The history of Lucy Cavendish College
"We are not ladies who lunch!" (Dr Anna Bidder, 4 May 1903 - 1 October 2001)
Lucy Cavendish College is the latest and perhaps the last women's college to be founded in the United Kingdom. The college was established in 1965, initially as an experimental female academy for women graduates. The development of the college grew out of the vision and determination of three women who formed a Dining Group in Cambridge in 1951. These women were: Anna McClean Bidder, a zoologist, later Curator of Malacology in the Museum of Zoology; Kathleen Louise Wood-Legh, a medieval historian; and Margaret Mary Braithwaite (née Masterman), a philosopher and later Director of the Cambridge Language Research Unit.
All three were graduates of Newnham College, and were involved in research and teaching in the university, but were unable to hold fellowships under the then current rules of the University. The group missed the intellectual environment and wider advantages of a collegiate community and agreed that a 'Third Foundation' was needed to increase the number of undergraduate places for women in Cambridge.
In collaboration with a second group, led by Dame Myra Curtis, the Dining Group lobbied the University for a third college for women. From the determination of their Third Foundation Association emerged New Hall (now renamed Murray Edwards) in 1954.
The Dining Group continued through the 1950s with a new aim of providing 'practical assistance and the stimulus of regular social contact, to encourage academic achievement in teaching, learning and research. One topic of particular concern in the University was the fact that women were not allowed to become Fellows, and therefore, despite being involved in teaching and research they were not affiliated to a college. In response to this, the University invited submissions on how best to tackle the problem. Anna Bidder's Dining Group responded, expressing the view that there was room for small collegiate societies for graduates. In November 1964, the Dining Group successfully applied to the University for recognition as the Lucy Cavendish Collegiate Society, with Anna Bidder as first President, and premises were first established in two ground floor offices at 20 Silver Street. The Society set out in its Trust Deed to be responsible for the care and discipline of:
a) 'Research students working for higher degrees or diplomas'
b) 'Women, not necessarily so engaged, who wish to re-equip themselves for professional careers by advanced study, or by obtaining higher qualifications'
The Times, 11 October 1965 carried a report on this newest female academy:
'So it is without towers or turrets, without a 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'.
In 1966, following the recognition of Lucy Cavendish as an Approved Collegiate Society, it welcomed its first resident student, Peggy Seay. She had arrived from the United States to study for a Ph.D in number theory, and moved into Lucy Cavendish's new premises Nos. 16 -18 Northampton Street, two refurbished eighteenth century cottages.
By 1970 Lucy Cavendish College had moved again, to its current permanent premises in Lady Margaret Road, and welcomed ten graduate students. By October 1972 the college had welcomed its first twenty undergraduates. These varied in age from 25 to 36 years, and included secretaries, housewives, teachers, and an actress. This valuable diversity of backgrounds among the Lucy Cavendish student body continues today, and the college is dedicated to transforming women's lives. Being at Lucy Cavendish College is now synonymous with seizing academic opportunities and at a time that women choose for themselves.
From humble beginnings, Lucy Cavendish College has developed into a fully self-governing College within the University, with currently around 360 undergraduate and graduate students. The college has its own unique identity, is noted for its innovative approach and its continued commitment to widening women's participation in higher education.
The Rooms of our Own microsite produced by Lucy Cavendish College offers an in-depth tour through the history of the College.
Further information about the history and development of the college is available from the following publications:
C. Kate Bertram (1989) Lucy Cavendish College: A history of the early years
Nigel Watson (2002) The Opportunity to be Myself: A history of Lucy Cavendish College
Phyllis Hetzel (2003) Lucy Cavendish College: The Crucial Years 1979 - 1984