Past Mistresses

Professor Susan J. Smith is the nineteenth Mistress of Girton. Her eighteen predecessors have each played a part in shaping the College that is Girton today.

Marilyn Strathern (1998 - 2009)

Marilyn Strathern has the strongest possible Girton connections. Her mother, Joyce Evans was a Girtonian (Martin 1929) as was her daughter Barbara (1988). Marilyn herself came up to Girton in 1960 from Bromley High School to read Archaeology and Anthropology (MA 1967; PhD 1968). She was a College research student and J E Cairns scholar 1963–66 (working in Papua New Guinea) and Assistant Director of Studies in Archaeology and Anthropology 1967–68. She was a Bye-Fellow, a Senior Research Fellow and Fellow of the College 1976–84 and returned as a Professorial Fellow in 1993 before her election as Mistress five years later.

She has published widely on both Melanesia and the UK. Her research in Papua New Guinea includes gender relations, feminist scholarship and legal anthropology, and in the UK, kinship, the reproductive and genetic technologies, and audit culture. In addition to her Girton appointments, she has held posts as Assistant Curator, Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Cambridge (1966–68), as Research Fellow, New Guinea Research Unit, Australian National University (1970–72 in Australia and 1974–75 in Papua New Guinea), as Fellow and Lecturer, Trinity College, Cambridge (1984–85), as Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Manchester (1985–93) and as William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge (1993–2008).

In 2001, Professor Strathern was created DBE. In addition, she has received numerous national and international awards which include membership of learned societies (FBA 1987), honorary degrees, and medals. It is inappropriate to list them here but mention should be made of the award of the Viking Fund Medal by the International Wenner-Gren Foundation in 2003, which recognised that through her research, mentoring and service to the profession she had achieved ‘high distinction’ and had ‘transformed the discipline’, and of the Huxley Memorial medal, bestowed by the Royal Anthropological Institute for lifetime achievement at the highest level.

Daphne Todd’s portrait won the 2001 Ondaatje Prize, awarded by the Royal Society of Portrait Painters to ‘the painter of the most distinguished portrait of the year’. The portrait was exhibited at the annual exhibition of the Society and then at the National Portrait Gallery before coming to hang permanently at Girton. It has generated a great deal of interest and gave rise to articles by both the artist and the sitter published in the THES (10 August 2001) and later in the Girton Annual Review 2002. Sitter, artist and portrait also featured on a Channel 4 programme on portraiture ‘In Your Face’ made by Bruno Wollheim for Coluga Pictures in 2002.

Marilyn Strathern

Juliet Campbell

Juliet Campbell (1992 - 1998)

Juliet Campbell’s career before coming to Girton as Mistress was as a diplomat. After reading PPE at Oxford, she joined the Foreign Office straight away, eight years after the major reforms of 1949 which opened the Diplomatic Service to women, subject to a marriage bar. In 1961 she became a junior member of Edward Heath’s Common Market negotiating team. Despite the negative outcome of that early initiative, the European Community remained her speciality. She also held positions in Bangkok, The Hague, Paris and Jakarta and it was during this last posting that she married Alec Campbell, a historian, in 1983. In addition, she had a spell of duty running the FCO’s Training Department. The climax of her diplomatic career was the posting to Luxembourg as British Ambassador 1988–1991, a posting which she thoroughly enjoyed. Luxembourg’s EU Presidency in 1991 brought her a great deal of responsibility and many ministerial visitors.

As Mistress at Girton she was key in securing funding for the College. A donation from the Wolfson Foundation enabled an expansion of graduate accommodation at Wolfson Court. The extension also included the Poppy Jolowicz Law Library and other public rooms. The Duke of Edinburgh as Chancellor of the University, along with the Vice-Chancellor Sir David Williams and the Queen Mother opened the new building, named Queen Elizabeth Court. The Development Office came into being early in her term of office, with the appointment of the first Development Director. She was elected to the University Council and chaired the Committee which organised the 50th anniversary of women’s full membership of the University. Campbell Court, a paved court with planted borders which was formed as part of the Archive Building opened at Girton in 2004, is named after Juliet and Alex Campbell.

Mary Warnock (1984 - 1991)

Baroness Warnock is a very public intellectual, and though now in her late eighties she is causing controversy in the press in her outspoken support of euthanasia and assisted suicide. She has made a career as a moral philosopher, and her thinking has shaped public ethics in a number of areas. She became a Life Peer in 1985.

Perhaps her greatest influence on public life has been in the area of in vitro fertilisation. Following the birth of the first ‘test-tube baby’ in 1978, a Committee was set up in 1982 to investigate the new technologies used in in vitro fertilisation and embryology. She Chaired the Committee, whose report published in 1984 and now known as the Warnock Report, clarified the standing of IVF as permissible given safeguards, and paved the way for stem cell research. It led to the setting up of a regulatory body, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the passing of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. Prior to this she chaired a committee that resulted in children with special needs being educated in mainstream schools – although she has recently called for a reappraisal.

She began her academic career by reading Literae Humaniores at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford 1942–1948 (the war interrupted her studies). In 1949 she was appointed Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy at St Hugh’s, Oxford and married a fellow philosopher, Geoffrey Warnock. She was the first married fellow of her college and was claimed by some as a role model for the late 20th century, combining marriage, motherhood (the Warnocks had five children) and profession. In 1966 she left the University to become Headmistress of Oxford High School, a position she held until 1972, before returning to University teaching and public life.

