News & Events

Glimpses of Girton: 'Terracotta dog'


Catalogue ref: LR.783: ‘DOG’

As soon as I saw this figurine, the words of a fable by La Fontaine came into my head. The fable is no. 2 in the first book of the Fables, and begins:

Maître corbeau, sur un arbre perché,

Tenait en son bec un fromage.

Maître renard, par l’odeur alléché,

Lui tint à peu près ce langage…

If you say the first two words to a French person they are likely to be able to continue, having been made to learn the poem at school. La Fontaine goes on to tell us how the fox, to obtain the cheese which the crow had in his beak, praised the bird’s beauty and suggested that if his voice was as handsome as his plumage, he would be the finest bird around. Eager to earn this accolade, the crow opened his beak to demonstrate his voice, and dropped the cheese. Job done.


However, the story was not invented by La Fontaine. He probably adapted his version from the 1st-century Roman poet Phaedrus, who surely based his version on a Greek source, such as one of the prose versions associated with the name Aesop.


So what are the chances that this figurine represents not a weird and inexplicable grouping of a dog with a round cake in his mouth and a bird on his back (as the catalogue puts it) but the moment at the end of the fable when the fox has obtained the cheese?


Our figurine comes from Boeotia, in central Greece, north of Attica. It has been dated to about 500–450 BCE. Although several accounts of Aesop’s life are plainly fictitious, serious scholars like Aristotle believed he was a real person, and that he was born in Thrace (in mainland Greece) and spent some time on Samos. He lived in the early sixth century, and may have died in 564 BCE. By the time Aristophanes (c. 446–386) was writing his comedies, the Aesopic material was obviously well known and appreciated, and Aristophanes often refers to it. It seems safe to assume that the potter who made our figurine could have come across the fable.


So is the figure a dog or a fox? I would argue that the pricked ears and the shape and angle of the tail are fox-like. I also think that the bird looks more like a bird of the crow family than anything else. Is there anything that goes against this identification? Possibly. There are traces of red colouring on the figurine (inside the pricked ears, round the nostrils, and on the bird’s beak). It would be nice if the fox’s whole body had been red, but the cataloguer tells it that it seems to have been painted with white slip, apart from those touches of red. Well, I have a collection of small animal figurines from Oaxaca in Mexico which are all bright green… Perhaps this Greek figure was part of an all-white collection, with a few coloured highlights?


How does the figurine compare with Aesopic texts? The online Thesaurus Linguae Graecae gives two versions of this fable, and in both of them the bird (korax, crow or raven) is holding not a cheese but a piece of meat (kreas). The object in the fox’s mouth does not look like meat (unless, of course, it is a hamburger patty…) but, though identified by the cataloguer as a cake, it could perfectly well be a small round cheese. Indeed, it is a cheese (caseus) in the first extant verse form of the fable, composed by the Roman poet Phaedrus, probably in the first half of the first century CE, so perhaps he knew a Greek version in which the object of desire was a cheese and not a piece of meat. And perhaps the Greek potter who made our figurine also knew such a version. We shall never know, but we can speculate.


Written by Dr Gillian Jondorf, Life Fellow.


Published: 25 May 2017

Girtonians give back generously in the 2017 Telethon


Over a period of three weeks in the Easter Vacation students enjoyed inspiring telephone conversations with Girton alumni from all over the world. We value the Telethon as an opportunity to stay in touch in a personal  and meaningful way, and many of the callers came away from the experience with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the College past, present and  future plans.


Thank you so much to all who contributed in cash, kind or conversation – 415 alumni made a gift raising £265,208 for Girton! Those of you were giving for the first time were particularly generous, and we were especially grateful to an alumnus, who matriculated in 1991, for providing a matched fund for new regular donors.


Key achievements of the Telethon included raising two thirds of the funding left to complete the John Marks Fellowship in Medicine, the endowment of an Emily Davies Bursary and raising over £88,000 for the College’s unrestricted permanent endowment which will help all aspects of College life according to need.

A very big thank you to all our alumni and supporters who took part in the telethon; you have brought us one step closer to achieving financial sustainability in the lead up to our 150th Anniversary in 2019.



