Newnham College, Cambridge

Coordinates: 52°11′58″N 0°06′28″E / 52.1995°N 0.1077°E / 52.1995; 0.1077
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Newnham College
University of Cambridge
Dining hall in March 2014
Dining hall in March 2014
Arms of Newnham College
Arms of Newnham College
Arms: Argent, on a chevron azure between in chief two crosses botonny fitchy and in base a mullet sable, a griffin's head erased or between two mascles of the field
Scarf colours: grey, with a central broad band of navy, itself divided in two by a narrow gold stripe
LocationSidgwick Avenue (map)
Named afterNewnham village
Sister collegeLady Margaret Hall, Oxford
PrincipalAlison Rose
Undergraduates422 (2022-23)
Postgraduates300 (2022-23)
Endowment£51.8m (2017)[3]
Newnham College, Cambridge is located in Cambridge
Newnham College, Cambridge
Location in Cambridge

Newnham College is a women's constituent college of the University of Cambridge.[4]

The college was founded in 1871 by a group organising Lectures for Ladies, members of which included philosopher Henry Sidgwick and suffragist campaigner Millicent Garrett Fawcett. It was the second women's college to be founded at Cambridge, following Girton College. The College celebrated its 150th anniversary[5] throughout 2021 and 2022.


The history of Newnham begins with the formation of the Association for Promoting the Higher Education of Women in Cambridge in 1869. The progress of women at Cambridge University owes much to the pioneering work undertaken by the philosopher Henry Sidgwick, fellow of Trinity. Lectures for Ladies had been started in Cambridge in 1869,[6] and such was the demand from those who could not travel in and out on a daily basis that in 1871 Sidgwick, one of the organisers of the lectures, rented a house at 74, Regent Street to house five female students who wished to attend lectures but did not live near enough to the University to do so. He persuaded Anne Clough, who had previously run a school in the Lake District, to take charge of this house. The following year (1872), Clough moved to Merton House (built c. 1800) on Queen's Road,[7] then to premises in Bateman Street. Clough eventually became president of the college.

Demand continued to increase and the supporters of the enterprise formed a limited company to raise funds, lease land and build on it. in 1875 the first building for Newnham College was built on the site off Sidgwick Avenue where the college remains.[8] In 1876 Henry Sidgwick married Eleanor Mildred Balfour who was already a supporter of women's education. They lived at Newnham for two periods during the 1880s and 1890s.[6]

The college formally came into existence in 1880 with the amalgamation of the Association and the Company. Women were allowed to sit University examinations as of right from 1881; their results were recorded in separate class-lists. Its name has occasionally been spelt phonetically as Newham College.[9]

The demand from prospective students remained buoyant and the Newnham Hall Company built steadily, providing three more halls, a laboratory and a library, in the years up to the First World War. The architect Basil Champneys was employed throughout this period and designed the buildings in the Queen Anne style to much acclaim, giving the main college buildings an extraordinary unity. These and later buildings are grouped around beautiful gardens, which many visitors to Cambridge never discover, and, unlike most Cambridge colleges, students may walk on the grass for most of the year.

Many young women in mid-19th-century England had no access to the kind of formal secondary schooling which would have enabled them to go straight into the same university courses as the young men – the first principal herself had never been a pupil in a school. So Newnham's founders allowed the young women to work at and to a level which suited their attainments and abilities. Some of them, with an extra year's preparation, did indeed go on to degree-level work. And as girls' secondary schools were founded in the last quarter of the 19th century, staffed often by those who had been to the women's colleges of Cambridge, Oxford and London, the situation began to change. In 1890 the Newnham student Philippa Fawcett was ranked above the Senior Wrangler, i.e. top in the Mathematical Tripos. By the First World War the vast majority of Newnham students were going straight into degree-level courses.

A new Pfeiffer Building was built in 1893, largely funded by £5,000 from a bequest by the poet Emily Jane Pfeiffer to support the education of women.[10] In tailoring the curriculum to the students, Newnham found itself at odds with the other Cambridge college for women, Girton, founded two years earlier. Emily Davies, Girton's founder, believed passionately that equality could only be expressed by women doing the same courses as the men, on the same time-table. This meant that Girton attracted a much smaller intake in its early years. But the Newnham Council held its ground, reinforced by the commitment of many of its members to educational reform generally and a wish to change some of the courses Cambridge was offering to its men.

In 1948 Newnham, like Girton, attained the full status of a college of the university.

Women in the university[edit]

Sidgwick Hall and the Sunken Garden.

