Somerville College, Oxford

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Colleges and halls of the University of Oxford

Somerville College

Somerville College Hall
College name Somerville College
Motto Donec rursus impleat orbem
(translated: Until it should fill the world again)
Named after Mary Somerville
Previously named Somerville Hall (1879-1894)
Established 1879
Sister college Girton College, Cambridge
Principal Alice Prochaska
Undergraduates 390[1]
Graduates 163[2]
Location Woodstock Road, Oxford

Somerville College, Oxford is located in Oxford city centre
Somerville College, Oxford

Location of Somerville College within central OxfordCoordinates: 51°45′35″N 1°15′43″W / 51.759644°N 1.261872°W / 51.759644; -1.261872
Somerville College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg
Blazon Argent, three mullets in chevron reversed gules, between six crosses crosslet fitched sable.

Somerville College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. Founded in 1879 as Somerville Hall, it was one of the first women's colleges in Oxford. Today, around 50% of students are male. The first male students were admitted to the college in 1994.[3] The college is located at the southern end of Woodstock Road, with Little Clarendon Street to the south and Walton Street to the west.

As of 2006, Somerville had an estimated financial endowment of £44.5 million.[4]


In June 1878, the Association for the Higher Education of Women was formed, aiming for the eventual creation of a college for women in Oxford. Some of the more prominent members of the association were Dr. G. G. Bradley, Master of University College, T. H. Green, a prominent liberal philosopher and Fellow of Balliol College, and Edward Stuart Talbot, Warden of Keble College. Talbot insisted on a specifically Anglican institution, which was unacceptable to most of the other members. The two parties eventually split, and Talbot's group founded Lady Margaret Hall.

Thus, in 1879, a second committee was formed to create a college "in which no distinction will be made between students on the ground of their belonging to different religious denominations." This second committee included Dr. John Percival, Dr. G. W. Kitchin, A. H. D. Ackland, T. H. Green, Mary Ward, William Sidgwick, Henry Nettleship, and A. G. Vernon Harcourt. This new effort resulted in the founding of Somerville Hall, named for the then recently deceased Scottish Mathematician Mary Somerville. The hall was renamed Somerville College in 1894.

Wolfson building

During World War I the college was converted into a military hospital as Somerville Section of the 3rd Southern General Hospital. For the duration of the war, Somerville students relocated to Oriel College. Notable patients who stayed in Somerville include Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon, who opens Siegfried's Progress with a reference to the college.

Somerville remained a women's college until 1992, when its statutes were amended to permit male students and fellows; the first male fellows were appointed in 1993, and the first male students admitted in 1994[3] with an intake 50% male/female, a gender balance maintained to this day.

Student life[edit]

In 2011 student satisfaction was rated in some categories as the highest in the university>[5]

For the academic year 2011/12, the college came 27th out of 30 in the Norrington Table.[6]

Somerville is well known for is regarded as being one of the more liberal colleges in the university. Despite its most famous alumna, Margaret Thatcher, being a Conservative, it is regarded as a left-wing college and has a socially diverse intake.

Central to the college is its large quad, which most accommodation blocks back on to; it is often filled with students in summer. It is also one of the only Oxbridge colleges, where students (as opposed to just fellows) can walk on the grass.

The college choir has released two CDs on the Stone Records label, "Requiem Aeternam" (2012)[7] and "Advent Calendar" (2013).[8]

Principals of the college[edit]

Notable alumni[edit]

Somerville alumnae have achieved an impressive number of “firsts” - the most distinguishable being that of the first woman Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher. Also the first, and only, British woman to win a Nobel prize in science Dorothy Hodgkin; the highest ranking female officer of her time in the British intelligence services (the Queen of Spies) Daphne Park; and also the first woman to lead the world’s largest democracy Indira Gandhi, who was Prime Minister of India for much of the 1970s.

See also Former students of Somerville College, Oxford


  1. ^ "Undergraduate numbers". University of Oxford. 
  2. ^ "Graduate numbers". University of Oxford. 
  3. ^ a b History of Somerville College, Oxford
  4. ^ "Oxford College Endowment Incomes, 1973-2006". Archived from the original on 2012-05-27.  (updated July 2007)[dead link]
  5. ^ Somerville soars in satisfaction survey
  6. ^ Norrington Table 2011/12
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ As the statutes of the College did not permit the Principal to marry, Miss Pestell resigned, married and was re-elected as Principal; however there was a two-week period when the College had no Principal.
  10. ^
  11. ^ Drusilla Beyfus, 'Withers [married names Stewart, Kennett], (Elizabeth) Audrey (1905–2001), magazine editor' in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2005)


External links[edit]