"Monstrous Regiment of Women"
In 1873, an exhibition to Worcester College was awarded to A.M.A.H. Rogers. The award was withdrawn when it was discovered that the initials stood for Annie Mary Anne Henley. It was not until the 1880s that women's colleges came into existence, and their presence was not formally recognised until 1910. Even then it was another ten years before they were allowed to take an Oxford degree.
Perhaps men were reluctant to let in the competition:
I spent all my time with a crammer
And then only managed a gamma,
But the girl over there,
With the flaming red hair,
Got an alpha plus easily – damn her!
– Anon, c. 1900
Attitudes to women in Victorian Oxford were not necessarily as hostile as our captions suggest. When Dean Burgon made his preposterous remark, in a sermon at New College, the congregation laughed aloud.
What was more damaging for women than outright hostility was a general feeling that they were simply irrelevant. John Ruskin, as Professor of Art in 1871, denied them admission to his lectures: "I cannot let the bonnets in, on any conditions this term. The three public lectures will chiefly be on angles, degrees of colour prisms (without any prunes) and other such things, of no use to the female mind and they would occupy the seats in mere disappointed puzzlement." And ten years later Ruskin wrote: "So glad to be old enough to be let come and have tea at Somerville, and to watch the girlies play at ball."
Attitudes were slow to change. Lord Stockton, who came up to Oxford before the first World War, recalled in 'The Times' in 1975: "There were no women. Ours was an entirely masculine, almost monastic society. We knew, of course, that there were women's colleges with women students. But we were not conscious of either. Their colleges were situated on the suburban periphery. Their students never came into our college rooms... They were not members of the Union. They joined no political societies. if they came to lectures they were escorted by a chaperone or duenna. For practical purposes they did not exist."
As for social emancipation, intercollegiate rules for 1924 state that: "A woman undergraduate must obtain leave before accepting invitations for the evening or for mixed parties. She may not be out in the evening without permission, and must report her return."
"Mixed parties may not be held in cafes before 2.00pm or after 5.30pm. between these hours they are permitted, provided that permission has been obtained beforehand, and that there are at least two women in the party."
In 1926 the Oxford Union passed the motion that Women's Colleges should be levelled to the ground. It was not until 1963 that female members were officially allowed to join, though women did attend and take part in debates before this.
Now, all Oxford colleges, even last bastions St Hilda's and Benet's, are mixed, and at least theoretically offer equal opportunities to both sexes. This change, which has had enormous significance for the flavour of Oxford life, has only taken place since 1975.
If this is all a bit depressing, do have a read of our page on inspiring Oxfordshire women, including many famous University alumnae - once women were allowed to enter they turned out to be pretty good at this academia lark.