For more information, please visit:

·         Annual Telephone Campaign

·         A Great Campaign

·         Giving to Girton


Free entry to see Daphne Todd’s Portrait of The Mistress, Professor Susan J Smith

The Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition 2017 is taking place at Mall Galleries from Thursday 4 May to Friday 19 May.

The exhibition includes a portrait by Daphne Todd OBE PPRP NEAC Hon SWA of Professor Susan J Smith, Mistress of Girton, and the Mall Galleries are offering free entry to those who are interested to see the painting and the rest of the exhibition, which includes over 200 portraits. Daphne’s portrait has also won the Face Equality Changing Faces Award. In order to gain free entry, please print off the invitation: Mall Galleries Invitation.


You can find out more about the exhibition visit:


Published: 4 May 2017

The National Jane Martin Poetry Prize 2017 winners are announced

Girton College is pleased to announce the winners of the 2017 Jane Martin Poetry Prize, a national poetry competition established in 2010 in memory of Girton alumna Jane Elizabeth Martin.

The winning poems can be found here:

First prize: Katie Hale

Second prize: Andrew Wynn Owen

Katie Hale's student life was split between London, Melbourne, and St Andrews, where she completed her MLitt in Creative Writing a few years ago. She now lives in Cumbria, where she runs poetry workshops in schools and hosts Word Mess open mic night. Her poems have appeared in Poetry Review, The North and Interpreter's House, and her inaugural pamphlet, Breaking the Surface, is forthcoming from Flipped Eye. She was recently shortlisted for the Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize, and came second in the Tannahill International Poetry Competition. She is currently being mentored by Penguin Random House on their WriteNow scheme, and her new musical, The Inevitable Quiet of the Crash, co-written with composer Stephen Hyde, will be showing at the Edinburgh Fringer this summer.

You can hear Katie reading some of her poems on her Soundcloud page.

Andrew Wynn Owen is an Examination Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. He received an Eric Gregory Award in 2015 and Oxford University's Newdigate Prize in 2014. A recent narrative poem, The Dragon and The Bomb, is published by The Emma Press.'

Katie and Andrew will be visiting the College on Thursday 4 May, along with the Judges Grevel Lindop and Malcolm Guite, to attend the presentation evening and read some of their poems, which will be held in the Stanley Library from 6-7pm. All are welcome to attend and refreshments will be served.

Glimpses of Girton: The Personal Papers of Ethel Fegan, 1877-1975


A close up of Ethel Fegan, taken from the 1896 First Year photograph (archive reference: 6/2/29/4).

Ethel Sophia Fegan was Librarian at Girton from 1918-1930, and notably, became Lady Superintendent of Education for the Nigerian Government, receiving the George V Jubilee Medal for her educational work in Africa.

The College archive holds a collection of her personal papers (GCPP Fegan), ranging from her manuscript copies of lectures delivered as part of the Library Association to her collection of pamphlets on the subject of bibliography. This collection has recently been re-catalogued and is now available to view in the archive.

Born in Kent and educated at Blackheath High School, Ethel read Classics at Girton, 1896-1900. She studied for the Library Association examinations while teaching classics, receiving an MA in 1907 from Trinity College Dublin (quasi ad eundem). She then became Librarian at Cheltenham Ladies’ College (1908-17) and was elected a Fellow of the Library Association circa 1910.


View of Old Hall as part of the Library, taken circa 1902, just after Ethel’s time as a student at Girton (archive reference: GCPH 2/7/1).

At Cheltenham, she inaugurated courses for professional training in librarianship, conducted correspondence classes for the Library Association, and devised the ‘Cheltenham Classification’, a library classification for schools. Her lectures were varied, from bibliographic study to the typography of Wynkyn de Worde, and her notebooks show a woman who was deeply committed to the study of words, librarianship and literature (GCPP Fegan 2/1). Perhaps surprising to us nowadays, female librarians were scarce in the early 20th Century, yet Ethel was certain that openings would come if one only worked hard (GCPP Fegan 1/1/1).

Ethel returned to Girton as Librarian (1918-30). Described as a ‘benevolent despot’, she reorganised the Library under more scientific lines from her ‘cubby-hole’ in Old Hall where the books were then kept (GCPP Fegan 1/1/1). She also worked with Dr A. C. Haddon to build up the Haddon Library, and under his influence she took the Cambridge Diploma in Anthropology (1929). In 1948 she became an Honorary Fellow of the College.


