Past Visitors

The office of Visitor has its roots in medieval institutions, and is retained today not only in the Colleges of Cambridge and Oxford, but the professional bodies for barristers in England and Wales – the Inns of Court in London – as well as in some other independent schools and universities.

The Visitor is an overseer of Girton College, and their traditional role as laid down in the Statutes is to determine disputes arising between the institution and its members. As one example, if the Fellows could not decide upon a new Mistress within a year, then the Visitor would be able to intervene to set one in place. Luckily, there was no need in the case of the current Mistress!

Historically, the Visitor had a wider role in being a final point of judgement over the application of the internal rules of an institution. However, the role has in recent years being divested of some of this power by Parliament. The Education Reform Act of 1988 restricted the jurisdiction of the Visitor over matters relating to the academic staff of Institutions. In 2004, the role of the Visitor as the ultimate receiver of appeals in the case of student complaint was replaced by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.

Freed of the need for the Visitor to be so independent in their dealings with the College, the current and fourth Visitor, Lady Hale, herself studied at Girton and alongside the Mistress acts as a prominent champion of the College.

The Queen Mother (Visitor 1948 – 2002) with four Girton Mistresses, from left Mary Warnock, Mary Cartwright, Juliet Campbell and Muriel Bradbrook.

The Queen Mother (Visitor 1948 2002) With Four Girton Mistresses, From Left Mary Warnock, Mary Cartwright, Juliet Campbell And Muriel Bradbrook.

The Queen Mother

The Queen Mother (1948 - 2002)

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother supported Girton for a period of over 50 years. She saw many changes – the most seismic occurring at the beginning of her term. It was the late 1940s when women were allowed to become full members of the University for the first time, and Girton itself was accepted as a Cambridge College. As Queen Elizabeth, in 1948 she received the first woman’s honorary degree from Cambridge.

Lord Baldwin of Bewdley (1930 - 1947)

In common with his predecessor Stanley Baldwin was a Conservative politician, educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. He became Chancellor of the University of Cambridge in 1930, and at the same time became Visitor at Girton, both positions he held until his death in 1947.

As Prime Minister from 1923-29 and again from 1935-37 he was involved in a turbulent period in British Politics. Shortly after he became Prime Minister he had to deal with a crisis in the coal industry over wages. Matters led to a strike in 1926 in which the Trades Union Congress called out 3 million men, a fifth of the adult male population, across the key occupations of the time – railwaymen, transport workers, dockers, printers, builders, iron and steel workers. He was well-regarded for providing calm, firm leadership at this time.

Perhaps most famously, it was he who was tasked with negotiations with the new King Edward VIII in the autumn of 1936 over his intention to marry the divorcee Wallis Simpson. It was he who put to Edward VIII that the only options were renunciation of Mrs Simpson or abdication. Baldwin was praised for his handling of the issue, and unusually for a politician it was his own choice to resign from office following the successful coronation celebrations of George VI in May 1937.

He himself was happily married to Lucy Baldwin, a campaigner for maternity care including analgesia in labour.

Lord Baldwin was also chairman of the Rhodes Trust and, from 1930, the first Chairman of the Pilgrim Trust which was set up with the equivalent of £2 million (£80 million in today’s terms) from Edward Harkness, an American philanthropist who in an interesting parallel to the Cambridge and Oxford College systems had just given millions of dollars to set up the residential Colleges of Yale University and the Houses of Harvard University in the US.

Lord Baldwin Of Bewdley

Lord Balfour

Lord Balfour (1924 - 1930)

In 1924 Girton elected its first Visitor, Lord Balfour, who had from 1919 been Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. He held the office until his death in 1930.

Arthur, the First Earl of Balfour came from an aristocratic Scottish family. He had a long career as a Conservative Politician. He became British Prime Minister in 1902 – events in his term of office until 1906 included the ending of the Boer War and the passing of the 1902 Education Act which set up Local Education Authorities (LEAs). He returned to government in 1915 as First Lord of the Admiralty in Britain’s First World War coalition government. The following year, David Lloyd George, the new Prime Minister, appointed him as Foreign Secretary where he was responsible for the Balfour Declaration in 1917 which promised Zionists a national home in Palestine.

Outside politics, he was one of the founding fellows of the British Academy, and was president from 1921 until 1928, the longest tenure of the office in its history.

His sister Eleanor, known to friends as Nora, was strongly involved in the development of women’s education. She married Professor Henry Sidgwick of Trinity College, Cambridge, and they were instrumental in setting up Newnham College, Cambridge, where she taught Mathematics and became the second Principal.