The university as an institution at first took no notice of these women and arrangements to sit examinations had to be negotiated with each examiner individually. In 1868 Cambridge's Local Examinations Board (governing non-university examinations) allowed women to take exams for the first time. Concrete change within the university would have to wait until the first female colleges were formed, and following the foundation of Girton College (1869) and Newnham (1871) women were allowed into lectures, albeit at the discretion of the lecturer. By 1881, however, a general permission to sit examinations was negotiated.

A first attempt to secure for the women the titles and privileges of their degrees, not just a certificate from their colleges, was rebuffed in 1887 and a second try in 1897 went down to even more spectacular defeat. Undergraduates demonstrating against the women and their supporters did hundreds of pounds' worth of damage in the Market Square.

The First World War brought a catastrophic collapse of fee income for the men's colleges and Cambridge and Oxford both sought state financial help for the first time. This was the context in which the women tried once more to secure inclusion, this time asking not only for the titles of degrees but also for the privileges and involvement in university government that possession of degrees proper would bring. In Oxford this was secured in 1920 but in Cambridge the women went down to defeat again in 1921, having to settle for the titles – the much-joked-about BA tit – but not the substance of degrees. This time the male undergraduates celebrating victory over the women used a handcart as a battering ram to destroy the lower half of the bronze gates at Newnham, a memorial to Anne Clough.

The women spent the inter-war years trapped on the threshold of the university. They could hold university posts but they could not speak or vote in the affairs of their own departments or of the university as a whole. Finally, in 1948 the women were admitted to full membership of the university, although the university still retained powers to limit their numbers. National university expansion after the Second World War brought further change. In 1954, a third women's college, New Hall, (now Murray Edwards College), was founded. In 1965 the first mixed graduate college, Darwin College, was founded. The 1970s saw three men's colleges (Churchill, Clare and King's) admit women for the first time. Gradually Cambridge was ceasing to be "a men's university although of a mixed type", as it had been described in the 1920s in a memorably confused phrase. Cambridge now has no all-male colleges and Girton is also mixed. Newnham and Murray Edwards retain all-female student bodies, whilst Lucy Cavendish College started admitting men in 2021.

With the conversion of the last men-only colleges into mixed colleges in the 1970s and '80s, there were inevitably questions about whether any of the remaining women-only colleges would also change to mixed colleges. The issue again became prominent as women-only colleges throughout the rest of the country began admitting men, and following the 2007 announcement that Oxford University's last remaining women-only college, St Hilda's, would admit men, Cambridge is the only university in the United Kingdom where colleges have admissions policies that discriminate on the basis of gender.[11][12]

College arms[edit]

Argent, on a chevron azure between in chief two crosses botonny fitchy and in base a mullet sable, a griffin's head erased or between two mascles of the field.

These arms, granted in 1923, were designed by the Revd Edward Earle Dorling to incorporate charges from the arms of those intimately connected with the founding of the college.

In the early years of the college Anne Clough was the Principal. She was a member of the landed gentry family of Clough of Plas Clough, Denbighshire, whose arms are blazoned "Azure, between three mascles a greyhound's head couped argent". The out-students were under the care of Marion Kennedy. Her arms were "Argent, a chevron gules between in chief two crosses botonny fitchy sable and in base a boar's head couped sable langued gules" - slightly differing from the arms of Kennedy of Kirkmichael, which has crosses crosslet fitchy.

The other great benefactors of the college were Henry Sidgwick and Eleanor Mildred Balfour, who married in 1876. Mrs Sidgwick was Vice-Principal of one of the College's Halls, later becoming Principal of the College in 1892. Their arms were - Sidgwick (assumed arms): Gules, a fess between three griffins' heads erased or; and Balfour (of Balbirnie): Argent, on a chevron engrailed between three mullets sable an otter's head erased argent.

In the college arms the chevron links them with the coats of Balfour and Kennedy, while its colour and the mascles refer to Clough. The crosses come from Kennedy, the mullet from Balfour, and the griffin's head from Sidgwick. No crest was granted, for although a corporate body may have a crest, it was thought that a crest and helm would be inappropriate to one composed entirely of women.

College life[edit]

Pfeiffer Arch – the main entrance to the college before the Porters' Lodge moved to Sidgwick Avenue

Basil Champneys designed what was popularly said to be "the second-longest continuous indoor corridor in Europe" in order to prevent the women of the college stepping outside in the rain. The laboratory, which can be found near the sports field, now houses a space which hosts a range of cultural events, such as theatre productions, music recitals and art exhibitions.