Formal group of staff (taken before the term Fellow was in use) in Emily Davies Court, by Bassano in 1919. Ethel is furthest left in the back row (archive reference: GCPH 6/1/11).

Her interest in anthropology and intrepid nature led her to Nigeria, with funding from the Gilchrist Trustees.  Her ‘Gilchrist Report’ (GCPP Fegan 3/1/2) gives an account of women's education in the then British colonies on the West Coast of Africa. She toured these during 1928 and 1929, learning Hausa and collecting data about the people, statistics, education, the curriculum, and the need for teachers.

She was then appointed Lady Superintendent of Education for the Nigerian Government (1930-35): in this role she pioneered the first official attempt to educate the women of that area.

She stayed in Nigeria as a lay worker at Zaria Leper Colony (1938-39) and returned (1945-46) for the British Empire Leprosy Relief Association, maintaining her links with Girton by writing a piece for the Girton College Review entitled ‘Life in a Leper Colony in Nigeria’, where she discusses her work frankly and mentions teaching boys to knit socks using old bicycle spokes (GCPP Fegan 3/1/12). Her articles emphasise her warmth of feeling for the places visited and the people met, and it is no surprise that at the age of 97 she still remembered Nigeria with amazing clarity, discussing men who sold her dolls, much like those selling ‘penny dolls’ from her childhood in Kent (GCPP Fegan 1/1/1).

Ethel later resumed library work: she investigated library conditions in British West Africa for the Carnegie Corporation of New York; worked in libraries in the UK; and trained Africans for library work at Achimota College on the Gold Coast, continuing to work well into her retirement. On her return to Britain, Ethel Fegan worked as a volunteer in Cambridgeshire Archives until she was over 90, her hard-working nature continuing to the last.

The catalogue for the personal papers of Ethel Fegan is now available to view on Janus:


Articles by Ethel Fegan available in the Girton Review:

  • Fegan, Ethel, ‘Some Africans’, Girton Review, (Michaelmas Term, 1929), pp. 10-14.
  • Fegan, Ethel, ‘Life in a Leper Colony in Nigeria’, Girton Review, (Easter Term, 1946), pp. 15-19.
  • Fegan, Ethel, ‘Women in Northern Nigeria’, Girton Review, (Michaelmas Term, 1954), pp. 6-9.


Published: 26 April 2017

Gates Cambridge Scholarship - Class of 2017 Announced

We are delighted to announce that Wanyi Jia will be joining the College in Michaelmas 2017 as a Gates Cambridge Scholar. Wanyi will be taking a PhD in Clinical Neurosciences and hopes to profile neural-glial communication in health and disease and understand the role of myelin using the optic nerve as model.

Wanyi is one of 55 successful scholars who have been selected as the most academically exceptional and socially committed people from across the globe.

“Gates Cambridge Scholars come from all over the world, but they have some important things in common: great leadership potential, a commitment to improving the lives of others and an unparalleled passion for learning,” said Bill Gates, co-chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Melinda and I are pleased to welcome the class of 2017. We have no doubt they will have an incredible impact on topics of global importance.”


For more information, please visit:


Published: 21 April 2017

Glimpses of Girton - 'The Dentist' by William Bowyer


Portrait: ‘The Dentist’ by William Bowyer (RA Hon. RP Hon. NEAC RWS, 1927-2015), 1975 (oil on canvas)


This portrait was added to the People’s Portraits exhibition in September 2016. It was unveiled at the annual People’s Portraits reception and the College was delighted that Jason Bowyer (son of William Bowyer), Vera Bowyer (William’s widow) and Laura Cumming (the Observer’s art critic) were all present.


Jason Bowyer, himself a member of The Royal Society of Portrait Painters, spoke to the audience. He talked warmly of his father and of his love of painting. He touched first on his father’s career, saying that William saw portraiture as a way to describe his feelings about people he knew and admired. He painted family, neighbours and friends, and his great mentors and former teachers, Ruskin Spear RA and Carel Weight RA, were the major influence on his painting. In the early 1980s, after early retirement from teaching, William received a number of commissions and he was delighted to have works purchased by the National Portrait Gallery, including a painting of the great West Indian batsman, Viv Richards. William himself played cricket well into his 70s.


