Somerville College, Oxford

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Somerville College
Somerville College Hall
Somerville College Oxford Coat Of Arms (Motto).svg
Location Woodstock Road, Oxford
Coordinates 51°45′35″N 1°15′43″W / 51.759644°N 1.261872°W / 51.759644; -1.261872Coordinates: 51°45′35″N 1°15′43″W / 51.759644°N 1.261872°W / 51.759644; -1.261872
Motto Donec rursus impleat orbem
(translated: Until it should fill the world again)
Established 1879
Named for Mary Somerville
Previous names Somerville Hall (1879–1894)
Sister college Girton College, Cambridge
Principal Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
Undergraduates 408[1]
Postgraduates 163[2]
Boat club Boatclub
Somerville College, Oxford is located in Oxford city centre
Somerville College, Oxford
Location in Oxford city centre

Somerville College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. The college has an excellent reputation and an outstanding student satisfaction among the Oxford colleges.[3] Founded in 1879 as Somerville Hall, it was one of the first women's colleges in Oxford, and its alumni, such as Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Dorothy Hodgkin, Cornelia Sorabji, Vera Brittain, A.S. Byatt, Iris Murdoch, Dorothy L. Sayers and many activists, have played a very important role in feminism. Today, around 50% of students are male. Somerville has one of the biggest library collections in Oxford and is known for its friendly, liberal atmosphere, varied architecture and excellent hall food.[4][5] Somerville is one of only three Oxford colleges to provide on-site accommodation for all undergraduates throughout their course.[6]

Between 2006 and 2017, the financial endowment rose from £44.5 million[7] to £73.4 million.[8]

The college is located in the Science Area, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter and Jericho, at the southern end of Woodstock Road, with Little Clarendon Street to the south and Walton Street to the west. It is near the Oxford University Press, the Radcliffe Observatory, the University Parks and the Blavatnik School of Government. It is located nearby the colleges Green Templeton College, Keble College and St Anne's College and the PPH St Benet's Hall.



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 George Granville 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, which opened its doors for students in 1879, the same year as Somerville did.

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 John Percival, George William Kitchin, A. H. D. Acland, Thomas Hill 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 and renowned scientific writer Mary Somerville. She was admired by the founders of the college as a scholar, as well as for her religious and political views, including her conviction that women should have equality in terms of suffrage and access to education.

Mary Somerville, 1780–1872, after whom the College is named

World War One[edit]

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. Graves and Sassoon were both to reminisce of their time at Somerville Hospital. How unlike you to crib my idea of going to the Ladies' College at Oxford, Sassoon wrote to Graves in 1917. At Somerville College, Graves met his first love, a nurse and professional pianist called Marjorie. About his time at Somerville, he wrote: I enjoyed my stay at Somerville. The sun shone, and the discipline was easy. Officer Llewelyn Davies died at the college. Photographs of the college in this period can be found hanging in Hall, outside the pantry.

Once the war ended, the return to normality between Oriel College and Somerville College was delayed, sparking both frustration and an incident in spring 1919 known as the 'Oriel raid', in which male students made a hole in the wall dividing the sexes. In July 1919 the Principal (Emily Penrose) and Fellows returned to Somerville.

Alumna Vera Brittain wrote about the impact of the war in Oxford and paid tribute to the work of the Principal, Miss Penrose, in her memoir Testament of Youth.

Women's college[edit]

When opened, Somerville Hall had twelve students, ranging in age between 17 and 36. The first 21 students from Somerville and Lady Margaret Hall attended lectures in rooms above an Oxford baker's shop.[9] In 1891 it became the first women's hall to introduce entrance exams. The hall was renamed Somerville College in 1894, becoming the first of the women's colleges to adopt this title. In 1920, Oxford University allowed women to matriculate and therefore gain degrees, and in 1925 Somerville's college charter was granted. During the principalship of Janet Vaughan, Somerville, along with the other women's colleges, became a full constituent college of Oxford University.

Admission of men[edit]

During the 1980s, there was much debate as to whether women's colleges should become mixed. 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[10] with an intake 50% male/female; a gender balance maintained to this day, though without formal quotas.

