Emily Davies

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Emily Davies
Emily Davies-200px.jpg
Emily Davies portrait by Rudolph Lehmann, 1880
Born(1830-04-22)22 April 1830
Carlton Crescent, Southampton, England
Died13 July 1921(1921-07-13) (aged 91)
Known forfounder Girton College, Cambridge

Sarah Emily Davies (22 April 1830 – 13 July 1921)[1][2] was an English feminist and suffragist, and a pioneering campaigner for women's rights to university access. She is remembered above all as a co-founder and an early Mistress of Girton College, Cambridge, the first university college in England to educate women.


Davies was born in Carlton Crescent, Southampton, England, to an evangelical clergyman and a teacher,[1][3] although she spent most of her youth in Gateshead, where her father, John D. Davies, was Rector.[4]

Davies had been tempted to train in medicine. She wrote the article "Female Physicians" for the feminist English Woman's Journal in May 1860,[5] and "Medicine as a Profession for Women" in 1862.[6] Furthermore, she "greatly encouraged" her friend Elizabeth Garrett in her medical studies.[7]

Women's rights[edit]

Davies moved, after her father's death in 1862, to London, where she edited the English Woman's Journal and became friends with such women's rights advocates as Barbara Bodichon, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, and Millicent Fawcett. Davies became a founding member of a women's discussion group, the Kensington Society, along with Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Barbara Bodichon, Dorothea Beale and Frances Mary Buss, who together petitioned Parliament to grant women voting rights, to no avail.[8]

Davies began campaigning for women's rights to further education, degrees and teaching qualifications. She was active on the London School Board and in the Schools Inquiry Commission, and instrumental in obtaining the admission of girls to official secondary-school examinations. Davies went on to advocate the admission of women to the Universities of London, Oxford and Cambridge. These were exclusively male domains, like all universities at the time.[9]

Davies became involved in the suffrage movement, which centred on a woman's right to vote. She was involved in organising for John Stuart Mill's 1866 petition to the British Parliament), which was signed by Paulina Irby,[10] Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and 15,000 others,[1] and the first to press for women's suffrage. That same year she wrote the book entitled The Higher Education of Women.[9]

Girton College[edit]

In 1869, Davies led the campaign to found Britain's first women's college,[11] with the support of Frances Buss, Dorothea Beale and Barbara Bodichon.[12] Girton College was initially located in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, with Charlotte Manning as the first Mistress. The college then moved in 1873 to the outskirts of Cambridge.

Davies pressed for a curriculum equivalent to those offered to men of the time.[12] The Senate rejecting her proposal to let women officially sit for the papers, but Davies continued to train students for the Cambridge Tripos exams on an unofficial basis.[12]

Davies served as Mistress of the College in 1873–1875. In 1877, Caroline Croom Robertson joined the management as secretary to reduce the load on Davies.[13] The College and the rest of Cambridge University only began to grant full university degrees to women in 1940.[9]

Davies persistent fight for equal education for women was instrumental also in the founding in 1875 of Newnham College, which would be led by Anne Jemima Clough.[12] In June 1901, Davies received an honorary Doctor of Laws (DLL) from the University of Glasgow.[14]

Meanwhile she continued her suffrage work. In 1906, she headed a delegation to Parliament. She was known for opposing the militant and violent methods used by the Suffragette part of the women's suffrage movement, led by the Pankhursts.[9] In 1910, Davies published Thoughts on Some Questions Relating to Women (OCLC 788783).

Emily Davies died at home in Belsize Park, Hampstead, London, on 13 July 1921 aged 91.[2]


Many persons will reply, without hesitation, that the one object to be aimed at, the ideal to be striven after, in the education of women, is to make good wives and mothers. And the answer is a reasonable one, so far as it goes, and with explanations. Clearly, no education would be good which did not tend to make good wives and mothers; and that which produces the best wives and mothers is likely to be the best possible education. But having made this admission, it is necessary to point out that an education of which the aim is thus limited, is likely to fail in that aim.

— Emily Davies, The Higher Education of Women, pp. 10–11.[15]

What is really wanted in a woman is, that she should be a permanently pleasant companion. So far as education can give or enhance pleasantness, it does so by making the view of life wide, the wit ready, the faculty of comprehension vivid.[16]


In 2016, the Council of the University of Cambridge approved the use of Davies's name to mark a physical feature within the North West Cambridge Development.[17]

On 30 June 2019, a Blue Plaque jointly commemorating founders Emily Davies and Barbara Bodichon was unveiled at Girton College, Cambridge, by Baroness Hale, President of the Supreme Court and a graduate of Girton, as part of its 150th anniversary celebrations. The plaque is sited on the main tower at the entrance to Girton off Huntingdon Road.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Delamont, Sara. "Davies, (Sarah) Emily". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/32741. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ a b "Story :: Biography of Emily Davies". www.universitystory.gla.ac.uk. University of Glasgow. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  3. ^ Leonard, A. G. K. (Autumn 2010). "Carlton Crescent: Southampton's most spectacular Regency development" (PDF). Southampton Local History Forum Journal. Southampton City Council. pp. 41–42. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 January 2013. Retrieved 23 March 2012. (Note: birth date incorrect here.)
  4. ^ The Feminist Companion to Literature in English. Women Writers from the Middle Ages to the Present, ed. Virginia Blain, Patricia Clements and Isobel Grundy (London: Batsford, 1990), p. 269.
  5. ^ Davies, Emily (May 1860). "Female Physicians". English Woman's Journal.
  6. ^ Davies, Emily (11 June 1862). "Medicine as a Profession for Women". Paper Read Out by Russell Gurney at the London Meeting of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science.
  7. ^ Blake, Catriona (1990). The Charge of the Parasols: Women's Entry to the Medical Profession (First ed.). London, UK: The Women's Press Limited. p. 57. ISBN 0-7043-4239-1.
  8. ^ "Emily Davies". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 17 February 2015.
  9. ^ a b c d Biography. Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  10. ^ "Miss Paulina Irby – an Early Suffragist". The Common Cause. 1915. Retrieved 2 March 2013.
  11. ^ Girton College Register, 1869–1946: Cambridge; CUP; 1948.
  12. ^ a b c d Gould, Paula (June 1997). "Women and the Culture of University Physics in Late Nineteenth-Century Cambridge". The British Journal for the History of Science. 30 (2): 127–149. doi:10.1017/s0007087497002987.
  13. ^ "Robertson, Caroline Anna Croom (1837/8–1892), college administrator". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/48679. Retrieved 18 July 2020. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  14. ^ "Glasgow University jubilee". The Times. No. 36481. London. 14 June 1901. p. 10.
  15. ^ Davies, Emily (1866). The Higher Education of Women. [New York, AMS Press.
  16. ^ Davies, Emily (1866). The Higher Education of Women. [New York, AMS Press.
  17. ^ Administrator (29 January 2015). "Street Naming". nwcambridge.co.uk. Retrieved 8 March 2017.
  18. ^ "Cambridge college unveils blue plaque for 'pioneering' women founders". BBC News. 1 July 2019. Retrieved 1 July 2019.

Further reading[edit]

External links and references[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by Mistress of Girton College, Cambridge
Succeeded by