Happy Families?

Soon I will be conducting interviews with alumni who attended Royal Holloway College and Bedford college during 1960s. What I would expect to interest me most about these interviews is the reactions of these students’ families to the announcement and implementation of co-ed study at the university. This can present a wider view of the change from single sex school and universities to co-ed programmes. It will mean covering both existing students and those who arrived as part of the first co-ed intake.


It would be reasonable to expect somewhat mixed feelings from those families who had sent their daughters to an all-girls college. It may after all have been one of the reasons that they decided upon the university and the arrival of men could have caused concern. It could also have been seen as a boon for university; experience of the opposite sex is after all an education in itself and, it could be argued, is a necessary preparation for Post-university life.


We must not forget that family is more than just parents. How did, say, older siblings feel who might have welcomed the same co-ed opportunity? Was their experience of education, a similar one? What then would families of new students have felt? One interesting aspect here is whether the parents of the new male students felt any trepidation about sending their children as part of the first intake of men? There could be no telling how warm their reception would be nor how they would fit into co-ed university life.


The growth of co-ed education affected not just the students but also everyone around them as well. A survey of the families of the Royal Holloway College and Bedford college alumni would be a good way to study the opinion of the families at the time.

Harry Blackett-Ord

Going Co-Ed

In 1965, 100 controversial students enrolled at Royal Holloway College; the very first male undergraduates. The decision to change from a female-only to co-educational student population was not an easy one, and required an amendment to the College’s official deed. But, was the transition easier for the students themselves?

Our oral history project, interviewing alumni from Royal Holloway College and Bedford College (which also accepted male undergraduates in 1965) provides us with a prime opportunity to explore the impact of the change to co-education, and the student’s feelings towards studying in a changing and expanding university. Did the female students already studying at Royal Holloway accept their male colleges with open arms? Or did they resent- or even fear- their presence?

As Royal Holloway college expanded in response to the Robbins report, its appearance and make-up was altered- but it will be interesting to ask if the feel and atmosphere of the college changed as well. Did Royal Holloway still feel safe? – and, interestingly, would the female alumni still have chosen to come to their college if they have known that male undergraduates would be introduced?

I am aware that the number of alumni participating in our interviews that experienced the colleges as both single-sex and co-educational will be relatively small. However, students who attended the colleges before or after the change can also provide us with important insight; did the mix of men and women (or lack of) influence their choice to come to Royal Holloway or Bedford?

Although our oral history project is unique to Royal Holloway and Bedford Colleges, the revolution in higher education that occurred in the 1960s was a nationwide trend, and our interviews offer an invaluable opportunity to explore the personal impact of a wider and more open education experience.

Pub Culture

Egham and Englefield’s thriving pub culture occupies the time of both students and local residents alike, with many sports and society activities based around the bar. In the last couple of years, measures have been taken by Royal Holloway to curb the growing ‘booze culture’ that now seems to be synonymous with student life. The ‘Swinging Sixties’ saw a general rise in alcohol consumption across the nation, but did this have an impact on the small town of Egham?

When interviewing the former students of Bedford College and Royal Holloway, I am interested to see if university social life was as heavily linked with alcohol consumption as it is today. Where did the students drink, and what were their beverages of choice? I am particularly interested in the 1965 introduction of male students, and if this had an impact on the social behaviours of the female students; was the pub more commonly frequented, used as a neutral meet-up spot between the male and female halls of residence? Did the students feel more pressure to drink when socialising with the other sex?

It is likely that not all students will have drank frequently, but this will allow further insight into how students spent their time, and the popular social activities at Bedford and Royal Holloway during the sixties. By examining what the students did instead of flocking to the pub, it may be helpful providing alternative routines for current students.

Having the opportunity to interview alumni of Bedford and Royal Holloway colleges can potentially show how the student social experience has changed, if at all. They can also hopefully provide insight into how and when ‘booze culture’ started to become ingrained in university life.


– Emma Leyland




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

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.

Women in Science: Preparing for Interviews

As a Royal Holloway and Bedford New College alumni and someone who has also worked for the College after graduating from an undergraduate programme, I was very excited at the prospect of connecting with alumni from an earlier generation. The history of the College is of immense personal interest so to be able to contribute something to the College’s archives feels like a real honour. As such, I’m very keen to do it well.