In the 1890s Somerville helped fashion the "New Woman"; a century later….the college has set itself the perhaps greater challenge of educating the "New Man."

— Pauline Adams, Somerville for Women[11][12]

Buildings and grounds[edit]

The college and its main entrance, the Porters' Lodge, are located on Woodstock Road. The front of the college runs between the Oxford Oratory and the Faculty of Philosophy. Somerville has buildings of various architectural styles, many of which bear the names of former principals of the college.

House (1879) and Hostel (1898)[edit]

House from the Quad

The original building of Somerville Hall (originally called Walton House) was purchased from St John's College in 1879. The house could only accommodate 7 of the 12 students who came up to Oxford in the first year.[13] Today House is home to some students. It also contains Green Hall, where guests to College are often greeted and in which prospective students are registered and wait for interviews. Until 2014, it housed the college bar. Most of the administration of college and academic pigeon holes[clarification needed] are located in House. A staircase from Green Hall leads up to Hall. Somerville's dining hall is one of very few in Oxford to contain portraits only of women.

Hostel is a small block between House and Darbishire; it houses 10 students over three floors. The Bursary is on the ground floor.[14]

Park (1886–1895) and Holtby (c.1956)[edit]

Somerville College, Oxford – Main Quad, looking westwards; from left to right: Penrose, Wolfson, Park, Holtby

Originally known as West, due to its location within the college, the project to build a second self-contained hall was an attempt to imitate Newnham College. The building was designed by H. C. Moore and built in two stages. The 1886-7 phase saw the construction of rooms for 18 students with their own dining-room and sitting rooms. The second created two sets of tutors' rooms and the West Lodge.[13] It was renamed Park in honour of Daphne Park, the Principal from 1980 to 1989.

There are over 60 student rooms and Fellows' rooms within the building. There is a music room and the main Junior Common Room (JCR) with the Terrace bar behind Vaughan as the other main meeting place for students. Holtby is situated above the library extension, adjacent to Park. It has 10 rooms for undergraduates and is named for alumna Winifred Holtby.[15]

Library (1903)[edit]

The Library

Designed by Basil Champneys and opened by John Morley, Somerville College Library was the first purpose-built library amongst the women's colleges of the university. As such it was designed to serve readers beyond the membership of the college and to contain 60,000 volumes despite the college only possessing 6000 in 1903. The building now contains around 120,000 items and is one of the largest undergraduate college libraries in the university.

The library dominates the north wing of the main quadrangle and is open 24 hours, with wifi access which is college-wide, a group study room, and many computers.

Amelia Edwards, John Stuart Mill, John Ruskin and Vera Brittain are notable benefactors to the library.[16]

The John Stuart Mill room contains what was Mill's personal library in London at the time of his death, with significant annotations in many of the books.[17]

Maitland (1910–11) and Hall (1912–1913)[edit]

View of Hall from the quad

Until 1911, there was no hall large enough to seat the entire college. The buildings were designed by Edmund Fisher and were opened by the Vice-Chancellor of the university. A fund was raised as a memorial to Miss Maitland, the principal of Somerville Hall (College from 1894) from 1889 to 1906. This money was used to pay for the oak panelling in Hall. The buildings were constructed on the site of an adjoining building gifted to Somerville by E. J. Forester in 1897 and bought from University and Balliol Colleges for £4000 and £1,400.[13] There was difficulty in the construction of the buildings, which is now thought to have been the result of the outer limit of the Oxford city fortifications running under the site.

Hall and Maitland form the East face of the main quad. The Senior Common Room is situated on the ground floor. The first floor is occupied by the pantry and the hall, in which Formal Hall (called guest night) is held weekly during term time.

High Table in Hall

Maitland houses few students, being mainly occupied by Fellows' offices and the college IT office. The building is named after Principal Agnes Maitland, and is to the south of Hall.[14]

Penrose (1927)[edit]

The Penrose block was designed by Harold Rogers and is situated at the south western end of the main quadrangle on the site of 119 and 119A Walton Street.[13] Penrose houses mainly first year accommodation, with around 30 rooms.[14] Some fellows' rooms are located in Penrose. The building was refurbished in 2014, with carpets replacing the formerly bare wooden floorboards, and new furniture. Penrose is named for Dame Emily Penrose, the third principal of the college.

