapbook RHS 7/19). These fees records give us the names of women who were studying, though not necessarily taking degree examinations. UCL/LSE Calendars, issued annually, (available online via UCL/LSE) also provide names of students studying, though these (mainly) only list the surname, title, and first initial of students so cross-checking with the fees books was necessary.
A major resource for confirmation of degree holders for the University of London was the University of London Historical Record, produced in 1912 and 1926. Furthermore, the University of London has digitised degree lists for those women holding degrees from University of London associated schools and colleges up to 1939. Next to the names in these lists are type of degree(s), the year of the conferring of degree(s), and the name of the school/college/institute at which the named student was taught (e. g. UCL).
However, these digitised degree lists do not include certain types of certification such as the Academic Diploma in Archaeology which was conferred by the University of London. Rather, their names and UoL institutional affiliations can be found in the Supplementary Lists of examination results published to accompany the University of London Gazettes up to 1940, when printing of the lists came to and end due to war-time paper shortages. Similarly, the Pitt Rivers Museum has made available a list of students who were awarded Diplomas in Anthropology at the University of Oxford between 1907 and 1920.
Women attending higher education institutions outside London/Oxford/Cambridge are noted as and when we came across information relating to degree status by the methods identified above. The Institute of Historical Research Library holds printed historical registers of students for several institutions – thus far, we have consulted only the register for the University of Manchester, as there were a few women in our database who were listed as attending that university.
By and large the project has not focused on the secondary education of women. An exception to this is students of Notting Hill High School, which has digitised both its admissions registers and its school magazine (which kept track of old students), and was a rich source of information on the working lives and residences of former NHHS students. Secondary school information (whether formal or informal) is frequently given in the historical registers of Oxford and Cambridge colleges and in the manuscript admissions registers at Newnham and Girton, but the team has not focused on including secondary school information in the database. We also created a property alternative educational provision for women who for example are noted as having governesses, private tuition, or having been educated in some way abroad. This property has not been used universally in the database to note any form of informal education, rather, it has been applied only when we have come across the appropriate evidence. It should therefore be assumed that the majority of women in our database would have had some form of primary and potentially secondary education according to the education legislation in place during the period of our project. (November 2023)