Our founders considered that the University needed ‘pioneers as well as traditionalists’. A conversation held over lunch in 1950 between three Cambridge academics – Anna Bidder, Margaret Braithwaite and Kathleen Wood-Legh – marked the very beginning of our College.
During the 1950s, a growing number of female academics held teaching and research roles in the University of Cambridge. However, within the University of Cambridge women were not allowed to hold fellowships in the male Colleges. Without a fellowship, women were excluded from a role in governing Colleges and the intellectual stimulus and support provided for fellows of a College.
Frustrated by this lack of opportunity, Bidder, Braithwaite and Wood-Legh began meeting for lunch. The first meeting took place in 1950 at Tony’s Restaurant, which was on the corner of King’s Parade and Bene’t Street. They developed a vision for a new college, built around a community of female academics.
Anna Bidder describes how they celebrated this first moment in the history of Lucy Cavendish College: ‘… we ordered three glasses of wine and drank to the idea.’
Armed with enthusiasm and determination, they established the Dining Group for female academics, which aimed to provide ‘practical assistance and the stimulus of regular social contact, to encourage academic achievement in teaching, learning and research.’
The Dining Club’s radical vision of a new College ‘led by women, for women’ became a reality in 1965, when the Lucy Cavendish Collegiate Society became an Approved Society of the University of Cambridge.
The Times of 11 October 1965 carried a report on this newest female college:
‘So it is that without towers or turrets, without chaplain or Porters, without a building of its own or even a foundation grant, Britain’s first graduate college for women has quietly come into being’
The Society aimed to provide for:
Research students working for higher degrees or diplomas.
Women, not necessarily so engaged, who wish to re-equip themselves for professional careers by advanced study, or by obtaining higher qualifications.
In preparation for welcoming our first graduate students, a temporary, one-roomed office was established at 20 Silver Street. From this modest beginning, Lucy Cavendish College began to flourish. In 1966, we moved into cottages at 16-18 Northampton Street and became known for a short period of time as ‘the College in a cottage’. Each of the rooms was furnished with a desk, two chairs, a filing cabinet, a telephone and a metal wastepaper basket, which legend says was frequently upended to provide additional seating.
In 1970, we leased St Francis House from St John’s College. This building eventually became College House, which now sits at the heart of our four and a half acre site, on Lady Margaret Road.
1972 was the year that Lucy Cavendish College first admitted undergraduates. This was the time when Churchill, Clare and King’s Colleges also admitted women undergraduates, the first of the traditionally all male Colleges within the University of Cambridge to make this decision.
Lucy Cavendish College grew to become a self-governing College within the University of Cambridge, granted full status and a Royal Charter in 1997.
In our 50th anniversary year in 2015 Lucy Cavendish College has over 350 students. They come from 6 continents and 60 countries and 60% are graduate and 40% undergraduate students. We also host many visiting academics and students from all over the world.
We have developed a new Student Centre that is ten minutes walk from the College on Histon Road. This purpose built living and learning environment houses 56 students in en suite study bedrooms and provides eight flats for students with families.
Lucy Cavendish College is a unique part of the University of Cambridge and we are the only college in Europe specifically for women students aged 21 and over.
Since 1965, we’ve established a strong track record in enabling women to achieve great success, in a wide range of professions and roles all across the world. It is our vision for the future that we can continue to help talented women to maximise their potential and broaden their expectations, contributing to societies and economies globally.