Alongside a formal hall, there is also a modern buttery in which to eat and relax. The College is also home to the Grade II* listed 1897 Yates Thompson Library and the Horner Markwick building. The library was originally Newnham students' primary reference source since women were not allowed into the University Library. The library was built with a gift from Henry Yates Thompson and his wife, Elizabeth. It remains one of the largest college libraries in Cambridge with a collection of 100,000 volumes, including approximately 6,000 rare books.[13]

The college has two official combination rooms that represent the interests of students in the college and are responsible for social aspects of college life. Undergraduates are members of the Junior Combination Room (JCR), whilst graduate students are members of the Middle Combination Room (MCR).

Newnham has many societies of its own including clubs for rowing, football, netball, tennis, and many other sports, as well as several choirs. As Newnham is a non-denominational foundation, it does not have its own chapel. Choral scholars at Newnham form part of Selwyn College's chapel choir. Newnham College Boat Club was the university's first women's boat club.



Name Birth Death Career
Diane Abbott 1953 Politician
Pat Ambler 1936 2017 Roboticist
Alice Ambrose 1906 2001 Philosopher, logician
Dame Margaret Anstee 1926 2016 Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations
Maggie Atkinson 1956 Public servant
Akua Asabea Ayisi 1959 2010 High Court Judge and journalist
Mary Baines 1932 2020 Palliative care physician
Baroness Joan Bakewell 1933 Journalist, broadcaster
Clare Balding 1971 Journalist, broadcaster
Joanna Bauldreay Fuel Development Manager at Shell Global Solutions
Lydia Baumbach 1924 1991 Classicist
Mary Beard 1955 Classicist
Kate Bertram 1912 1999 Biologist
Dame Margaret Blackwood 1909 1986 Australian botanist
Mary Boyce 1920 2006 British Iranist, Zoroastrian specialist at SOAS
Claire Breay 1968 Curator at the British Library
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin 1900 1979 British-American astronomer and astrophysicist
Eleanor Bron 1938 Actress
Dame Antonia Byatt 1936 Writer
Christine Carpenter 1946 Professor of English History, writer, editor and Ford Lecturer
Letitia Chitty 1897 1982 Aeronautical engineer
Joan Clarke 1917 1996 Cryptanalyst, numismatist
Dame Julia Cleverdon 1950 Charity CEO
Ruth Cohen 1906 1991 Economist
Edith Creak 1885 1919 first of five students here aged 16, headteacher
Joan Curran 1916 1999 Physicist
Ellen Wordsworth Darwin 1856 1903 Academic
Nora David, Baroness David of Romsey 1913 2009 Politician
Beryl May Dent 1900 1977 Mathematical physicist
Dame Margaret Drabble 1939 Writer
Sarah Dunant 1950 Writer, broadcaster
Patricia Duncker 1951 Novelist
Sheila May Edmonds 1916 2002 Mathematician, Newnham College Vice-Principal 1960–1981
Julie Etchingham 1969 Newsreader
Sarah Foot 1961 Ecclesiastical historian
Rosalind Franklin 1920 1958 Physical chemist, crystallographer
Dorothy Garrod 1892 1968 Archaeologist
Winifred Gérin 1901 1981 Biographer
Jane Gibson 1924 2008 Biochemist[15]
Muriel Glauert 1892 1949 Mathematician
Dame Jane Goodall 1934 Primatologist, anthropologist
Germaine Greer 1939 Australian academic, feminist writer
Jane Grigson 1928 1990 Cookery writer
Diane Haigh 1949 2022 Architect
Patricia Hewitt 1948 Politician
Dorothy Hill 1907 1997 Australian geologist and palaeontologist
Dorothy Hodgkin 1910 1994 Nobel Prize in Chemistry laureate
Dame Patricia Hodgson 1947 Former BBC Trust member
Portia Holman 1903 1983 Child psychiatrist
Isaline Blew Horner 1896 1981 PTS president, OBE recipient
Gabrielle Howard 1876 1930 Plant physiologist
Louise Howard 1880 1969 Organic husbandry advocate
Rupa Huq 1972 Politician
Geraldine Jebb 1876 1959 Principal, Bedford College, London
Elizabeth Jenkins 1905 2010 Novelist, biography
Lindsay Laird 1949 2001 Scientist, ichthyologist
Winifred Lamb 1894 1963 Archaeologist, curator
Penelope Leach 1937 Psychologist, writer
Judith Ledeboer 1901 1990 Architect
Gillian Lovegrove 1942 Computer scientist
Jessica Mann 1937 2018 Writer
Miriam Margolyes 1941 Actress
Margaret Masterman 1910 1986 Computational linguist
Suzy Menkes 1943 Editor of Vogue International
Brenda Milner 1918 Neuropsychologist
Alda Milner-Barry 1893 1938 Academic, Vice-Principal of Newnham College, 1938
Sara Mohr-Pietsch 1980 Broadcaster
Dame Iris Murdoch 1919 1999 Writer, philosopher
Valerie Grosvenor Myer 1935 2007 Writer
Dame Julia Neuberger 1950 Rabbi, Member of the House of Lords
Prof Adetowun Ogunsheye 1926 Academic, first female professor in Nigeria
Dorothea Pertz 1859 1939 Botanist
Grace Evelyn Pickford 1902 1986 Biologist and endocrinologist
Jadwiga Piłsudska 1920 2014 Architect, Pilot
Sylvia Plath 1932 1963 Writer and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
Clare Pooley Blogger and novelist
Marjorie Powell 1893 1939 Lecturer; first woman to be admitted to Lincoln's Inn
Vicky Randall 1945 2019 Professor of Political Science and feminist scholar
Amber Reeves 1887 1981 Writer
Dame Alison Richard 1948 Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge
Audrey Richards 1899 1984 Social anthropologist
Edith Rebecca Saunders 1865 1945 Geneticist and plant anatomist
Liz Shore 1927 2022 Former deputy chief medical officer
Hayat Sindi 1967 Member of the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia
Rosemary Anne Sisson 1923 2017 Dramatist, novelist
Ali Smith 1962 Novelist
Kamala Sohonie 1938 1998 Biochemist, first Indian woman to earn a PhD in a scientific discipline
Marjory Stephenson 1885 1948 Biochemist
Edith Anne Stoney 1869 1938 Medical physicist
Alix Strachey 1892 1973 Psychoanalyst
Dame Emma Thompson 1959 Actress, screenwriter
Judith Jarvis Thomson 1929 2020 Philosopher
Constance Tipper 1894 1995 Metallurgist, crystallographer
Claire Tomalin 1933 Writer
Anne Treisman 1935 2018 Psychologist
Michelene Wandor 1940 Dramatist
Anna Watkins 1983 Olympic Gold Medallist 2012
Elizabeth Wiskemann 1899 1971 Historian, journalist
Henrietta White 1856 1936 Educator
Katharine Whitehorn 1926 2021 Writer
Olivia Williams 1968 Actress

