What is it about?

This article examines the biographical data for 25 Australian-born women who attended Girton and Newnham Colleges in the period from 1870 to 1940 and who, except for one, had entries in the Girton Register and the Newnham Roll. It uses mainly quantitative methods to compare their years and place of birth, their family background, educational and occupational paths and whether they married.

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Why is it important?

This important group of pioneer women in high education have not been discussed in this way before. Although they were all born in Australia, their lives did not neatly fit into nationalist discourses, hence the title 'Empire's Daughters'. While a few have entries in national dictionaries of biography for Australia and the UK, many are unknown or relatively so despite substantial public contributions within the British Empire. For example, Florence Melian Stawell (1869-1936) was an outstanding classical scholar who attended Newnham College from 1889 to 1892. She was widely published and wrote an important early study of international thought.


I was intrigued with these women from the start. As members of the middle classes, they benefited from what I have called the 'colonial educational dividend' in that their wealth and status as 'Australian Britons' enabled them to travel to England to study just as women's higher education was gaining a foothold in the ancient men's universities. Very few married and they embraced their opportunities to explore professional lives mainly in the field of education.

Dr Josephine May
University of Newcastle

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This page is a summary of: Empire’s Daughters: the first 25 Australian-born women at Girton and Newnham Colleges Cambridge, 1870–1940, as insiders and outsiders, History of Education, June 2020, Taylor & Francis, DOI: 10.1080/0046760x.2020.1752822.
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