Hertford College Women: portrait display
In 2014/15, twenty-one portraits of Hertford women, photographed by Robert Taylor, were displayed in Hall to coincide with the 40th anniversary of co-education at Hertford. Those featured were chosen from a longlist nominated by students, alumni, Fellows and staff, and come from every generation of women since 1974 (when Hertford was one of the first five all-male colleges to accept women).
Fellow in Biochemistry, 2000-
I have to admit to not being a natural “College Woman”. In fact my first year or two at Hertford was spent dodging the college for the relative sanctuary of my department, being horrified with the dawning realization of what “tutorial responsibilities” actually meant, and finding the assortment of committees, characters and general modus operandi at best, bizarre, and at worst, unwelcoming and intimidating.
So how come, 14 years later, I am the proud Director of Studies of a fantastic bunch of biochemists, and just entering a second term of office as College Dean? The reason is simple: I’ve found collegiality, friendship and intellectual nourishment here. And moreover I’ve found that my own personal and professional journey and that of the college coincide. We are on a collective mission to inspire our young people, reach out to the widest constituency imaginable and instil higher education with the equality and sense of fairness it deserves. As a Fellowship we have never before been so closely aligned. I am very lucky to be a part of that.
And I am very lucky to be “sharing the Hall” with such a fascinating collection of inspiring women. People wonder where women disappear to in professional life. Well, they are here, all around us. Listen to what they say!
Photographed in the BBC Council Chamber, Broadcasting House, under the watchful eye of the first Director General, Lord Reith, I wondered what he would have thought of a woman now being responsible for the global acquisition of factual programmes for BBC Television – I like to think he would approve.
In tune with Hertford’s long-standing commitment to broadening access, my fellow historians joining the college in 1982 were, with one exception, entirely female and predominantly state educated. Tutorials spent mastering the competing demands of producing engaging narrative and rigorous analysis, under the exacting supervision of Dr Geoffrey Ellis and Dr Toby Barnard, proved to be the perfect grounding for a career in television. Drawn to Hertford for its strong musical reputation, I flourished too as principle flautist in the Oxford University Orchestra and as a soprano in our wonderful Chapel Choir.
With the love and support of my husband Paul, and children Laura and Edward, my career has seen me shape the European Commission’s media policy, play a strategic role in the launch of three BBC channels, direct countless leading names including David Attenborough and Judi Dench, and win two International Emmys. All due, in large measure, to the life changing opportunity of my three extraordinary years at Hertford.
200 words. Space enough to say what one believes. That women have more ways to contribute than they ever had, that it is an advantage to be a woman working today, that we have a responsibility to contribute in some way. A responsibility to ourselves, our children (especially our girls), and to the community beyond. That we can make a difference. That Hertford, and Oxford were gifts that last, ones that stay with you and shape you. That Hertford really is a bridge, from the world of books to the world beyond. That the desire to learn can and should endure (when much else goes!), and is what alone keeps you interested – and interesting. There – done in 120 words!
Business leader; Honorary Fellow 2002-
I met two tutors at interview in 1974. They claimed Hertford Geography was becoming something special. It was, and it was exciting to be part of it. I'm proud to be a geographer.
The inclusion of women, as an experiment, also made the college stand out as a special place. We were too visible then, but now it's normal to have a balanced intake, thank goodness.
The college was willing to innovate, while not being stuffy or pleased with itself, and was keen to maintain academic standards while being a happy, down to earth place. These were - are - important values for me.
Hospital Trust Chair; Honorary Fellow, 2007-
I hardly dared hope on a snowy December day in 1980 that I could be the first person from my Worcestershire comprehensive to study at Oxford. It was Hertford, with its pioneering approach to outreach and entry requirements which gave me the confidence to apply and the opportunity to build lifelong interests, friendships and insights.
I am so grateful for having the chance to think, read and be intellectually challenged during my PPE studies. Great libraries, leading thinkers and passionate teachers leave a mark for life. But for me, so did being able to experience practical politics as JCR president and OUSU presidential candidate. I lost – an important lesson for later in life.
Laughing with friends in the bar and talking into the night are happy Hertford memories. Here we prove that it’s possible to enjoy the splendour of Oxford surroundings and traditions without stuffiness or exclusivity.
Getting up early to row in the 1st Eight taught me that late nights have next day consequences.
I want others to have the experience that I so enjoyed. I trust Hertford to always put access and inclusion at the heart of their excellence and I will do what I can to support that tradition.
I am so pleased that Hertford has decided to celebrate its women in this original way and I am honoured to have been asked to participate.
