Beyond the Lecture Theatre

Having been heavily involved in the rebuilding and running of one of my previous university’s oldest academic societies, as well as being a member of several music groups during my time as an undergraduate, I would be interested in exploring the extra curricular, social side of university in the 1960s.  I know from personal experience that clubs and societies allowed me to explore existing interests further, but also introduced me to people who I might not otherwise have met on my course. The issue of societies might be a particularly interesting area to explore amongst those who had joined Royal Holloway College and Bedford Colleges whilst they were still women’s only institutions, only for them to become co-educational in 1965.  For example, did new societies have to be established, keeping the sexes separate or did existing groups also allow men to join.  Also, what kind of range of activities were available to students, did university give them an opportunity to sample new pursuits or just build upon existing interests?

Moreover, having been a choral scholar, I would also like to explore changes in the chapel choir upon the introduction of male students.  Did the choir immediately begin to cater for lower voices or was that change made more gradually? Since membership of a choir can be quite regimented, it would be interesting to see how routines have changed – if indeed they have changed – since the 1960s.  Involvement in clubs and societies can be a vital part of the settling in process so I would also like to consider whether this has always been the case or whether, for the newly admitted male undergraduates, there was any difficulty in integrating into the existing student body.

The idea of interviewing former students of both Royal Holloway and Bedford New Colleges has the potential to create an invaluable resource about the history of the colleges academic and social histories.  Moreover if this model continues in future years of the MA programme, covering different decades it will offer insights into the expansion of access to higher education and university life throughout the twentieth century.


Gender and Social Life: The “Swinging Sixties”?

The 1960s was a revolutionary time; culturally, socially, and politically. Whilst Julie Andrews was busy making clothes out of old curtains and being “practically perfect in every way”, the decade saw the rise of Second Wave Feminism, student protests and, of course, the so-called “Swinging Sixties”. For Royal Holloway College and Bedford College, it was 1965 specifically which proved a pivotal moment: this was the year which saw the arrival of the first male undergraduates.

With this in mind, the two major areas of interest to me are gender, and student life. In my own personal experience, when I speak to prospective students looking to apply to Royal Holloway, or even alumni themselves, one of the first things they ask about is my daily routine and what I do in my spare time. It would be fascinating to know how students five decades ago spent their days, and how much this differed, if at all, to student life now. On a wider scale, and with the move to co-education in mind, I would like to know if gender and student life were in any way related. Were certain clubs and societies, or activities, explicitly gendered, or did students simply partake in events or hobbies which appealed to their personal interests? Was it easy for the new male undergraduates to integrate into the existing student body, and was there much opposition to their arrival in the first place? Did the interests of students reflect the wider social, cultural, and political changes in contemporary British society and, ultimately, did they really feel like they were a part of the “Swinging Sixties”?

Having the opportunity to interview alumni who attended both Colleges at this important time will not only benefit my own understanding of these areas, and that of my peers, but hopefully, with their permission, we may be able to document and preserve more of RHBNC’s history for the future.

Emily Petretta


First Impressions of University Life

When interviewing alumni of Royal Holloway College and Bedford college from the 1960s, I would like to question them about their adjustment to and first impressions of university life. The Robbins Report of 1963 encouraged the widening of university education to all who qualified through ability. It would be interesting to discover whether the widening of education to different socio-economic communities was immediately obvious to students starting their studies at Royal Holloway College and Bedford College in the mid to late 1960s. If this was the case, what were their first impressions of this? Did they embrace the opportunity of meeting people from different backgrounds to their own or were tensions present? Perhaps, the student body wasn’t overtly diverse, but students wished it had been.

Likewise, at a time when single-sex schools were prominent, it would be valuable to discover the first impressions of students from such backgrounds, when arriving at a newly co-educational university. I would question whether being in a new social environment made them feel homesick, or if they enjoyed being somewhere different from home.

Questions less unique to the context of the 1960s but universal to student life would also be useful for potential future research into university culture. Did the students of Royal Holloway College and Bedford College in the 1960s find it easy to make friends within their first few weeks of study? It would also be interesting to discover if university work was a daunting progression from their school work. Additionally, I would ask whether they liked their new local area and if the college itself felt like a home away from home immediately or if it took them longer to adjust, if at all.

When conducting the interviews, there is the potential for the alumni to recount their university experience as a whole rather than their first impressions. Therefore, I must frame my questions to overtly emphasise my focus on the first term of their studies.

The demographics of students attending university changed immensely during the 1960s, and it should be discovered whether this influenced individual first impressions and the ability to adapt to university life.

Becky Tabrar


Sex and Sexuality

For our oral history project this year, we’ve been asked to interview alumni from the 1960s, about their time at Royal Holloway College or Bedford College.

