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Celebrating 150 years of pioneering higher education

On 16 October 2019, Girton College, founded by leading suffragists and champions of women’s empowerment, is celebrating its 150th Anniversary.

The College opened in Hitchin in 1869 with 5 students, 4 members of staff and a Mistress. Today Girton’s friendly, vibrant community of around 1,000 people is taking a moment to pause and admire all that a radical institution founded for inclusion can achieve.

Girton was founded by Emily Davies and Barbara Bodichon in 1869 in the face of fierce opposition.  They had the radical idea of creating a residential college offering university-level instruction and examination to women, on the same terms as men.

The first higher education institution of its kind in Britain, Girton was part of an unstoppable global movement to secure women’s full participation in public, political and professional life. No wonder George Eliot described it as ‘The Great Scheme’.

It is an astonishing fact that having secured the first women students, Cambridge University denied them admission to degrees for nearly 70 years, until 1948. Girton celebrates that moment – the achievement of a foundational aim – each year at the College Feast. But on the matter of inclusion it was just the start. Girton went on to take a lead by going mixed (in 1979) and has subsequently set the pace for widening participation.

Today, Girton is a permanent institution and one of the larger Cambridge Colleges, admitting students to almost every degree within the University.

The Head of Girton College, the Mistress – Professor Susan J. Smith said:

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to celebrate the game-changing role that Girton has played in the history of higher education. It is also a great moment to plan for the future. Our goal is to create a diverse, inclusive community of graduates, undergraduates, Fellows and staff, inspired by excellence and underpinned by an ethic of care.”