Hertford in the late 1980s was for me a politically, as well as intellectually, vibrant place and women's rights were the subject of much discussion as we sat around over our Baileys Irish Cream late into the night. With friends I was involved in setting up a women’s group and I took a particular interest in feminist legal theory. I ignored my mother’s advice not to put these interests on my CV when applying to the Bar. At a scholarship interview at Lincoln's Inn, one member of the 12-strong panel of elderly white men looked down his nose and asked me sarcastically whether the existence of the women's group indicated that Hertford women were an “oppressed minority”. I told him we were definitely a minority and that we were “working on the oppression bit”.
Things have changed in lots of ways - the Bar is a much more diverse and inclusive place now than many people realise. But I feel we still need to "work on the oppression bit". I hope this exhibition will help the current generation of women at Hertford realise just how much they can achieve, and what a big part their experiences at Hertford, both academic and non-academic, will play in that achievement. I wish them all the very best of luck.
Hertford College's first woman fellow
Fellow 1978-95, Emerita Fellow 1995-2007
After living in France for many years, I returned to England and to Hertford where I developed and directed the International Programmes for 13 incredibly busy years. With the then Bursar, Peter Baker, and subsequently with my wonderful ‘A’ team, we built up relationships with overseas universities starting with Japan, the USA and then with China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Hertford now welcomes Visiting Students and English Language students from 40 or so universities around the world. This internationalisation was fraught with challenges and yet brought with it new opportunities for our students: opportunities to engage with the world, opportunities similar to those which the college had given me as an undergraduate in Modern Languages so many years before!
My present work at Oxford University Department of Education continues this international theme: My new research centre investigates the growing phenomenon of English being used to teach other academic subjects in countries all over the world.
How wonderful to see all these women’s faces in Hall! What a change from 1979!
Dr Lee's Professor of Anatomy, 1998-
I feel honoured to participate in this photographic exhibition of women at Hertford College to celebrate the 40th anniversary of co-education. I was elected as a Fellow of Hertford in 1998, as the Dr Lee’s Professor of Anatomy following on from the distinguished anatomist Professor Ray Guillery, moving down the road from Keble College where I was a Fellow and Chair of Genetics.
I began my life in Oxford as a very shy undergraduate at Somerville College and enjoyed the advantages of the tutorial system which encouraged me to play to my strengths and change fields from chemistry to biology/genetics. I came from a working class, state educated background and very much share Hertford College’s commitment to provide opportunity to all potential undergraduates from any background. In 1998, Sir Walter Bodmer, an internationally renowned geneticist, was Principal at Hertford, making the welcome for me as a new Professorial Fellow very appropriate. I had succeeded Sir Walter as Professor of Genetics at Oxford some years before and I knew that Sir Walter was a great supporter of women in science.
It is amazing to reflect on how much has changed for women in my field over the years. It was only in 1917 when facilities were built in Human Anatomy at Oxford to admit the first female medical students. Women still have to fight hard to make it to the top, but it is getting easier because of awareness of the challenges and the increasing profile of successful women of which this exhibition is part.
Being a student at Hertford was hugely influential on the three major aspects of my life: Oxford, the law and music. When I came up to Hertford (and, for that matter, when I left) I had no idea that the bulk of my career would be spent as an Oxford academic, but the love of Oxford I developed over my four years as a student is still with me, and I feel extremely privileged to live and work in this wonderful place. Reading law at Hertford was truly inspirational, and was the rock on which my legal career has been built. Having tutorials with Roy Stuart and Stuart Anderson was an excellent preparation both for advocacy at the Bar and for the rigours of academic debate and writing. Finally, as Roy Stuart once pointed out, I spent nearly as much time in Oxford playing and organising music as I did studying law. While the balance is now firmly tipped the other way, my love of music is still a most important part of my life. Now that my husband is head of New College School, we have the luxury of attending evensong most evenings of term: a stone’s throw from Hertford Chapel where I first sang this lovely service.
Hertford gave me the opportunity to become who I am.
I came to Oxford with an interest in philosophy, maths, politics, history and the arts, to read PPE. I owed my place at Hertford to Philosophy tutor Richard Malpas and, no doubt, to Hertford's encouragement of state school pupils. It surprised me to find that it was the subject with which I was least familiar, Economics, taught by Roger van Noorden and, later, George Yarrow, that most inspired me. I have worked in economics ever since.