This decade saw a huge change come to the colleges, as in 1965 male students were admitted for the first time, forever altering the dynamic of the colleges. Suddenly there was potential for relationships with the opposite sex and finding a partner on campus, and within that, a potential for a whole lot else. This coincided with a time of sexual liberation and second-wave feminism, and women for the first time were openly embracing their sexuality and becoming able to take control of their bodies through contraceptives, such as the pill, becoming available, as well as an increasing acceptance and visibility of LGBT+ individuals. There was an increasing acceptance of sex outside of traditional heterosexual marriages, and I’m fascinated as to what effect this had on students at the time. Especially students who were at colleges that had been single sex for so long. The male students were confined to halls that kept them a good distance away from the women, but were they all creeping around campus at night and sneaking along corridors? Or was the sexual revolution kept out of college life? What was the reaction of their parents to them being at a now co-ed college during this time of increasing sexual freedoms? Was sex and sexuality openly discussed, or still kept behind locked doors?

Throughout my own time at university I’ve campaigned around these issues and rights, which are hotly contested around the globe to this day, and I can’t wait to hear what opinions were about sex and sexuality in colleges that had just become co-ed during the age that is famed for its sexual freedom.


Why get a degree?

In the next few months I will be interviewing Royal Holloway and Bedford College alumni who attended university during the 1960s. From these conversations I hope to take away a better understanding of how these women and men viewed themselves and their roles in society. In particular, how going to university and earning a degree tied into their image of themselves.

I’d like to ask our interviewees what they considered the purpose of a university degree to be when they opted to join Royal Holloway and Bedford College. Whether it was a ticket into the career they aspired to, a status symbol, a networking tool, or just a fun way to spend a few years. I would be curious to know whether they chose to apply or whether was it a path their parents picked for them, and the reasons behind this. Given that our participants grew up in a time in which women’s roles tended to be limited in comparison to what is possible today, I’d want to focus on the women’s perspective (while also comparing the women’s ambitions and expectations with those of the men). What kinds of careers were they hoping to pursue after university, and how did expectations of motherhood and becoming a wife affect these ambitions? It would also be revealing to find out about their backgrounds, such as the roles or careers their mothers and other female role models had, as well as how their time at university was funded. Whether there is a correlation between subject area and ambition would also be an interesting prospect to investigate. Did they chose subjects because they caught their interest, or because they felt that these subjects would lead to job stability and independence?

I think memory is also going to be an important factor in this, considering the extent to which a person’s narrative changes in hindsight. Did the path they eventually found themselves on after university change the way they recollect their initial reasons for going to university? Perhaps they entered university dreaming of a certain career but have since forgotten about the significance of that ambition because in reality they ended up marrying and putting their career on hold for children.

It will be interesting to see how this line of investigation corresponds with current understandings of gender roles within society during the 1960s.


Feminism and Gender

The 1960’s in Britain, whilst not as radical as the following decade, was a great time of change for women’s equality. The publication of The Feminist Mystique in 1963 and, in 1967 the availability of abortion’s through the NHS are just two examples of how the country was changing.

During the interviews with the Royal Holloway alumni, I wish to explore the issue of feminism. One thing to address would be whether or not students (both male and female) were aware of the social movement happening in the country – or, for the women at least because they were already at predominantly female colleges, the idea of gender equality was already acceptable. It will be interesting to see from those who may have considered themselves a feminist if this went on to impact their future in careers for instance. In terms of the university itself, asking questions to see if there was any sort of politically motivated women’s organisation on campus and what they were involved in would benefit the archive.

In terms of limitations with this topic, it is possible that people would not have considered themselves a ‘feminist’ but believed in rights for women in certain elements so this may need to be teased out. It will also be very important to keep in mind how I ask the questions. The idea of feminism is still relevant today in society so there is a risk of the interviewees answering questions influenced by what they believe now, rather than how they saw things then.

I think this is a very interesting area to explore given Royal Holloway and Bedford’s history of being women’s institutions to see if this had an impact on the way its students thought about gender. The addition of men into a female dominated environment was certainly not that common in the 60’s so perfectly situated to explore this topic from a male point of view too.


Sport at Royal Holloway

As an avid hockey player, having been both President and Ladies’ Captain of the Hockey Club, and having co-founded a Rounder’s Club on campus I have an invested interest in how different sports clubs came into existence at the university. I am interested in interviewing Royal Holloway Alumni on their experiences of extra- curricular activities, with a focus on sport, at university and how this impacted students’ studies.

I know from previous research that there was once a swimming pool in Jane Holloway Hall that was closed due to storm damage and would be interesting to see how much the pool was in use when it was open.

Looking at the 1960s, and when the university became co-educational, this is the perfect time to look into how sports clubs, that use to be exclusive to women, dealt with the introduction of men and whether the clubs became mixed sex or if they remained segregated.

The project would also be extremely useful on a personal level as myself and the current Hockey Club president are looking into creating a history, using the archives, of the club which we have reason to believe is the oldest university Hockey club in the country.