Jason then focussed on the Dentist. He explained that William did not catalogue or document his paintings, and he did not have a CV - he just wanted to paint. As a result, the identity of the Dentist was unknown until Jason went online appealing for information. A former lodger of the Dentist identified him as Claude Walker, who had a dental practice in Chiswick High Street close to where William had his studio.


It is not known where the two met but it is likely that William encountered Claude in the local newsagent or even in the pub and had persuaded him to sit for his portrait. Claude probably only had four or five sittings for his portrait.


William painted him on a red ground with patches of green and would have slowly built up the portrait. William painted Claude in his studio; Jason explained that, for those who knew William’s studio, a few familiar objects are reflected in Claude’s glasses.


The pose is quite formal, perhaps even professional, with the white table placed in front of Claude. The design of the portrait is important, including the visual device of Claude’s head being just off centre. Jason explained that portrait painters are always trying to capture ‘that moment’, so William painting Claude with his mouth slightly open might have been more of a gesture, or Claude might have been just about to speak. The result is a gentleness and thoughtfulness, perhaps even a tentativeness, about him.


We believe Claude died in the 1980s. Sadly we have no record of what Claude thought about having his portrait painted. However, I think the whole audience were delighted when Laura Cumming named Claude as one of her favourite portraits of the exhibition.


The People’s Portraits exhibition is open to the public 9am-5pm daily – for information please visit:


Published: 31 January 2017

Bye-Fellow, Dr Irit Katz, awarded the 2017 AIS Halpern Award


Bye-Fellow, Dr Irit Katz, has been awarded the 2017 Association for Israel Studies (AIS) Ben Halpern Award for Best Dissertation in Israel Studies. Irit received the award for her PhD study: "The Common Camp: Temporary Settlements as a Spatio-political Instrument in Israel-Palestine".


The AIS Ben Halpern Prize is awarded to the best doctoral dissertation in the various fields of Israel studies during the last calendar year. It honours the memory of Ben Halpern, a founding member of the Board of Directors of the Association for Israel Studies. His book, The Idea of the Jewish State, is still seminal in the study of Zionism. 


For more information, visit:   


Published: 19 April 2017

Girton College's National Jane Martin Poetry Prize opens for 2017

Girton College is delighted to invite entries for the 2017 Jane Martin Poetry Prize.  Now in its seventh year, the national prize for young poets is a key part of the College’s support for poetry and will be of interest to all those who are serious about literary excellence.

The competition will be judged by experts drawn from across the literary world and academia. We are thrilled that this year the panel will be led by Grevel Lindop and Malcolm Guite. The winner will receive a cash prize of £700 and will have an opportunity to give a reading at a celebratory event at Girton College, at which the prize will be awarded. There will also be a second prize of £300 cash.

The competition opens on 26th January 2017 and closes at noon on 17th March 2017. Please find the 2017 information pack and entry rules here.

Click here to enter the 2017 Jane Martin Poetry Prize.

Glimpses of Girton: Isabel Townshend, Emily Gibson and Rachel Cook

The ‘Girton Five’, the earliest group of students to study at the College when it was still in Hitchin, taken in 1869. Isabel Townshend stands on the far left and Emily Gibson on the far right; Rachel Cook is seated on the left (archive reference: GCPH 7/2/1/1).

Standing in pride of place on the mantelpiece in the Stanley Library is an ornate Regency bracket clock bearing the inscription:

‘To chime in remembrance of the first Girton student registered (Hitchen 1869)[1] Emily C. Townshend (née Gibson) and her chief friends: Rachel Scott (née Cooke)[2] and Isabel Townshend[3] (whose brother she married).The family clock was given by her children 1935.’

The mahogany and brass clock, made by John Bowen in London circa 1830, was donated to the College by the Townshend family.

The clock, with its plaque shown beneath, commemorating Emily Gibson, Isabel Townshend and Rachel Cook (archive reference: GCPH 11/2a/2)

Isabel Townshend, Rachel Cook and Emily Gibson, who are commemorated in the clock’s inscription, were part of the earliest group of students to study at the College, when it was still located at Benslow House in Hitchin. These students, sometimes known as the ‘Girton Five’, are shown in a formal photograph taken at Hitchin in 1869 (archive reference: GCPH 7/2/1/1).