Philosopher; Honorary Fellow, 1997-
I realized how lucky I was to be able to combine professional life with domestic life, thought it had been a struggle at first to get things in the right proportion. I have never been a theoretical feminist. I have always wanted women to be treated as the equals of men if they could show the same ability; I do not believe in the kind of feminism that would separate women from men, as having their own exclusive ways of thinking. I believe that subjects such as mathematics, physics and philosophy are gender-neutral, and that there is not a ‘woman’s truth’ and a ‘man’s truth’. Therefore, inevitably women must compete with men as equals in search of equal truth. I do not deny that women have had, and perhaps still have, a struggle against prejudice in some fields, and also a continuous and undoubtedly everlasting battle to combine all the aspects of inevitable, and also enriching… Perhaps I was, and am, too fond of men; perhaps I took too much delight in the give and take of sex, the taking turns between dominance and submission, to be able to envisage a world in which women could do without men, or must regard themselves always as inferior.
From Mary Warnock, A Memoir: People and Places (2000)
When I first visited Hertford as an applicant someone told me that the college was "so poor it could easily be swapped for a packet of mixed biscuits".
When I first joined as a Fresher, I soon realised that that "perceived poverty" was in fact Hertford's true wealth. I found myself among people from all sorts of backgrounds, cultures and religions. The people I met in those intense three years are my closest friends - and continue to be the foundations of what keeps me inspired, happy and stimulated.
They say that youth is wasted on the young. If I had my university career to live again, I would work harder, take my studies more seriously and make the most of the privileges Oxford has to offer. But even with the distractions of student life, Hertford gave me something more valuable than any individual qualification. It gave me a way of thinking, a way of seeing the world - and a way of working under pressure, that I dare say has served me well.
I am honoured to be counted in such esteemed company as the other women in this temporary exhibition. If ever the college decides to make this a more permanent tribute to women at Hertford, I would happily give up my place to someone who deserves it more.
I'd been to an all girls school and so wasn't at all keen on going to a single sex Oxford college. A friend suggested Hertford, one of the five newly mixed colleges, though in truth by the time I arrived in 1976 the college wasn't so much mixed as spattered with a few women. I never felt anything other than welcome, though I think it took me a long time to find my feet (covered in those days in bright, red wellingtons.) Sometimes I felt intimidated and lonely.
But with the support of tutors such as the inspiring Julia Briggs, Hertford became the place where I began to grow up, somewhere I could think, not just about English literature, but about ballet and Bowie, about punk and philosophy, about the delicate strands of understanding that join and separate people. In my final year, I lived in what I was told was Evelyn Waugh's old room, in the uppermost gable of new buildings. I used to sit in the window seat, feeling part of a long history. Feeling lucky to be there. It's something I still feel and I am honoured to be part of the story now on Hertford's walls.
[Sarah wrote an article, Why I'm proud to be on the wall of my Oxford college, in the Telegraph]
I feel enormously privileged to have had the opportunity to study at Oxford. It was a formative period of self discovery, a time when strong friendships and relationships were forged, and paradigms of knowledge generation studied at close range.
The Oxford and Hertford experience provided a mix of thrilling novelty and exploration, sampling of sub-cultures and disciplines, pursuit of learning and ambition. For many it also gets punctuated by a range of pressures (academic, financial and social) as well as bouts of loneliness (a last taboo).
The random acts of kindness from individual staff are what linger in memory from Hertford experience (whether it was the housekeeper inviting me, the only resident left in the abandoned house for Christmas tea, the kindly bursar, or considerate, cheerful porter in the lodge). I am thankful for those memories of soul-nourishing goodness.
Oxford is a uniquely rewarding place for learning and exploration. Yet another hallmark of the experience was the prevailing anxiety in my cohort about life after Oxford, which formed a dominant backdrop to many of our choices - academic or social. My academic choices have certainly been influenced by career considerations, subsequently rewarded in good measure. And yet, if I have to think of anything like a formula for real success (in university or beyond), it’s the combination of passion, integrity and discipline. And for discovering passion, it’s imperative to know oneself, as Nietzsche indicates with the dictum ‘become who you are’. I feel Oxford was a great place for this.
My grandfather arrived in Britain as an economic migrant in 1956. He worked in the grey factories of Manchester before opening a grocery shop and eventually his own restaurant. Although my grandfather had no formal education and could not read or write, he placed great emphasis on academic success for his children and grandchildren. He did not live to see my two sisters and I graduate from Oxford University, but I wonder if he had ever imagined that in just two generations such a thing might have been possible.
The novel I am currently working on draws on family anecdotes and oral testimonies in an effort to portray even a fragment of the experiences of my grandfather and his generation.