The western wall of Penrose and the northern wall of Vaughan form two faces of the fellows' garden, which is distinct from the main quad and separated from it by a hedge and a wall.

Darbishire (1934)[edit]

Darbishire quad

Originally called the East Quadrangle and opened by Lord Halifax, Darbishire was renamed in honour of the principal of the college during its construction, Helen Darbishire.

The quad was the culmination of a long-standing project to absorb Woodstock Road properties above St Aloysius Church. In 1920, three houses, 29, 31 and 33, were purchased by the college from the vicar of St Giles' Church, Oxford, for the sum of £1,300. The three properties were constructed by in 1859 and had been rented by the college prior to their purchase. The adjoining 'Waggon and Horses' was purchased from St John's College, Oxford, in 1923. These buildings were demolished between 1932 and 1933 together with the old Gate House.

Morley Horder was commissioned to build a quadrangle which would fill the space left by the demolished structures. The porters' lodge and a council room, the New Council Room, were constructed at the entrance to the quad, which housed undergraduate and fellows' rooms.[13]

The archway leading to Hall was reconstructed in 1938. Today Darbishire contains around 50 student rooms mixed with tutors' offices, the college archive and medical room.[15] The offices of the Global Ocean Commission, co-chaired by José María Figueres, Trevor Manuel and David Miliband, were situated in Darbishire as part of a partnership with Somerville, from 2012 to 2016, when the organisation completed its work.[18]

Chapel (1935)[edit]

The Chapel

Built largely with funds provided by alumna Emily Georgiana Kemp, Somerville Chapel reflects the nondenominational principle on which the college was founded in 1879. No religious texts were used for admission and nondenominational Christian prayers were said in college.

The chapel does not have a chaplain, but a 'Chapel Director' which is in keeping with its undenominational tradition. The chapel provides opportunities for Christian worship in addition to hosting speakers with a multi-faith range of religious perspectives.[19] The chapel also has an excellent mixed-voice choir, which tours and produces occasional CDs.[20]

Vaughan and Margery Fry and Elizabeth Nuffield House (1958–1966)[edit]

Designed by Sir Philip Dowson and constructed between 1958 and 1966, Vaughan and Margery Fry and Elizabeth Nuffield House (commonly shortened to Margery Fry) are both named for former principals of the college, whilst Elizabeth Nuffield was an important proponent of women's education and along with her husband Lord Nuffield a financial benefactor of the college. Constructed in the same architectural style, with an exterior concrete frame standing away from the walls of the interior edifice, the two buildings sit atop a podium containing shops and an arcaded walkway on Little Clarendon Street. Vaughan is the larger of the two, with 11 rows to its concrete frame compared to the 8 of Margery Fry.[21]

Margery Fry serves as the centre of the post graduate student community at Somerville and contains 24 graduate rooms. Other accommodation for graduate students is provided in buildings adjacent to the College.

Vaughan contains around 60 undergraduate rooms, which are smaller than those of Margery Fry and house exclusively first year students, along with the junior deans. Vaughan was refurbished in 2013, with new bathroom facilities, including, for the first time, sinks. Beneath the two buildings, a tunnel provides access to Somerville from Little Clarendon Street.[15]

Wolfson (c. 1967)[edit]

Wolfson building

Sir Philip Dowson was commissioned to design a building at the back of the college, to house undergraduates and offices for fellows. Wolfson is, in common with Dowson's other work in Somerville, constructed largely of glass and concrete. It is grade II listed.[21] A four-storey building, with five bays of each floor, Wolfson boasts impressive views of Walton Street from the rear and Somerville's main quadrangle from the front.[15]

Wolfson is named for the building's principal benefactor Sir Isaac Wolfson.