Little is known of Isabel’s life before Girton, except that she grew up in Ireland. After winning a scholarship due to her excellence in essay writing, Isabel took a while to acclimatise to life at Girton. Emily Davies wrote in a letter dated 1870, and preserved in the Archive, that Isabel had not been very well when she arrived at the College in October but had improved so much that Isabel’s own family had commented on it (archive reference: GCPP Bodichon 1/40).

The first, second and third years at the College in 1871-2, taken at Benslow House in Hitchin. Rachel Cook is in the back row on the far left; Emily Gibson and Isabel Townshend sit second and third from the left in the middle row (archive reference: GCPH 10/1/5).

Isabel, Emily Gibson and Rachel Cook became friends at the College. They are pictured, along with members of the first, second and third years, in 1871 (archive reference: GCPH 10/1/5). Emily wrote a memoir later in her life in which she recalled that Isabel was deeply influenced by a ‘current of aestheticism’ and believed that ‘a beautiful combination  of colours, a delicate bit of decorative work seen and cared for in a reverent and appreciative spirit, could do more for us in the way of training and development than much steady grinding away at mathematics and classics’.[4] This may explain why Isabel left the College without sitting for the Tripos examination. Instead, Isabel’s appreciation of colour and beauty led her to study art in Rome after leaving Girton. Her self-portrait survives in the College (archive reference: GCPH 11/33/42). Sadly, Isabel died aged only thirty-four after contracting an illness in Italy.

Self-portrait by Isabel Townshend (archive reference: GCPH 11/33/42).

Emily Gibson was the earliest applicant to the College. Before Girton was even founded, she wrote in her diary in 1868, that she was ‘beginning to build castles about becoming, some day, a student at the ladies’ college’.[5] Despite leaving the College before taking the Tripos examination, Emily was an active student. A letter written by Emily Gibson to Barbara Bodichon described how she and other students acted scenes from Shakespeare at Benslow House, wearing men’s clothes to perform the male roles (archive reference: GCPP Bodichon 3/7).


Emily went on to marry Isabel’s brother, Chambrey Townshend, leading a long and active life. A few years before she passed away in 1934, J. E. Nutgens captured her likeness in a beautiful sketch, donated to the College and now held in the Archive (archive reference: GCRF 5/1/7).

Pencil drawing of Emily Townshend (née Gibson) by J. E. Nutgens, circa 1928 (archive reference: GCRF 5/1/7).

Rachel Cook, the third friend commemorated on the Stanley Library clock, grew up in Scotland. Illness prevented her from taking up her place at Girton until January 1870. Rachel went on to gain a second class in the Classical Tripos in 1873, the first woman to ever go in for the exam. Her achievement, along with successes in the Tripos examinations by her contemporaries, Sarah Woodhead and Louisa Lumsden, is remembered in the Girton Song:

But of all the Cambridge heroes
There’s none that can compare
With Woodhead, Cook and Lumsden
The Girton Pioneers.

The Archive holds copy of the song, copied out in September 1873 by Alice Betham – a student at the College – in book of songs and poems owned by Amy Mantle, also a contemporary student at Girton (archive reference: GCRF 7/1/8).

‘The Girton Pioneers’ song, written out in 1873 in a book of songs and poems owned by Amy Mantle, a student at Girton from 1873 to 1877 (archive reference: GCRF 7/1/8).

Rachel continued to be an activist in women’s education after leaving Girton, helping to set up the Manchester and Salford College for Women in the 1870s-80s. She was a prominent advocate for girls’ schools in Manchester throughout her life. Sadly, she passed away aged only fifty-seven in 1905.


The clock was restored to its original glory in 2011 by Gerald Dyke. Its set of nested bells chime out in the Stanley Library in daily remembrance of the Girton Pioneers.


Further reading:

  • Campion, Val, Pioneering Women: the Origins of Girton College in Hitchin (Hitchin, 2008).
  • Girton College Register, 1869-1946(Cambridge, 1948).
  • Sparks, Peter, ‘Pendulum’, The Year: The Annual Review of Girton College (2011-2012), pp. 17-20.
  • Townshend, Emily, Emily Townshend 1849-1934, Some Memories for her Friends (London, 1936).