Mary Warnock

Brenda Ryman

Brenda Ryman (1976 - 1983)

Brenda Edith Ryman came up to Girton 1941–43 to read Natural Sciences. While she was a student, she gained two blues for swimming. She qualified for her BA degree under wartime regulations, and went to work in an industrial laboratory for two years, after which she moved to the University of Birmingham, where she was awarded her PhD in 1948. This was an eventful year as she also married Harry Barkley and accepted a lectureship at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, where she stayed for 24 years (as Senior Lecturer then Reader). As well as her research on the therapeutic applications of liposomes, she pursued an active concern with many aspects of scientific education. In 1972, she was appointed to the Chair of Biochemistry at Charing Cross Hospital Medical School where she built up the department to have an international reputation for excellence in research and teaching. Four years later, she became Mistress of Girton, while retaining her Chair and living in London. Being head of a large Department and of a Cambridge College was extremely demanding and there were some constraints on the time she could spend in College and in University affairs. However, her dynamism meant she was never short of ideas and she wanted College to be ‘self-critical yet confident’. She presided over the change of Girton from a single-sex to a mixed College and was convinced that this was the right move for the future. She remained Mistress until her death. She is remembered by her colleagues as someone who lived at least four lives in her sixty years – and lived them largely simultaneously.

Muriel Bradbrook (1968 - 1976)

Professor Muriel Bradbrook was a literary scholar and an authority on Shakespeare. She received the prestigious Pragnell Award from the Shakespeare Birthday Celebration Committee for ‘outstanding achievement in extending the appreciation and enjoyment of the works of William Shakespeare’. She grew up in Scotland and Liverpool before coming to Girton to read English, and graduating with a double first in English in 1930. She was Ottlie Hancock research fellow at the College from 1932 to 1935, when she was made an Official Fellow. She became Vice-Mistress from 1962 to 1966, before becoming Mistress from 1968 to 1976, and then a Life Fellow from 1976 to-1993.

In a long career, she published on Shakespeare and the Elizabethans as well as occasionally on other authors such as Ibsen, writing seventeen books in total. The first book she published was Elizabethan Stage Conditions (1932) and later books included Shakespeare and Elizabethan Poetry, which was described by Kenneth Muir as “the sanest and most stimulating book about Shakespeare to have appeared since the war”. She was an avid theatregoer and emphasised that the theatre of that time should be evaluated as drama not just text on a page. She saw all poetry as the finest expression of the human spirit, and the interaction of playwright, actors and audience in a particular theatre at a particular time as key. Her belief, radical at that time, was that Shakespeare’s drama was the product of the economic, social and theatrical pressures of his time. She developed this idea in two of her most remarkable books, The Rise of the Common Player (1962) and Shakespeare the Craftsman (based on the 1968 Clark Lectures).

She was appointed a University Lecturer by Cambridge in 1948, a Reader in 1962, and Professor of English in 1965 (the first female professor in the Faculty). She held visiting professorships at numerous universities, including Santa Cruz, Tokyo, and Rhodes, South Africa and received honorary degrees from many more. She was Honorary Professor at the Graduate School of Renaissance Studies, Warwick University from 1987 to 1990.

In 1969 she wrote a history of Girton under the ironic title That Infidel Place. Girton was a second home to her, where she was known affectionately as ‘Brad’. Her friends included the poet and Girton alumna Kathleen Raine. It was during her time at Girton that the decision was made to admit men, which actually happened soon after the appointment of Brenda Ryman.

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Mary Cartwright

The Longest Serving Mistress: Dame Mary Cartwright (1949 - 1968)

Dame Mary Cartwright was Mistress of Girton from 1949 to 1968, the longest tenure in the College’s history. Women had been admitted to full membership of the University in 1948, and although reserved to the point of diffidence, she provided clear, quiet leadership at a time of change.

Dame Mary was a renowned pure mathematician, who worked on complex function theory, differential equations and cluster theory. She saw mathematics as an act of discovery:

“I believe that mathematical reality lies outside us, that our function is to discover or observe it, and that the theorems we prove, and that we describe grandiloquently as ‘our creations’, are simply our notes of our observations.”

At her memorial service in Girton College Chapel on 13 March 1999, the Revd Dr Polkinghorne KBE, FRS, spoke of the legacy of Dame Mary to mathematics at that time as follows:

“Dame Mary was a pure mathematician, but her work on non-linear differential equations, in wartime and thereafter, was a contribution – I am stating this in the measured terms my task requires – a contribution to a development that has led to chaos theory. A subject not only of great mathematical richness, but also one that has had many applications, from weather forecasting to the study of coffee futures.”

Polkinghorne noted the depth and beauty of pure mathematics which

“rewards its students with a very real kind of intellectual joy”.

Founder: Emily Davies (1871 - 1874)

Emily Davies was the fourthalt Mistress of Girton. However, it was her vision and tenacity that led to the founding of Girton.

A quote by Mrs Townshend, one of the first Girton students (indeed the first to apply to Girton) sums up Emily Davies well:

“Her dainty little figure and smiling face were most misleading. They concealed untiring energy, a will of iron, and a very clear and definite set of opinions… She was a person of single aim who looked neither to the right hand nor to the left.”

In all that concerned women Emily Davies was a revolutionary; in all else a conservative. She was determined that women should sit the same examinations as men. On the other hand, she was equally determined that the new College should be Church of England, and that it should not be situated in the centre of Cambridge.

Emily Davies