The ground floor of the building contains the Flora Anderson Hall or FAH and the Brittain-Williams Room, named for the college's most famous mother-daughter alumnae. The room was opened on 29 November 2013 by Baroness Shirley Williams during an event which saw her unveil a portrait of herself, which now hangs in the room.[22] The FAH is used for lectures and events. Notably it hosts college parties known as bops.

Margaret Thatcher Centre and Dorothy Hodgkin Quadrangle (1990)[edit]

Named for the alumna-Prime Minister, the MTC comprises a lobby, lecture room and ante room used for many meetings, with disabled access. The lecture room enjoys AV facilities and can accommodate 60 seated patrons. The venue is used for certain term time events and is popular with conferences.[23] A bust of Margaret Thatcher stands in the lobby, and the meeting room contains portraits of Somerville's two prime-minister alumnae, Margaret Thatcher by Michael Noakes and Indira Gandhi by Sanjay Bhattacharyya.

The Dorothy Hodgkin Quad houses mainly finalists and some second year students. The Quadrangle is above the MTC and designed around self-contained flats of two and four bedrooms with communal kitchens. DHQ is named for Somerville's Nobel Prize winning laureate.[15]

Radcliffe Observatory Quarter (2011)[edit]

ROQ East from outside College

ROQ East and West flank the north side of Somerville and overlook the site of the university's principal development, the Blavatnik School of Government. The ROQ buildings have won 4 awards for their architect Niall McLaughlin. The project was also awarded Oxford City Council's David Steel Sustainable Building Award, being commended for its balancing of Somervillian collegiate heritage with the need for energy efficiency to be a consideration for the new building. Energy efficiency measures include renewable technologies such as solar thermal energy and ground source heat pumps.[24]

The buildings house 68 students and all rooms are en-suite. There are a number of rooms and facilities specifically designed to help those with disabilities, including lifts and adjoining carer rooms. The buildings were made possible by donations of over £2.7 million from over 1000 alumni and friends of the college, and by a significant loan.[15] There is now an unimpeded view of the Observatory.

The Terrace (2013)[edit]

The most recent construction in Somerville, the college bar in Vaughan replaces the bar in House. The bar is housed in a mainly glass structure, with seating in the college colours of red and black. Following a campaign by the JCR Guinness is now available on tap, and the pool table costs 50p per frame. The college drink, the "Stone-cold Jane Austen", is made from blue VK, Southern Comfort, and Magners cider.[citation needed] The college also has its own 'Somerville wine'.

The Catherine Hughes building (2019)[edit]

Named after Somerville's late Principal from 1989 to 1996, The Catherine Hughes building will be completed in October 2019 and will provide 68 additional bedrooms. The new building, designed by Niall McLaughlin Architects, boasts en suite bathrooms, kitchens and accessible rooms on every floor and a new communal study area for students.

The red brick building will have a frontage on to Walton Street and additional access from the college gardens, aligning with key levels on the adjacent Penrose Building. The bedrooms will be arranged in clusters with kitchens and circulation spaces forming social focal points.

The building's construction will give Somerville sufficient accommodation to allow all students applying from 2017 to live in College for the entirety of their 3 to 4-year undergraduate degree. Currently around half of second year students must live out.[25]

Student life[edit]

In 2011 student satisfaction was rated in some categories as the highest in the university.[3] Central to the college is its large quad, onto which most accommodation blocks back; it is often filled with students in summer. Together with Balliol College is also one of the few Oxbridge colleges, where students (as opposed to just fellows) may walk on the grass.

Trinitatis Horribilis 2015[edit]

During Trinity term 2015, Somerville was subject to national media coverage as a result of the efforts of principal Alice Prochaska to tackle 'a rise in "excessively harassing and intimidating behaviour" towards female students.'[26] The Daily Telegraph quoted Prochaska as describing 'numerous reports of groping at college parties, rape jokes overheard in communal areas'.[27] The principal wrote in The Guardian of measures taken to address harassment and she expressed her hope that 'a spasm of nastiness among a small minority of students here has been nipped in the bud by the open condemnation of the majority.'[28]

Triennial Ball[edit]

Once every three years Somerville hosts a ball which is organised with Jesus College, Oxford. The last ball was held in May 2016 and the next ball will be held in 2019.