Published: 22 March 2017

[1] The spelling in this quotation copies that used in the clock’s inscription, but ‘Hitchen’ is normally spelt as Hitchin.

[2] The spelling in this quotation copies that used in the clock’s inscription, but Rachel Cook’s surname is normally spelt without an ‘e’ in College records. As a result, the spelling ‘Cook’ will be used in this article.

[3] Some College records refer to Isabel as Isabella. However, the Archive holds a letter in which she signs her own name as ‘Isabel Townshend’ (archive reference: GCPP Davies 15/1/5/18).

[4] Emily Townshend, Emily Townshend 1849-1934, Some Memories For Her Friends (London, 1936), p. 47

[5] Emily Townshend, Emily Townshend 1849-1934, Some Memories For Her Friends (London, 1936), p. 26.

Girtonians listed in the 2017 New Year’s Honours List

It gives us great pleasure to congratulate our alumni on receiving recognition in the New Year's Honours List as follows:

Companion of Honour (CH): The Right Honourable Baroness (Helen) Mary WARNOCK DBE (past Mistress). For services to charity and Children with Special Educational Needs.

Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE): Mr Stephen Neville BATES (1990 History), Chief Executive, Bioindustry Association. For services to Innovation.

Army Awards: Promotions in and Appointments to the Military Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire

As Officers: Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Charles Rule HEYWOOD (1988 Engineering), Royal Tank Regiment.


For more information, please visit:

New Year's Honours list 2017

The Military Division of the New Years Honours list 2017


Published: 23 January 2017


*To update us on your news, please contact the Development Office, email: JLIB_HTML_CLOAKING , or tel.: 01223 766672.

Ridding Reading Prize 2017


Artist in Residence, Yelena Popova with Ridding Reading Prize Winner for 2017, Sonnel David-Longe

The annual Ridding Reading Prize competition was held on 13 March 2017. The competition is a Girton tradition founded in honour of Caroline Mary Ridding, who won a scholarship to Girton to read Classics in 1883, and became a renowned Sanskrit and Pali scholar.

Prose and poetry readings were set for the contestants to prepare and read.

There were six competitors, two graduates and four undergraduates, reading a range of subjects in the Sciences and Arts: Sonnel David-Longe, Jessica Ginn, David Lawrence, Sheanna Patelmaster, Ruari Paterson-Achenbach and Scott Remer.

The competition was judged by a panel of Girton Fellows: Ms Judith Drinkwater, Dr Jill Jondorf, Dr Roland Randall and Dr Emma Weisblatt. We were delighted to welcome Ms Yelena Popova, Girton’s Artist in Residence for 2016-17, as the external adjudicator.

In the first round the contestants read an extract from Shadderby Neil Gaiman, and a sonnet, ‘Farewell!’, by William Shakespeare.

The judges selected three of the six contestants to proceed to round two.

In the second round, contestants read an extract from The Pursuit of Loveby Nancy Mitford and ‘A poetry reading at West Point’ by William Matthews. The contestants approached the former passage with relish, and communicated its humour and changing voices very effectively to the audience. All the readers of the Matthews poem engaged with the sense of place and tension running through the piece. The contestants also read an unseen poem, ‘A Blessing’ by James Wright, and the judges were impressed by the way that they conveyed the mingling of gentleness and wildness in the scene depicted.

The overall winner was Sonnel David-Longe, who consistently showed appreciation of and sensitivity to the language of the passages and poems, and riveted the audience with her readings.

The evening concluded with an excellent buffet meal kindly provided by the catering staff, and those assembled took the opportunity to discuss the readings and the different styles with which they had been presented. Thanks go to all those who assisted in making the evening a success, and especially to the competitors. Many congratulations go to the overall winner.

Published: 20 March 2017

Glimpses of Girton: Florence Nightingale's copy of 'The subjection of women' by J.S. Mill

It is no surprise that Girton College Library owns several editions of J.S. Mill's The subjection of women, first published in 1869, the year the College was founded. However, our only copy of the first edition is special also because of its original owner – Florence Nightingale – and the way its provenance is linked to so much of the College's history.