I was initially provided with a copy of my interviewee’s application to study at university, as well as her academic transcript. I was interested to see that Bedford College was her third choice of university, whilst Oxford and Cambridge women’s colleges proceeded it, but she was not offered a place at either. This immediately brought questions to my mind: did my interviewee feel happy with her place at Bedford College? Has she felt the effects of missing out on those top institutions in her career? Why did she choose women-only institutions?

I contacted my interviewee by email initially and asked whether she was still happy to participate in the project. I didn’t want to intrude with a phone-call so early on, in case it made her feel obliged to talk to me. But luckily she answered my email right away and asked me to give her a call that evening. I live about an hour away from her, and she advised me to take the train rather than drive as the traffic is a nightmare on the way over. She then offered to pick me up from the station as it is a hilly walk up to her house. We spent about twenty minutes on the phone and she asked me a few questions about myself and my time at Royal Holloway. Although the project isn’t about me and oral history interviews aren’t a two way process in that respect, I did give her a bit of information about my studies and career so far. I think this helped to reassure her actually and I really wanted to do that considering she was inviting me, a stranger, into her home to talk to her about her life.

I had a few days between our telephone conversation and actual meeting to be able to prepare questions. I was really excited to meet my interviewee and frequently found my mind wandering to questions I could ask, so the planning stage was very easy! I kept a notebook in my bag so I could jot my thoughts down as they came to me. I was nervous about the recorder though and it was harder to plan around that. When using a recording devise for another of my MA projects, I found it just stopped recording one of my interviews mid-way through and I couldn’t discover why. I was nervous of this happening again, since I am using the exact same device. I kept checking it every day to make sure it was able to record anything – an attempt to reassure myself that I wouldn’t suffer a technology-induced embarrassment in front of my interviewee, a woman whose career, and indeed life, was at the forefront of technological advances.

The Interview

The day of the interview came around and I caught the train, feeling nervous and also excited to meet this amazing woman. I read through my questions on the train (and checked the recording device one last time!). We met at the station and conversation flowed between us naturally. My interviewee is certainly an interesting woman.

The difficulty was, however, that she didn’t like talking when the recorder was on. Her answers were quite short and I was conscious of hoping my questions didn’t sound too leading. She also tended to look to me for reassurance when making answers, in case it wasn’t the information I was looking for. Whilst she was very honest with her answers and I don’t feel I influenced their content, I think she was trying to please me with the style of response. I thought I had plenty of questions, but I found they only just took up 45 minutes – the shortest time my interview should be. Once the recorder was off, my interviewee made me a coffee and then she really started to open up. Once the invasive recorder was back in my bag, she told me some really fascinating stories about her family life and I could see how this must have shaped her academic life. It was like speaking with a different person. I should have pulled the recorder back out, but I didn’t want to put her off again. Instead, I made a mental note of the stories and I plan to ask her about them in my second interview.

This has helped me to plan questions for this next interview, and I have listened back over my recording to provide further inspiration for the second interview. She spoke a lot about her experience of sports clubs in College life and I’d like to know more about that social aspect of studying at university in the 1950s, as well as how her family’s background influenced her interest in science. The main difficulty is trying to find a time we are both free. I work full-time, whilst my interviewee has a very active life but I am really hoping to meet her again soon.

This has been a fantastic project to be a part of and it’s been of personal and academic benefit to meet a woman who has led such an interesting life, especially someone who is a fellow alumnus.

Women in Science: Before the Interview

I face the problem of going into the interview without having much, if any, information on my interviewee. Whereas many of the other participants are alumni of Royal Holloway or Bedford College, my interviewee was did not attend either school, but is a current Mathematics professor at the university. Aside from that, I was unable to attain a CV as her copy of it had become misplaced. On the other hand, this divergence from other accounts can prove to be quite useful, or at the very least interesting. It will be comparison between university experiences for women. She will certainly have carried her experiences of her former university to Royal Holloway and will have a unique comparative view.

From brief communication back and forth, it seems that she will be willing to divulge and discuss more personal information, which will be better for seeing a fuller picture of her life narrative. However, this could potentially foreshadow her desire to appease me, as the interviewer, by trying to tell me the information that she believes I want to hear.

Distance and travel are not a problem as I am in halls of residence and we will be conducting the interview in her office on campus. The site for the interview was easily established, and she was very accommodating and understanding about the need for a quiet space.

A personal challenge as an interviewer is to non-verbally express my understanding and convey to my interviewee that I am following along with what they are saying. Another is to be comfortable with silences, to encourage the interviewee to reflect and share more. I am also anxious that I may come across a very emotional memory or a situation where the interviewee shuts down, and being able to respond ethically to the situation.