King's Impact - Breaking Boundaries

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[This article is from the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of InTouch, your alumni magazine]

To mark the 150th anniversary of women being able to take exams at the University of London and the centenary of votes for women in the UK, InTouch celebrates the King’s women who have made an impact across the globe.

For many years in the UK, the doors to a university education were only open to men. It took over 20 years of perseverance and petitioning for women to be permitted to attend lectures at the University of London. Jessie Meriton White marked the start in 1856, but her application to be the first female to study for a Diploma in Medicine was rejected.

The Senate of the University of London continued to refuse women’s admittance until finally accepting a proposal in 1866, which allowed special examinations for women, but not full degrees. At last, in 1877 the Senate voted in favour of admitting women to degrees in all faculties.

In 1878, King’s became a pioneer in women’s higher education when the Ladies’ Department in Kensington was born, providing a liberal arts syllabus. It later became known as King’s College for Women.

Inevitably, fitting into life at King’s – and other colleges at the University of London – was tough for women during this period. Until 1915, most of their classes were held offsite, away from the main college on the Strand, and – although rigorous and thorough – the full range of subjects open to men was not available to women. Part of the College developed separately from King’s, and in 1953, it was renamed Queen Elizabeth College and men were admitted for the first time. Student radicalism at the time soon saw a positive cultural shift in the way male and female students mixed with each other at the university through studies and social activities.

From the 1960s onwards, women gained more rights in higher education but there was still a long way to go before being treated as equal to men. Even today, issues are still being tackled.

King’s Women breaking the mould

Since the turn of the 20th century, pioneering King’s alumnae have paved the way for women to flourish at King’s and beyond. Their stories are so bold, inspiring and fascinating that it’s little wonder they continue to be considered outstanding, influential figures around the world. They truly are a credit to King’s, the feminist movement and women everywhere.

Their stories are so bold, inspiring and fascinating that it’s little wonder they continue to be considered outstanding, influential figures around the world.

Edith Morley - Image courtesy of University of Reading, Special Collections

Edith Morley was one of the first women to obtain a degree from King’s Ladies’ Department. She went on to become a literary scholar, a suffragist and the UK’s first female professor.

Sarojini Naidu - Image courtesy of Paul Fearn/Alamy Stock Photo

Sarojini Naidu, who studied at King’s as a young woman, was a leading figure in women’s suffrage and the Indian independence movement.

Cicely Saunders - Image courtesy of Derek Bayes

Cicely Saunders was a double alumna of GKT. She revolutionised palliative care for the dying by pioneering the modern hospice movement, as well as establishing the Institute of Palliative Care at King’s – the world’s first of its kind.

Helen Hudson - Image courtesy of the King’s College London Archives

Helen Hudson helped promote education for women and support students at King’s for over 20 years.

It doesn’t stop here

Work still needs to be done to ensure equality for female staff and students. Approximately 17 per cent of UK university leaders are women and they earn less than men on average. King’s is working to address the pay gap as well as using positive action to increase the number of women in fields in which they are under-represented. Read more about this in our King’s Debate.

King’s has witnessed huge progression for women in higher education over the last century. The number of female students enrolling at universities now outnumbers that of male students. With a commitment from King’s to continue welcoming and supporting female students, it’s exciting to think about the next generation of women who we’ll be celebrating in the century ahead.

Read more about King’s notable alumni.