Founded: Girton College was founded in 1869
The first Cambridge College to admit women students
Famous alumni include: Arianna Huffington, Sandie Toksvig, Phil Hammond and Raquel Cassidy
Location: Girton is located in the village of Girton, 2.5 miles from central Cambridge
Girton College has been part of the University of Cambridge since 1869, and has held full college status since 1948.
Once an educational centre only for female students, Girton has been a co-educational environment since 1976 and boasts one of the most balanced gender ratios for student admissions across all of the Cambridge colleges.
History of Girton College
Girton College was established in order to give support to women so that they could pursue education.
Though there had historically been resistance to allowing access to higher education for women, the College got its first breakthrough, following support from Trinity College alumnus Henry Sidgwick, who worked to allow women to sit exams in 1865.
However, this was a watered down version of the full Tripos examinations sat by Cambridge University students and Emily Davies campaigned for the equal treatment of women students. This paved the way for the establishment of Girton College.
When Emily Davies, Frances Buss, Dorothea Beale and Barbara Bodichon created the college in 1869, it was located in Hitchin, Hertfordshire and known as the College for Women at Benslow House.
Change of Location
The original location was chosen because it was thought to provide convenient access to both Cambridge and London and it was considered to be less controversial and risky than trying to establish the College in Cambridge from the outset.
It was the first Cambridge college to admit women students and one of the first residential colleges in the UK for female students.
In 1873, it was moved to the edge of Cambridge and took its new name from the nearby village of Girton. Davies was most active in the founding of the College, having been a campaigner for gender equality in education for most of her adult life.
Despite the progressive nature of Girton College, it was only officially recognised and granted full college status by Cambridge University in 1948, marking the official admittance of women to the university.
Girton’s trailblazing status was further cemented in 1976 when it became the University’s first women’s college to become a coeducational and co-residential environment with a strong focus on gender equality.
The main College buildings themselves were designed by architect Alfred Waterhouse, and built between 1873 and 1886 – though since this date, there have been numerous adaptations made to the College site, including a significant extension of the library.
The five-storey red brick college features the main entrance’s parapetted tower and archway, and the College is built around several large courtyards and gardens.
Unfortunately, at present we are not able to bring you any of our own pictures of the College (apart from the first one above) but we will update this page with some as soon as we can. In the meantime we have located a number of public domain images to give you an idea of what the College looks like.
Location and Facilities
In addition to the original buildings on the main college site, accommodation at the College has been extended by the addition of Queen Elizabeth Court and Wolfson Court, both linked to the main site.
There is also a pond and conservation area, and an open theatre in the Fellows’ Garden. Inside the College, there are numerous displays and exhibitions which reference Girton’s commitment to the arts and to archaeology.
A chapel was opened in 1902, which is still available for students to use today. While primarily a Church of England place of worship, other faiths may also hold services and ceremonies there.
Girton College features a large library for students to use, which houses the college’s ever-growing literary collection. Music is a big part of life at the college, and students can opt to join one of the two college choirs, or get involved with the Girton College Music Society.
Situated on the Huntingdon Road along the outskirts of Cambridge, close to the A14, Girton College is known for its extensive gardens and sports facilities.
The College is very close the Cambridge University’s new Eddington development (part of the North West Cambridge site) and there Girton has extended its graduate accommodation facilities with the addition of Swirles court, completed in 2017.
Some of the world’s most influential women have taken their degrees at Girton College, including members of international royal and ruling families.
- Dina bint ‘Abdu’l-Hamid, former Queen of Jordan and political activist, studied English Literature at Girton.
- Margrethe II, Queen of Denmark, was an archaeology student at the college in the 1960s
- and anthropology graduate Hisako Tottori later married to become Princess Takamado of the Japanese Imperial Family
Other notable former students include
Girton College is represented by a cross-and-quad shield, featuring two crescent moons and two circles with ‘ermine’ or fur designs. This was created using the key features of each benefactor’s own shield. The green, white and red is a nod to the Welsh heritage of Emily Davies, who did not have a coat of arms. These colours also feature in the college scarf, which is striped with red upon white upon green.
The motto of the College is “better is wisdom than weapons of war”. This reflects the non-violent approach to education campaigning and suffrage that Davies lived by.
Girton College recorded a £104.5 million net asset value in 2010.
The present Mistress of the college is Susan J. Smith.
The main site of Girton College houses a number of notable artworks and display items, including the ‘People’s Portraits’ exhibition pieces and a respected Egyptian collection.
The first honorary degree awarded to a woman was given at Girton; HRH Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was the recipient of the Doctor of Laws award.
Legend has it that the ladies of Girton College were responsible for Cambridge punters standing on the punt deck in order to punt, rather than in the bow of the boat as was (and still is) traditional at ‘The Other place.’ According to the legend, standing on the raised deck in Edwardian times allowed them to show off their ankles whilst punting.
Girton College’s sister college is Somerville College, part of Oxford University, which was also originally founded as a women’s college and is now co-educational.