The book was given to the College in February 1947, the year before women were finally admitted as full members of the University of Cambridge, by one of Florence Nightingale's second cousins, Rosalind Nash. She wrote to the then Librarian, Helen McMorran:

"Dear Miss MacMorran,

I had this copy of The Subjection of Women as one of some books left me by Florence Nightingale & I should like it to go to the College library, please. The few pencil marks are no doubt her own, also the turned down leaves."

alt alt
Title page


The inscription “From the author” on the half-title may or may not have been written by J.S. Mill himself but certainly he and Florence Nightingale knew each other and corresponded. Letters survive from one to the other, discussing their writings and the question of the position of women. On the death of J.S. Mill in 1873, she wrote to a friend:

"He was always urging me to publish. He used to say, with the passion which he put into everything he did say: “I have no patience with people who will not publish because they think the world is not ripe enough for their ideas: that is only conceit or cowardice. If anybody has thought out any thing which he conceives to be truth, in Heaven’s name let him say it !”1

J.S. Mill was also well-known to Emily Davies, Girton's founder, through their work to promote women's rights. It was to J.S. Mill that Emily Davies and Elizabeth Garrett had presented the 1866 women's suffrage petition, and Emily Davies' letters in the College Archive include several to his step-daughter, Helen Taylor2.

Florence Nightingale's extended family included links to both Girton and Newnham Colleges. One cousin was Barbara Bodichon3. One of her second cousins (and Rosalind Nash's sister) was Barbara Shore Smith, later Lady Stephen4. Rosalind once wrote of her sister, Lady Stephen:

“Accompanying the critical judgement was always a deep and real kindness, and the knowledge that kindness comes first. In both these ways she was like Florence Nightingale.”

On Lady Stephen's death, the then Mistress, K.T. Butler, said in her obituary in the Girton Review of Easter 1945:

“Girton has lost one of the best friends it ever had… . Only those who knew her personally and who were at Girton between the outbreak of the last war and of this will ever fully know how much the College owes to her.”

Numerous passages have been marked in this copy of The subjection of women, generally either with a single line in the margin (more common in the first half of the book) or by turning down the corner of the page (more common in the second half of the book).


p.147 (passage marked and “bravo”, written in margin)
"Marriage is the only bondage known to our law. There remain no legal slaves, except the mistress of every house."

Mill, John Stuart, 1806-1873.
The subjection of women / by John Stuart Mill.
London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1869.

Gamble Collection 393.1 M61



  1. Cook, Edward, The life of Florence Nightingale,London: Macmillan, 1913. 2 volumes

  2. Girton College Archive, Cambridge, Personal Papers of Sarah Emily Davies, GCPP Davies -

  3. Girton College Archive, Cambridge, Personal Papers of Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, GCPP Bodichon –

  4. Girton College Archive, Canbridge, Personal Papers of Barbara Stephen, GCPP Stephen –

Published: 16 December 2016

Glimpses of Girton - The Reception Room


The interior of the Reception Room, 1923 (archive reference: GCPH 10/4/7/5).

The Reception Room, with its vibrant Jacobean-style embroideries, is one of the most distinctive rooms in the College. The crewel work embroideries are based on the tree of life motif. Exotic animals such as a leopard, crocodile, kangaroo and emu gambol amongst animals more familiar in the British landscape such as deer, sheep and squirrels. Interwoven also are flowers which bloom in country gardens throughout England and Ireland, like carnations, clematis, and passion flowers. Hiding at the bottom of two of the panels is a small white terrier.

These exquisite embroideries were the work of Lady Julia Carew, who was also the mistress of the white terrier, Pepper. She was the wife of the third Baron Carew, whose family home was Castleboro, County Wexford in Ireland. Castleboro had been badly damaged by fire in the mid-nineteenth century and many paintings had been destroyed, so Lady Carew and her sister, Lady Cory, began to create embroidery panels to decorate the walls. They were both notable needlewomen and had been taught needlework at the Royal School of Art Needlework (RSAN). This school had been founded in order to restore ornamental embroidery to the position it once held in the decorative arts.


Lady Julia Carew at her embroidery frame, published in Needlecraft magazine, December 1906 (archive reference: GCAR 8/3/2).

