For over six centuries, the University of Oxford had been an exclusively male bastion of privilege and opportunity. Few dreamed this could change. Yet, in 1879, twenty-one pioneering women quietly entered two recently established residence halls in Oxford in the hope of attending lectures and pursuing a course of study. More women soon followed and, by 1893, there were five women's societies, each with its own principal, staff, and identity. Only eighty years after women first appeared in Oxford, the five residential societies were granted full status as colleges of the University-self-governing entities with all the rights and obligations of the men's colleges-and women students constituted 16 percent of the undergraduate population. Though still a distinct minority, women had gained full access to the rich resources, opportunities, and challenges of the University.
Her Oxford looks at the people and the political and social forces that produced this dramatic transformation. Drawing on a vast array of biographies, histories, obituaries, and archives, Batson traces not only the institutional struggles over privileges and disciplinary rules for women, but also the rich texture of everyday life-women's amateur theatricals, debating societies, sports, and college escapades (Dorothy Sayers is the subject of quite a few). She tells the stories of women's active roles in two war efforts and in the suffrage movement.
An unusual feature of the book is the set of 120 biographical profiles of women who attended Oxford between 1879 and 1960. They constitute a Who's Who of women scientists, anthropologists, psychotherapists, educators, novelists, and social reformers in the English-speaking world.