Academic reputation[edit]

Somerville's Position in the Norrington Table since 2006

Before men were admitted to the college, and under the principalship of Barbara Craig, Somerville established a position at, or near the head of the Norrington Table.[29] Currently, by academic performance, Somerville is in the lower half of Oxford University colleges. For the academic year 2016/17, the college came 22nd out of 30 in the Norrington Table, which lists the University's undergraduate colleges in order of their students' examination performances.[30]


Somerville College Chapel in winter

The Choir of Somerville College is mixed voice and is led by the Director of Chapel Music, Will Dawes.[31] In conjunction with the organ scholars, the choir is central to the musical life of the college.

There are regular concerts and cathedral visits as well as recitals featuring soloists from the choir. In recent years the choir has undertaken tours of Germany (2005 and 2009), Italy (2010) and the USA (2014 and 2016).[32] The choir sings every Sunday during term time at the evening service. The organ of the college chapel is a traditionally voiced instrument by Harrison & Harrison.[33]

Somerville offers up to five Choral Exhibitions each year to applicants reading any subject. College Organ Scholars are guaranteed rooms in college for the duration of their course.

The college choir has released two CDs on the Stone Records label, "Requiem Aeternam" (2012)[34] and "Advent Calendar" (2013).[35]

University Challenge[edit]

Somerville has recently enjoyed success on TV quiz show University Challenge disproportionate to the college's size. The college has won the competition once, triumphing in the University Challenge 2001–02 series and beating Imperial College, London by 200 points to 185. Most recently, the college team reached the final of the University Challenge 2013–14 series, losing in the final to Trinity College, Cambridge, with a score of 134 to 240.[36]


Rowing blade design

Somerville has a gym situated beneath Vaughan, with treadmills, cross-trainers and weights. Somerville shares a sports ground with Wadham College and St. Hugh's College, on Marston Ferry Road. There are teams in men's and women's football, rugby (with Corpus Christi), mixed lacrosse, croquet and cricket.

Somerville cricket team won Cuppers for the 2014/15 season.[37]


Somerville formed a rowing team in 1921.[38] The college competes in both of the annual university bumps races, Torpids and Summer Eights.


Somerville College plays a major role in the relationship between Oxford and India. Cornelia Sorabji, who was born in the Bombay Presidency of British India, became the first Indian woman to study at any British university when she came to Somerville in 1889 to study Law [39] and Indira Gandhi studied Modern History at the college in 1937.

The college hosts the Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development, which carries out research on sustainable development challenges facing India and provides scholarships for outstanding Indian students.[40] The centre now hosts 12 India scholars. [41]

In 2012, the college and Oxford University announced the creation of a £19m Indira Gandhi Centre for Sustainable Development.[42] India provided £3 million and the university and college £5.5 million.[43] The name was later changed to the Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development (OICSD). The building will be located at the college.[44][45][46]

Sonia Gandhi visited Somerville in 2002 and presented a portrait of her late mother-in-law to her alma mater. Indira Gandhi received an honorary degree from the college in 1971.[44]


Name Birth Death Principal Between Notes
Madeleine Shaw-Lefèvre 1835 1914 1879–1889 First Principal of Somerville Hall
Agnes Catherine Maitland 1850 1906 1889–1906 Second Principal of Somerville Hall, and first Principal of Somerville College, from 1894; introduced the tutorial system to Somerville
Emily Penrose 1858 1942 1906–1926 Classical scholar
Margery Fry 1874 1958 1926–1930 Social reformer
Helen Darbishire 1881 1961 1930–1945 Literary scholar
Janet Vaughan 1899 1993 1945–1967 Haematologist and radiobiologist
Barbara Craig 1916 2005 1967–1980 Classical archaeologist
Daphne Park, Baroness Park of Monmouth 1921 2010 1980–1989 Spy
Catherine Pestell 1933 2014 1989–1991 Civil servant and diplomat
No Principal 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.
Catherine Hughes (née Pestell) 1933 2014 1991–1996
Fiona Caldicott 1941 1996–2010 First woman to be President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (1993–96) and its first woman Dean (1990–93)
Alice Prochaska 1947 2010–2017 Head Librarian at Yale University
Janet Royall, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon 1955 2017– Leader and Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords

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; the first woman to lead the world's largest democracy Indira Gandhi, who was Prime Minister of India for much of the 1970s; Cornelia Sorabji, first woman to practice law in India and Britain and first Indian national to study at any British university; Anne Warburton, the first female British ambassador; Manel Abeysekera, Sri Lanka's first woman career diplomat; Shriti Vadera, Baroness Vadera, first woman to head a major British bank and Constance Coltman, first woman to be an ordained minister.

Other notable alumni include writers A. S. Byatt, Vera Brittain, Susan Cooper, Penelope Fitzgerald, Victoria Glendinning, Winifred Holtby, Iris Murdoch and Dorothy L. Sayers, philosophers Philippa Foot and Onora O'Neill, scientists Kathleen Kenyon, Kathleen Ollerenshaw and Caroline Series, politicians Shirley Williams, Alyson Bailes and Sam Gyimah and soprano Emma Kirkby.

Name Birth Death Notable for
Manel Abeysekera 1933 Sri Lanka's first woman career diplomat
Helen ApSimon 1942 Air pollution research, Chernobyl disaster
Goga Ashkenazi 1980 Kazakh businesswoman and socialite
Alyson Bailes 1949 Former British ambassador and Director of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
Margaret Ballinger 1894 1980 South African politician, "Queen of the Blacks"
Nina Bawden 1925 2012 Writer
Vera Brittain 1893 1970 Writer, feminist and pacifist, author of Testament of Youth
Christine Brooke-Rose 1923 2012 Writer
A. S. Byatt 1936 Novelist, poet and Booker Prize and Erasmus Prize winner, one of The 50 greatest British writers since 1945
Averil Cameron 1940 Professor of Late Antique and Byzantine History and former Warden of Keble College
Constance Coltman 1889 1969 First woman to be an ordained minister
Susan Cooper 1935 Author of children's books
Cicely Corbett Fisher 1885 1959 Suffragist and workers' rights activist
Gillian Cross 1945 Author of children's books
Maria Czaplicka 1884 1921 Polish cultural anthropologist
Kay Davies 1951 Human geneticist
Susie Dent 1967 Dictionary Corner
Elaine Fantham 1933 2016 Classical scholar
Penelope Fitzgerald 1916 2000 Writer, Booker Prize winner, one of The 50 greatest British writers since 1945
Philippa Foot 1920 2010 Philosopher and ethicist
Margaret Forster 1938 2016 Author
Cindy Gallop 1960 Advertising consultant, founder and former chair of the US branch of advertising firm Bartle Bogle Hegarty
Indira Gandhi 1917 1984 Prime Minister of India
Maggie Gee 1948 Author
Victoria Glendinning 1937 Biographer and novelist
Helen Goodman 1958 Labour politician
Celia Green 1935 Philosopher and author
Judith Green 1961 English medieval historian, Emeritus Professor of Medieval History at the University of Edinburgh
Miriam Griffin 1935 Classical scholar
Nia Griffith 1956 Labour politician
Sam Gyimah 1976 Conservative MP for East Surrey
Joanna Haigh 1954 Physicist, professor of atmospheric physics at Imperial College London
Frances Hardinge 1973 Author of children's books
Rita Harradence 1915 2012 Biochemist who synthesised penicillamine
Julia Higgins 1942 Polymer scientist
Dorothy Hodgkin 1910 1994 Nobel Prize winner for her discovery of the structure of Vitamin B12
Winifred Holtby 1898 1935 Novelist and journalist, author of South Riding.
Ethel Hurlbatt 1866 1934 Principal of Bedford College, London and former warden of Royal Victoria College, Montreal
Sarah Ioannides 1972 Music director and conductor
Barbara Ward, Baroness Jackson of Lodsworth 1914 1981 Economist, writer and life peer
Margaret Jay, Baroness Jay of Paddington 1939 Labour Party politician and life peer
Mary Kaldor 1946 Economist
