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‘Lectures for Women’ and the Founding of Newnham College, Cambridge

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Part of the Annals of the Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Mathematics/ Société canadienne d’histoire et de philosophie des mathématiques book series (ACSHPM)

Abstract

During the Victorian Era, a national focus on education reform led to marked improvements in the British educational system. In particular, academic opportunities for women in the middle classes grew tremendously. Among the variety of exams instituted to measure and certify academic proficiency was the Cambridge Examination for Women established in 1869 with the intent to certify a candidate’s qualifications for teaching. In order to help women prepare for the exam, and thereby raise the level of teaching, a group led by Henry Sidgwick, Millicent Garett Fawcett, Ann Clough, and John Couch Adams began sponsoring a series of lectures specifically for women to be offered by university faculty in Cambridge, England. Early lecturers in the program included the mathematicians Arthur Cayley, William Kingdon Clifford, and Norman Macleod Ferrers, the economist Alfred Marshall, and the logician John Venn. As a result of this successful venture, the ‘Lectures for Women’ formed a cornerstone for the establishment of Newnham College, Cambridge. In this chapter we highlight the first 10 years of the mathematical lectures.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    A notable exception appears in Quaker society where equitable educational opportunities were afforded to both boys and girls in Quaker schools. For the most part, the rest of British society did not share this progressive view.

  2. 2.

    The Commission was chaired by Lord Taunton (Henry Labouchere). The report, in twenty volumes, was released from 1858 to 1868.

  3. 3.

    With respect to mathematics, governesses were expected to have a thorough knowledge of functions, the rule of three, and be able to teach mental arithmetic (Clough, 1868).

  4. 4.

    Her brother was the poet Arthur Hugh Clough.

  5. 5.

    The Council was an amalgamation of smaller groups that existed in Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, and Newcastle.

  6. 6.

    In 1867, the Council sponsored a series of lectures on astronomy given in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, and Sheffield by James Stuart of Trinity College, Cambridge. It was estimated that altogether about 550 women attended his lectures (Hamilton, 1936, p. 73).

  7. 7.

    An examination for students under the age of 18, usually taken when leaving secondary school, that covered a wide range of subjects. Girls were first admitted to the examinations in 1867. With respect to mathematics, the Senior Local Examination covered Euclid, algebra, trigonometry, and applied mathematics.

  8. 8.

    Known at the time as the Cambridge Examination for Women.

  9. 9.

    The fee of £2 had an average purchasing power of about 250 USD in 2019 (Officer and Williamson, 2021).

  10. 10.

    Mrs. Annette Peile served as local secretary for the Cambridge committee. She and her husband John, later Master of Christ’s College, Cambridge, were staunch supporters of higher education for women.

  11. 11.

    Any candidate had the right to object to be examined in religious knowledge.

  12. 12.

    Two years later, the list was expanded to include: Hamblin Smith’s Elementary Algebra and Elementary Trigonometry; Todhunter’s Algebra for the Use of Colleges and Schools and Mechanics for Beginners; J. Norman Lockyer’s Lessons in Elementary Astronomy; and Charles Taylor’s Geometrical Conics.

  13. 13.

    Henry Fawcett, who was blind, was Professor of Political Economy at Cambridge. He went on to be an innovative Postmaster General in the second Gladstone administration.

  14. 14.

    Activists at the meeting included Henry Sidgwick, fellow of Trinity College Cambridge, who would play an instrumental role in the founding of Newnham College.

  15. 15.

    Originally proposed as ‘Lectures for Ladies’.

  16. 16.

    Prominent women serving on the Committee included Eliza Adams, Eleanor Bonham Carter, Susan Cayley, Julia Kennedy, Annette Peile, and Susanna Venn.

  17. 17.

    The Cambridge academic year is divided into three 8-week terms: Michaelmas (fall), Lent (winter), and Easter (spring).

  18. 18.

    Charles John Clay, the University Printer (1854–1894), held an M.A. from Trinity College, Cambridge (Venn and Venn, 1944).

  19. 19.

    The other six courses that ran were English Language and Literature, English History, Latin, French, Logic, and Harmony. Those that did not were botany, chemistry, geology and physical geography, political economy, Greek, German, and the theory of sound in its application to music.

  20. 20.

    Expense records from 1873 to 1880 indicate that some lecturers received £6 even though the registration for their lectures was less than six (Fees for Lecturers, n.d.).

  21. 21.

    A guinea was a pound sterling and a shilling, equivalent to about £1.05 (having the purchasing power of about 130 USD in 2019).

  22. 22.

    An exam for students under the age of sixteen.

  23. 23.

    The building was renumbered 41 in the early nineteenth century. Built in 1830, it served as a residence until 1910 when the Bird Bolt Family and Commercial Temperance Hotel relocated there from the corner of Downing and St Andrew’s Streets. From 1922 to 1985 it was the Glengarry Hotel and since then the privately owned Regent Hotel (Regent Hotel, n.d.).

