The Rising Tide : Effigy of woman undergraduate during campaigning for 1897

The Rising Tide

<p style='text-align: justify;'>In a rapidly changing educational landscape, Cambridge’s refusal to grant women equality stood out. The University of London was the first to admit women to degrees in 1878, and thereafter the rapid creation of new universities meant that by 1914 there were many institutions offering women degrees. Oxford fell in line in 1920, leaving Cambridge isolated until it gave women full membership of the university in 1948.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>In 1897 and 1921 requests for equality were put to a vote and were rejected. Why did Cambridge resist the rising tide for so long? Victorian ideas about female intellectual or physical inferiority were soon dispelled. The success of Agnata Ramsay in the Classical Tripos in 1887 and Philippa Fawcett achieving the position of Wrangler in 1890 dispelled myths about women’s capability for academic success. More important was a sense that, unlike other universities, Cambridge existed to produce certain kinds of elite masculinity that were best cultivated in exclusively male environments. Also important was the fear that granting women degrees would give them a say in running the university.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>In 1897 the proposal was carefully worded to grant women formal recognition of their degrees, but no share in university government. Despite this on 21 May 1897 Cambridge University rejected the notion by 1713 votes to 662 to grant full degrees to women. </p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>Campaigning in the build-up to the vote was particularly vicious especially among undergraduate men. Here an effigy of a female undergraduate hangs from the first floor of what is now Cambridge University Press’s book shop. </p>


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