Margaret Kennedy 1896 1967 Novelist and Playwright
Kathleen Kenyon 1906 1978 Archaeologist of Neolithic culture in the Fertile Crescent. Former Principal of St Hugh's College, Oxford
Emma Kirkby 1949 Soprano and early music specialist
Akua Kuenyehia 1947 Judge at the International Criminal Court
Frances Lincoln 1945 2001 Publisher
Genevieve Lloyd 1941 Philosopher and feminist
Rose Macaulay 1881 1958 Writer
Mary Midgley 1919 Moral philosopher
Kara Miller 1977 Writer and director, Breakthrough Brits award winner
Peter Morris (playwright) 1973 Playwright
Anne Mueller 1930 2000 Civil servant
Iris Murdoch 1919 1999 Author and philosopher, Booker Prize, one of The 50 greatest British writers since 1945
Lucy Neville-Rolfe, Baroness Neville-Rolfe 1953 Politician, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Intellectual Property at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Ann Oakley 1944 Sociologist, feminist, and writer
Kathleen Ollerenshaw 1912 2014 Mathematician
Onora O'Neill 1941 Kantian philosopher and member of the House of Lords[47]
Daphne Park, Baroness Park of Monmouth 1921 2010 Spy
Catherine Powell 1967 Businesswoman and President of Disneyland Paris
Lucy Powell 1974 Labour politician, Shadow Secretary of State for Education
Alice Prochaska 1947 Principal of Somerville College, historian, librarian and museum curator
Esther Rantzen 1940 Journalist and television presenter, founder of Childline
Eleanor Rathbone 1872 1946 Independent MP and social reformer
Michèle Roberts 1949 Writer
Jane Robinson 1959 Social historian specialising in the study of women pioneers in various fields
Tessa Ross 1961 BAFTA award-winning film executive
Emma Georgina Rothschild 1948 Economic historian
Katherine Routledge 1866 1935 Archaeologist and anthropologist
Dorothy L. Sayers 1893 1957 Author of the Lord Peter Wimsey books and translator of Dante's Divina Commedia.
Caroline Series 1951 Mathematician
Princess Catherine Hilda Duleep Singh 1871 1942 Daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh and suffragist
Matthew Skelton 1971 Children's writer
Frances Stewart 1940 Development economist
Raja Zarith Sofiah 1959 Queen of Johor and member of the Perak Royal Family
Cornelia Sorabji 1866 1954 First female Indian barrister, social reformer, and writer
Hilary Spurling 1940 Writer, journalist and biographer
Princess Bamba Sutherland 1869 1957 Last surviving member of the family that had ruled the Sikh Empire
Rachel Sylvester 1969 Political Journalist, at The Times
Margaret Thatcher 1925 2013 Conservative Party Prime Minister of the United Kingdom 1979–90 and life peer
Shriti Vadera, Baroness Vadera 1962 British investment banker and Labour politician
Janet Vaughan 1899 1993 Physiologist, academic and Principal of Somerville College (1945-1967)
Anne Warburton 1927 2015 First female British ambassador
Eirene White, Baroness White 1909 1999 British Labour politician and journalist
Kate Williams 1974 Historian, author, television personality
Shirley Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby 1930 Liberal Democrats politician and life peer, one of the gang of four founders of the SDP.
Olive Willis 1877 1964 Founder of Downe House
Audrey Withers 1905 2001 Editor of Vogue[48]
Alison Wolf, Baroness Wolf of Dulwich 1949 Economist
Julia Yeomans 1954 Theoretical physicist
Fasi Zaka 1976 TV personality, critic, journalist

Coat of arms and motto[edit]

Like all Oxford colleges, Somerville has a variety of symbols and colours which are associated with it. The college's colours, which feature on the college scarf and on the blades of its boats, are red and black. The combination was originally adopted in the 1890s.[49]

