The ‘Death’ of Women-Only Education at Royal Holloway and Bedford College

A question that is often posed to me is, ‘But, what kind of history do you do?’  I used to not have an answer to that question, because I don’t have a specific area that I am particularly enthralled with.  However, when I got that question the other day, my friend piped up and answered if for me, ‘You do, like, history around here, right?  Like, local history.’  Finally, it was put into words.  Over the past few years every time I’ve gone to study in a new place, I immediately throw myself into learning about the history of that location and here in Egham it’s no different.  My Skills project last term was on life in Surrey in the Edwardian period based on postcards and the programme I am making for ‘The Public Communication’ is on the ‘hidden’ history of Royal Holloway.  I thus want to continue in this tradition and learn about why Royal Holloway College and Bedford College went co-ed in the 1960s.  I would like to explore the ‘death’ of women-only education in those two institutions and perhaps across Britain.

I come from a place that is known for its higher education institutions.  When I describe where I’m from, I’ll say Western Mass, you know, the Five College Area?  UMass Amherst, maybe?  UMass is usually the landmark people identify with, but of the other four schools of the ‘Five Colleges’, two of them are well-known female only institutions:  Mount Holyoke College and Smith College.  Both of these schools take great pride in being just for women (for undergrad, at least) and strive to stay that way.  Interestingly enough when I was applying to schools for my undergrad degree, three of the four schools I applied to where originally female only:  Endicott College, Lesley University, and Lasell College.  I chose to go to Lasell, where I learned that they didn’t go co-ed until the late 1990s.  Coming from that background, I am particularly interested in why Royal Holloway and Bedford went co-ed so early compared to schools in the United States.

I hope to interview Professor Caroline Barron, a former History professor of both Bedford College and Royal Holloway Bedford New College.  She also recommended that I get in touch with Dr John Prebble who was vice-principal of Bedford at the time of the merger of the two schools in 1985 and to look at the book Bedford College, University of London edited by J Mordaunt Crook.

The significance of this topic to public oral history will be that it will explore how the dynamic changed in higher education from just having females on campus to having both sexes.  Both Bedford and Royal Holloway were founded to provide women with an education equal to that of men, so why was it that they then let men join them?  As the topic is still within living memory and also coincides with the greater movement for women’s rights, I would like to understand how going co-ed changed the legacies of both schools.

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