Emily Penrose

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Emily Penrose
Sketch for Dame Emily Penrose (1858–1942).jpg
Born (1858-09-18)18 September 1858
Died 26 January 1942(1942-01-26) (aged 83)
Nationality British
Academic work
Institutions Royal Holloway College,
Somerville College

Dame Emily Penrose, DBE (18 September 1858, London - 26 January 1942, Bournemouth)[1] was Principal of Somerville College, Oxford University from 1907 until 1926. She was the second of five children and eldest of the four daughters of Francis Cranmer Penrose, architect and archaeologist, and his wife Harriette Gibbes, the daughter of Francis Gibbes, a surgeon of Harewood.


Penrose, who never married, was a leader at the time that women secured admission first to Oxford university lectures, then to examinations, and finally, in 1920, to university membership. During this period Somerville took the lead in a number of important respects. In 1894 it became the first of the five women's halls of residence to adopt the title of 'college' and the first of them to appoint its own teaching staff, the first to set an entrance examination, and the first to build a library.

Penrose was previously the second Principal of Royal Holloway College (RHC) from 1898-1907 where she succeeded Matilda Ellen Bishop. Bishop's resignation followed disagreement about Sunday Services with the governors. During her time at the college the social life developed as the numbers of students increased, however, Penrose had an unexpected weakness of shyness. However, in her time at the college she set it on the path which it successfully followed[2] She was followed in that role by Ellen Charlotte Higgins. Prior to RHC she was the Principal of Bedford College from 1893-1898. Penrose was Principal of Somerville College when Vera Brittain went up to Oxford.


With the establishment in 1903 of the Mary Somerville Research Fellowship it was the first to offer women in Oxford opportunities for research. In the 1890s the Somerville Council was prominent in an unsuccessful campaign to admit women to degrees. The success of the 1920 campaign owed much to the diplomatic skills and academic reputation of Penrose.[3]

Dame Emily Penrose's life is commemorated with her place on the wall in the Somerville College Chapel.


  1. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - accessed 21 June 2011
  2. ^ Bingham, Caroline (1987). The history of the Royal Holloway College 1886-1986. London: Constable. ISBN 0-09-468200-3. 
  3. ^ Profile of Dame Emily Penrose, some.ox.ac.uk; accessed 25 April 2016.
Academic offices
Preceded by
Elizabeth Jesser Reid
Bedford College
University of London

Succeeded by
Ethel Hurlbatt
Preceded by
Matilda Ellen Bishop
Royal Holloway College
University of London

Succeeded by
Ellen Charlotte Higgins
Preceded by
Agnes Catherine Maitland
Somerville College, Oxford

Succeeded by
Margery Fry