  24. 24.

    The lodgings fee was set at £20 per term, with a discount of £5 for those preparing for the educational profession.

  25. 25.

    Use was made of Merton Hall from October 1872 to September 1874 when the lease expired.

  26. 26.

    Anne Clough served as principal from 1871 until her death in 1892.

  27. 27.

    Annette Peile supervised the correspondence courses for the next 12 years.

  28. 28.

    Now the location of the Lion Yard shopping arcade.

  29. 29.

    In 1874, men were first permitted to take the examination and the name changed from the Examination for Women to the Higher Local Examination. However, no men took part that year.

  30. 30.

    Success on a Cambridge tripos examination was necessary for a university man to obtain a Cambridge honours degree. Tripos subjects included mathematics, classics, moral sciences, history, and law.

  31. 31.

    Paley was the daughter of William Paley, author of Natural Theology. In 1877, she married the economist Alfred Marshall.

  32. 32.

    At the time, Girton and Newnham Colleges were the only two establishments in Cambridge offering higher education to women. The foundation under which Girton was established held a different philosophy from that of Newnham. For example, examinations were compulsory for women coming to Girton, but optional for women at Newnham. For more information see (McMurran and Tattersall, 2017).

  33. 33.

    Harland went on to do research in the Cavendish Laboratory and married Sir William Napier Shaw, a meteorologist who studied air pollution. She continued to lecture on arithmetic until 1889.

  34. 34.

    In the 1890s small classes in mathematics were formed when necessary.

  35. 35.

    William Henry Hoar Hudson, Third Wrangler on the 1861 Cambridge Mathematical Tripos, was a fellow of St John’s College. Hudson offered arithmetic lectures by correspondence until 1882, when he was appointed professor of mathematics at King’s College London and Queen’s College on Harley Street. He also served on the Council of the London Mathematical Society where he was engaged in the improvement of mathematical education in schools and colleges.

  36. 36.

    The name likely refers to the intent to build the house within, or in proximity to, the council ward of Newnham, Cambridgeshire. The ward is home to several Cambridge University colleges.

  37. 37.

    In 1876 and 1877, the Company paid a dividend of 4% for any shares bought before June 19, 1876.

  38. 38.

    The estimated cost of the planned building, capable of housing 25 students and the principal, was £6000. The expense included necessary furnishings, as well as the cost of laying out a roughly one-acre garden and a tennis court (Higher Education for Women, n.d.).

  39. 39.

    We refer the reader to Lamberton (2014) for a descriptive perspective of academic collaboration among early Cambridge women.

  40. 40.

    To assist with lecture fees and book purchases, students of scanty means could apply for an interest-free loan to Anna Bateson who was in charge of the loan fund. She was mother of the journalist Margaret Heitland and historian Mary Bateson. Her husband, William Henry Bateson, was master of St John’s College, Cambridge, and founder of the Cambridge University School of Genetics.

  41. 41.

    Near the present site of the University Botanical Gardens.

  42. 42.

    At an estimated cost of £11,000.

  43. 43.

    John Peile, husband of Annette Peile, served as president of the Council from 1890 to 1909.

  44. 44.

    Then South Hall, now referred to as Old Hall.

  45. 45.

    Up to then, women sitting for the natural science lectures had access three times a week to the natural science museum and laboratories at St John’s College.

  46. 46.

    Now Sidgwick Hall.

  47. 47.

    Clough Hall opened in 1888. Pfeifer Hall was added to Old Hall in 1893. A block of buildings called Kennedy Buildings opened in the spring of 1900.

  48. 48.

    For women, the exam was still informal and given by courtesy of the examiners. In May of 1877, Leonard Courtney had brought forward a motion in the House of Commons that would have enabled the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge to examine female students concurrently with males. The motion failed to pass.

  49. 49.

    A preliminary examination to demonstrate that a student had a basic command of mathematics and the classics.

  50. 50.

    It would not be until 1948 that the right to earn a Cambridge undergraduate degree was granted to women. Women could receive titular graduate degrees at Cambridge beginning in the 1920s.

  51. 51.

    Rickett was Newnham’s first Wrangler when she earned a first class on the 1885 Mathematical Tripos.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank Anne Thomson, archivist at Newnham College, for her generous advice and assistance with archival materials. Except for the picture of Josephine Butler, all pictures appear with the permission of the Principal and Fellows of Newnham College, Cambridge. We are also grateful to the referees for their thoughtful comments and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Shawnee L. McMurran .

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Tattersall, J.J., McMurran, S.L. (2022). ‘Lectures for Women’ and the Founding of Newnham College, Cambridge. In: Zack, M., Schlimm, D. (eds) Research in History and Philosophy of Mathematics. Annals of the Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Mathematics/ Société canadienne d’histoire et de philosophie des mathématiques. Birkhäuser, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-95201-3_6

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