Women at Oxford | University of Oxford

Women at Oxford

The first women’s colleges were founded in the nineteenth century, and women became full members of the University in 1920. 


The History of Women at Oxford

It was thanks to individual initiatives, and the pioneering work of the Association for Promoting the Higher Education of Women (AEW), that women's colleges came to be established in Oxford. Lady Margaret Hall and Somerville opened in 1879, followed by St Hugh's in 1886 and St Hilda's in 1893. St Anne's, which in 1952 was the last of the women's colleges to be incorporated by Royal Charter, originated as the Society of Oxford Home Students, catering for women students who lived with private families in Oxford while attending courses organised by the AEW. The five women's societies were granted full collegiate status in 1959.

Five all-male colleges - Brasenose, Jesus College, Wadham, Hertford and St Catherine's - first admitted women in 1974. St Hilda's College, which was originally for women only, was the last of Oxford's single sex colleges. All colleges have admitted both men and women since 2008.

The first woman to be appointed to a full professorship was Agnes Headlam-Morley, who became Montague Burton Professor of International Relations in October 1948. Ida Mann had become Reader in Ophthalmology in 1941 and Titular Professor from January 1945; however the Annual Report of the University for 1947-8 states that ' ...Miss Headlam-Morley... is the first woman to be elected to a full professorship at Oxford. Miss Ida Mann, who until 30 September 1947 was Margaret Ogilvie's Reader in Ophthalmology, held only the title of Professor... '. Both women were Fellows of St Hugh's College.

In 1973 Balliol was the first of the traditional all-male colleges to elect a woman as a Fellow and Tutor. Oxford currently has eleven female Heads of House: the Principals of Green Templeton College, Mansfield, St Anne's, St Hugh's, and Somerville; the Provost of Oriel; the Masters of Pembroke and St Cross;  the Presidents of St John's and Trinity; and the Acting President of Wolfson. In 1993 Professor Marilyn Butler, former Rector of Exeter, became the first female head of a former all-male college at either Oxford or Cambridge. 

In 2016 Professor Louise Richardson became the first female Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford.

Athena SWAN Awards

Athena SWAN awardsAthena SWAN awards

The Athena Swan Charter supports good employment practices for women in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET). Going through the Athena SWAN application process gives universities and departments the space to reflect on, and celebrate, current organisational and cultural practices that promote gender equality in SET. Athena SWAN also offers a valuable framework for introducing cultural changes that create a better working environment for both men and women.

The University of Oxford has held an institutional award since 2006, which was most recently renewed in April 2017. The renewal process reiterated the University’s commitment to gender equality and involved widespread consultation to agree an action plan for the period 2017-21. There is a significant amount of activity on Athena SWAN amongst departments at Oxford. As part of our action plan, we have made a commitment for all of our academic departments to hold awards by 2021. 

For more information, see the Equality and Diversity Unit website or contact the Gender and Athena SWAN Adviser, Adrienne Hopkins.