If you had told me upon turning up at Hertford College that my portrait would hang in the hall fifteen years later as a rowing World Champion, I would have laughed and told you that you must have the wrong person. You see, I didn’t really ‘do’ sport at school, and I certainly wasn’t selected for any teams – I was average at best. I didn’t even intend on going to the river for the fresher session – my friend dragged me. She rowed for one term; I went on to be Boatclub Captain, then President, persuade a future Olympic rower to get off the rugby pitch and into a boat, lead the women’s 1st and 2nd VIII to a historic double blades in Summer Eights and win the Boatrace with OUWLRC by a convincing 2 lengths. My mum might have reminded me I came to Hertford to do a Chemistry degree!
It is certain that I would not have set foot in a boat anywhere else. Coming to Hertford College changed the course of my future. That has never been lost on me, and I’m grateful and honoured to have been given this opportunity to put my thanks in print.
Fellow in Classics, 1990-2005, Emerita Fellow 2005-
Since I took charge of classics at Hertford as a College lecturer in 1966, I've been well placed to observe the steady integration of women in almost every aspect of college life. At the same time the place of classics in our educational system has changed enormously, a sharp decline in language teaching in schools being accompanied by a broadening of interest in the study of the ancient world. Whereas when I started teaching here the study of classical literature was restricted to the first five terms of the undergraduate course, in the 1970s it was extended to the whole four years of Literae humaniores. The constant evolution of the syllabus along with the increasing importance of graduate studies, though labour-intensive, was undeniably stimulating, and what I have published outside my specialties, Homer and Herodotus, has often been inspired by tutorial discussion. Fellowship of the British Academy in 1990 came as a delightful surprise, as did my election as a Foreign Member of its Polish counterpart, PAU, in 2012. Retirement provides the opportunity to develop half-formed ideas and leads me to reflect on my good fortune in my working life, above all in my husband's support.
Hertford was an exotic world compared to my very traditional Sikh upbringing in Handsworth. I'd never seen so many white people before! It was a privilege to study with such exceptional leaders and rewarding to leave with the Henry Beckitt Memorial Prize. I was far too young to appreciate it at the time but since then, have worked hard to share the social capital I gained with some of the people and communities I left behind in inner city Birmingham. I'm not sure whether its too early to start thinking about what legacy I'll leave. I have contributed to tackling urban poverty and social exclusion. I've been directly involved in drafting EU legislation on equality and UN policy on cohesion. Best of all, my daughter is poised to achieve far more than I could have imagined for myself. Whoever said that 'youth was wasted on the young' was wrong. I never wasted my time studying too hard at College but certainly devoted every hour possible to learning about the real world and learning to have fun. In my fifties now, my intellectual curiosity keeps me young in head and heart - but maybe not quite so much in body.
Since leaving Hertford I have taught History in state comprehensive schools. I greatly enjoyed the breadth, diversity, rigour and freedom of the 1980s Oxford History course. Those values and skills continue to underpin my teaching from years 7 to 13.
Growing up in the 1970s London-Irish community made me aware that competing historical narratives shape identity and influence behaviour. Starting my first job, I was asked whether I was teaching the “Irish or English version” of History. Hertford equipped me to answer that question. We learned that historical judgements require rigorous analysis of all available evidence. Without this discipline, interpretations are tendentious. Students of all abilities and backgrounds should understand that versions, however apparently authoritative or ‘official’, are provisional and open to challenge.
Hertford’s equal access commitment was my main reason for applying here, and also for welcoming this ‘photo-opportunity’. In telling my students about it, I will emphasise that their independent learning is part of a wider endeavour with social and moral value. At all levels of state education we must judge success against targets. Key targets for my students are: exercise your democratic rights, think critically, ask questions and beware of distorted and dishonest versions of the past.
I appear rather proprietorial in this photograph taken in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. The woman gazing over my shoulder is Hazel Trudeau, an influential artist, wife and model for her husband the British portraitist Sir John Lavery, whose portraits turned her into a 1920s society celebrity. The man is the Liverpool self-taught lawyer and reluctant banker William Roscoe (1753-1831), who played a part in the emancipation of women. He promoted the publication of his friend Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), arguing for co-educational equality with men. Roscoe also campaigned for the political emancipation of Catholics and the abolition of the slave trade, making a crucial speech as MP for Liverpool in 1807. Above all Roscoe is known as the ‘grandfather’ of culture in Liverpool, a pioneer collector of early Renaissance Italian and north European art, who ensured that it was on display to the public in Liverpool from 1817 onwards, almost a decade before the National Gallery was established in London. I see my role in the Walker, which houses some of Roscoe’s collection, as following in his tradition, using my knowledge to inform and enthuse our visitors and make art accessible to a diverse audience.
All photographs by Robert Taylor