The two colours also feature in the college's coat of arms which depicts three mullets in chevron reversed gules, between six crosses crosslet fitched sable. The college's motto is Donec rursus impleat orbem which was originally the motto of the Somerville family.[49] The Latin motto itself is described as "baffling" as, although it translates as "Until It Should Fill the World Again", what the subject of the sentence ("it") is left unspecified.[49]

In popular culture[edit]


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  2. ^ "Graduate numbers". University of Oxford. 
  3. ^ a b Tomlin, Jonathan (19 April 2012). "Somerville soars in satisfaction survey". 
  4. ^ Library & IT
  5. ^ Somerville College
  6. ^ Somerville College website
  7. ^ "Oxford College Endowment Incomes, 1973–2006". Archived from the original on 27 May 2012.  (updated July 2007)
  8. ^ "Financial Statements of the Oxford Colleges (2016–17) | University of Oxford". University of Oxford. Retrieved 1 May 2018. 
  9. ^ Frances Lannon (30 October 2008). "Her Oxford". Times Higher Education. 
  10. ^ "History of Somerville College, Oxford". Archived from the original on 18 February 2014. 
  11. ^ Somerville for Women: An Oxford College 1879–1993, Pauline Adams (Oxford University Press, 1996) ISBN 0-19-920179-X.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 18 June 2014. Retrieved 15 September 2014. 
  13. ^ a b c d e "Somerville College – British History Online". 
  14. ^ a b c "College Map". 
  15. ^ a b c d e f
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 8 January 2015. Retrieved 15 September 2014. 
  17. ^ "John Stuart Mill Collection – Somerville College Oxford". University of Oxford. Retrieved 8 June 2016. 
  18. ^ "contact – Somerville College Oxford". 
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 18 October 2014. Retrieved 15 September 2014. 
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  25. ^ "On-site accommodation for all Somerville undergraduates – Somerville College Oxford". University of Oxford. 
  26. ^ Somerville College principal warns of sexual harassment, BBC News, 15 May 2015
  27. ^ Oxford chief warns of worrying culture of sexual harassment and groping, The Daily Telegraph, 14 May 2015
  28. ^ How we are fighting sexist laddism and abuse at Somerville College, Oxford, Alice Prochaska, The Guardian, 15 May 2015
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  30. ^ "2016-17 Final Norrington Table". Retrieved on 2018-08-10.
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  34. ^ "Milford, Duruflé Requiem Aeternam – Stone Records". 
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  36. ^ "University Challenge, the 2014 final, review: Trinity triumph". 
  37. ^ Barker, David (16 June 2015). "Somerville defeat Brasenose in thrilling Cricket Cuppers final". 
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  39. ^ "Becoming a Google Doodle: India's first woman lawyer". Counsel. 
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  43. ^ Indira Gandhi Centre for Sustainable Development at Oxford University approved, The Hindu, 7 December 2012
  44. ^ a b Indira Gandhi’s name dropped from Oxford centre, Hindustan Times, 15 July 2017
  45. ^ Entwicklungshilfe. Indien steuert Geld für Oxford bei in FAZ of 20 December 2012, page 30
  46. ^ India hub in Indira’s old college at Oxford The Telegraph, 30 January 2014
  47. ^ Baty, Phil (12 April 2002). "In the news: Onora O'Neill". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 11 July 2017. 
  48. ^ Drusilla Beyfus, 'Withers [married names Stewart, Kennett], (Elizabeth) Audrey (1905–2001), magazine editor' in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2005)
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  50. ^ Somerville Stories – Dorothy L Sayers Archived 5 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine., Somerville College, University of Oxford, UK.
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  52. ^ The Guardian 2014.
  53. ^ The Oxford Student 2015.
  54. ^ A conversation with Matthew Skelton


  • Somerville for Women: an Oxford College 1879–1993, Pauline Adams (Oxford University Press, 1996) ISBN 0-19-920179-X.
  • Breaking New Ground: A history of Somerville College through its buildings (Somerville College, Oxford, 2013)
  • Dangerous by degrees : women at Oxford and the Somerville College novelists, Susan J. Leonardi (Rutgers University Press, 1989)

External links[edit]