In an interview with The Ladies’ Field magazine in 1920, Lady Carew recalled how she ‘found pleasure in Jacobean designs’ while studying at the RSAN[1]. She began by making picture panels and chair covers for her drawing room, eventually developing her skill until she was able to make the intricate panels that now adorn the walls of the Reception Room. In an earlier interview, published by Needlecraft magazine in  1906, Lady Carew explained that the RSAN provided her with the designs for her embroideries, but that she planned the execution, stitches and colours herself. In the interview, Lady Carew said her needlework gave her ‘repose and relief from the bustle and fatigue of everyday life’ and that she spent some time every day on her embroidery[2].

It is thought that the Girton panels were meant for the ballroom in Castleboro. However, due to the Irish War of Independence, the Carews left Castleboro and Lady Carew began to look for a new home for the embroideries. It was Lady Muriel Newton, a friend of Lady Carew, who suggested Girton as a possible recipient. Lady Newton was the cousin of Helen Marion Wodehouse, who was a student at Girton from 1898 to 1902 and who would later become Mistress. Lady Carew gifted the embroideries to Girton in 1922, but sadly died before they were installed.


The characteristic landscape embroidered by Lady Carew. Since this section was never mounted in the Reception Room and is held in the College Archive, it has retained its vibrancy of colour (archive reference: GCPH 2/2/8/2).

The Reception Room, also known as the ‘Carew Room’ or ‘Jacobean Room’, was officially opened on the 7th of March 1923. Lady Cowdray performed ‘the little informal ceremony’ as a tribute to her friend Lady Carew[3]. It was Lady Cowdray who paid for the embroideries to be mounted in oak frames made by Sir Edwin Cooper, father of an Old Girtonian. Lady Cowdray also financed the first restoration of the embroideries in 1932, carried out by the Cambridge Tapestry Company.


A sheep embroidered by Lady Carew. Since this section was never mounted in the Reception Room and is held in the College Archive, it has retained its vibrancy of colour (archive reference: GCPH 2/2/8/3).

Since its opening in 1923, the Reception Room has changed little and the embroideries have retained their beauty and charm. Lady Carew’s portrait, which she donated to the College and was painted by John Baldry, was moved from the Hall to hang over the fireplace in the Reception Room in 1928, where it remains to this day.


Further reading:

  • ‘Every Woman Should Embroider’, The Ladies’ Field (20 November 1920), pp. 324-325.
  • Hulse, Lynn, ‘The Best Embroideress in Society’, Girton College Annual Review (2011), pp. 24-29.
  • Hulse, Lynn, The Embroidered Furnishings of the Lethbridge Sisters, c. 1899-1922 (OE Publications, 2016).
  • Lady Julia Carew in the Hurd Library (2012), website:
  • ‘The Needlecraft of Lady Carew and Mrs Clifford Cory’, Needlecraft (December, 1906), pp. 12-14.
  • Portrait of Lady Julia Carew, by John Baldry (1921), available on the Art UK website,
  • Richardson, Joan, 'The Origin of the Carews', Genealogists' Magazine 26, no. 7 (September, 1999), pp. 245-49.


[1] ‘Every Woman Should Embroider’, The Ladies’ Field (20 November 1920), pp. 324-325, at p. 324.

[2] ‘The Needlecraft of Lady Carew and Mrs Clifford Cory’, Needlecraft (December, 1906), pp. 12-14, at p. 12.

[3] Letter to Bertha Phillpotts from Lady Cowdray, 31st October 1922 (archive reference: GCAR 2/6/17/3(pt)).


Published: 23 February 2017

3 Girton students selected for the 2016 Varsity matches at Twickenham


Congratulations to Alice Elgar (VetMed 2015) and replacements Jacqueline Bramley (VetSci 2013) and Chris Bell (History 2016), who have been selected to play in the Varsity Matches for the Women's and Men’s Cambridge Rugby squads at Twickenham, on Thursday 8 December!

The Women’s match kicks off at 11:30 am and the Men’s match kicks off at 2:30 pm. If you are unable to support the light blues at Twickenham, you can watch it live on the BBC here:, or live on YouTube here:, or via the red button on your TV.

For more information, visit:


Published: 8 December 2016