In literature and film[edit]

Newnham College is described in two of Virginia Woolf's works, A Room of One's Own (under the name 'Fernham') and "A Women's College from the Outside".[citation needed]

In James Hilton's novel Random Harvest Charles Rainier's niece Kitty attended Newnham College.

Newnham College appeared in the 2019 film Red Joan.

ITV's detective series Grantchester set the first episode of the fifth series (2020) in Newnham, in a plot featuring the death of a student after a May Ball.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ University of Cambridge (6 March 2019). "Notice by the Editor". Cambridge University Reporter. 149 (Special No 5): 1. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  2. ^ Gardner, Alice (1921). A Short History of Newnham College, Cambridge. Cambridge, UK: Bowes & Bowes. p. 55. In fact, the crowning triumph of the Graces marks the success of the policy of Miss Clough, Dr. and Mrs. Sidgwick, Miss Kennedy, and the other founders of the College ...
  3. ^ "Consolidated Financial Statements Year ended 30 June 2017" (PDF). Newnham College, Cambridge. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  4. ^ Walker, Timea (2 February 2022). "Newnham College". Retrieved 2 November 2022.
  5. ^ "Newnham150". Newnham College 150.
  6. ^ a b Stefan Collini, "Sidgwick, Henry (1838–1900)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2007. Retrieved 4 January 2017
  7. ^ St John's College: Queen's Road: Merton House, Cambridge 2000.
  8. ^ Lee, Elizabeth (1901). "Clough, Anne Jemima" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography (1st supplement). London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  9. ^ Register of Newham College 1871-1950. Newham College. 1964. Retrieved 4 March 2022.
  10. ^ "Principalship of Mrs Sidgwick" in Alice Gardner, A Short History of Newnham College, Cambridge (2015), p. 85
  11. ^ "Single-sex colleges: a dying breed?". HERO. June 2007. Archived from the original on 12 June 2008. Retrieved 20 April 2009.
  12. ^ Martin, Nicole (8 June 2006). "St Hilda's to end 113-year ban on male students". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 20 May 2010.
  13. ^ College library Archived 31 October 2022 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ "The colleges and halls: Newnham". British History Online. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  15. ^ "Biography: Gibson, Quentin Howieson". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/107304. ISBN 9780198614111. Retrieved 27 March 2017. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)

External links[edit]

52°11′58″N 0°06′28″E / 52.1995°N 0.1077°E / 52.1995; 0.1077