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UK’s First College for Women Honours Five Pioneering Alumnae

Girton College Cambridge, the UK’s first residential institution for the higher (degree level) education of women, now part of the University of Cambridge, marks its 150th anniversary by electing five outstanding Honorary Fellows.

They are (in order of date of admission during 2019):

  • HIH Princess Hisako Takamado of Japan;
  • Professor Dame Pratibha Gai, FRS, physicist;
  • Sandi Toksvig, OBE, writer, broadcaster and comedian;
  • Dr Suzy Lishman, CBE, consultant in cellular pathology;
  • Dame Karen Pierce, DCMG, permanent representative of the UK to the UN in New York.

It is 150 years since Girton opened the door to women’s higher education in the UK. Five pioneers walked through it. A succession of brilliant scientists, economists, philosophers, public intellectuals, and other inspirational women (and, later, men) followed.

Girton is proud to mark the anniversary of its Foundation by electing, as Honorary Fellows, five of today’s outstanding women – pioneers of excellence and achievement for the 21stcentury. They are all alumnae of the College and of the University of Cambridge.

Professor Susan J. Smith, nineteenth Mistress of Girton, said:

“An Honorary Fellowship is the highest distinction Girton can award, the warmest hand of friendship it can extend. It is a great privilege to welcome these remarkable women into the College community. We look forward to celebrating both the difference they have made in the world, and all that their election – their wisdom and experience – will do to enrich the life of the College.”

The Honorary Fellows

Her Imperial Highness Princess Hisako Takamado, who studied Chinese and then Archaeology and Anthropology at Girton, is a member of the Imperial family of Japan. She is Honorary President of BirdLife International, and has a variety of other roles devoted to fostering international goodwill. She has a keen interest in Japanese sport, culture and the arts, is Visiting Professor at the Osaka University of Arts, and will deliver the 58thFounders’ Memorial Lecture at Girton College on Friday 15 February 2019 entitled Netsuke and their Role in Introducing Japan to the West.  

Professor Dame Pratibha L. Gai, FREng, FRS, is a physicist, chemist and Chair of Electron Microscopy at the University of York where she is a founding Professor of the JEOL Nanocentre. She was a graduate student of physics at Girton. She is a UNESCO-L’Oréal Women in Science Laureate for Europe and an outspoken advocate for women with careers in science; she is also a recent recipient of The Asian Awards for outstanding achievement in science and technology. On Tuesday 12 March 2019, Professor Gai will deliver the Founders’ Science Lecture at Girton College entitled ‘Catch me if you can! Atoms in action for energy, environment and health care’.

Sandi Toksvig, OBE, is an award-winning writer, broadcaster and comedian. She is a playwright, the author of more than 20 books, champion of women’s equality and co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party. She was Chancellor at the University of Portsmouth (2012-2017), and has honorary degrees from no fewer than five British Universties. Sandi Toksvig studied law, archaeology and anthropology at Girton and is visiting the College in May, contributing to a series of events embracing the theme of inclusive excellence.

Dr Suzy Lishman, CBE, is a former President of the Royal College of Pathologists who has done perhaps more than any other individual to raise the public profile of pathology in the UK. In 2013, she was named as one of the 50 most inspirational women in healthcare by the Health Services Journal. Alongside her ‘day job’ as consultant cellular pathologist and head of department at Peterborough City Hospital, she has collaborated to improve public understanding of Pathology with the Science Museum, the Royal Society, the Royal Institution and more. She will present a lecture and join the Honorary Fellowship at a College event later this year.

Her Excellency Karen Pierce, DCMG, who studied English at Girton, is one of Britain’s most senior Diplomats, with service in Japan, the USA, Eastern Europe, and South Asia. She is the first woman to hold the position of the UK’s permanent representative to the UN in New York. An accomplished and engaging public speaker, Dame Karen will deliver the Anniversary Lecture at the Girton150 Festival on Saturday 29 June, 2019.

For more information about Girton150, see the timeline and 150th anniversary events programme at