Oxford is full of prominent and proactive women. Both of Oxford's MPs - Annaliese Dodds (Labour) for Oxford East, and Layla Moran (Liberal Democrat) for Oxford West and Abingdon - are women, while Councillor Jean Fooks is the current Lord Mayor of Oxford, and Councillor Christine Simm is Deputy Lord Mayor. Professor Louise Richardson is Oxford's current Vice-Chancellor.
The city has plenty to offer the women who live here, with a large number of organisations, initiatives, groups and facilities that are focused on different aspects of women's lives. Women in Oxford have a rich and fascinating history that involves engagement in a wide range of fields, from politics and economics to art and literature.
Oxford International Women's Festival is an annual event that celebrates women's history, art, social issues, and much more. The festival features talks, workshops, social gatherings, film screenings, performances, music, and marches. It is usually centred around a theme - in 2018, the festival celebrated the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, which gave British women (at least, those who were married, over 30, and owned property) the right to vote.
The festival has been running for nearly three decades, and brings together women across Oxfordshire. It is organised by a team of volunteers, and all interested women are welcomed.
For most of its almost 1000-year history, Oxford University was open to men only. Women didn't begin attending the university until the late 1870s, and even then, they were not allowed to graduate - while they could attend lectures and take exams, they did not receive a degree at the end of their studies. This didn't change until 1920, when women were granted the right to matriculate and graduate; even then, the number of female students was capped at one-quarter of the male student intake, a rule that stayed in place until 1957. Although, as this page on the Bodleian Library's website suggests, it's difficult to argue exactly who was the first woman to graduate from Oxford, a strong contender is Annie Rogers, who received first class honours in Latin, Greek, and Ancient History.
In 1974, previously all-male colleges began admitting women. The originally all-female colleges, too, are now completely co-educational; St Hilda's, the last remaining women's college, voted to admit male students in 2008. The university has been making efforts to be an inclusive space for women and other marginalised students - some of these efforts are listed on OUSU's Alternative Prospectus.
There are several groups within Oxford University committed to working for women's rights:
WomCam: Oxford SU Women's Campaign (WomCam) is a university group focusing on many different areas of campaigning, fighting discrimination, and raising awareness of feminist issues. There are groups within the main group that specifically focus on issues affecting LGBT and BME women.
Women in the Humanities: Oxford University's TORCH carries out interdisciplinary humanities studies focusing on women, exploring issues surrounding gender, sex, identity and equality across a huge range of areas of study.
Oxford Women in Politics: A university-wide society founded to address the gender imbalance in leadership and political roles, OxWiP runs events and workshops throughout the term.
Oxford is home to many women's groups, organisations and initiatives.
The Women in Oxford's History Podcast Series: This podcast series is a product of TORCH, but focuses on both the Town and Gown side of the history of women in Oxford. Redressing the imbalance of Oxford's blue plaque scheme (which honoured just 8 women out of 38 people in total), it looks at contributions made to the city by overlooked women.
Oxford Women of Colour: This group holds meet-ups for women of colour and BME women across Oxford, organises events and campaigns, and runs regular socials.
Hollaback! Oxford, part of the worldwide Hollaback! movement, is a website recording instances of street harassment, maintained by local activists. The group aims to push back against street harassment, sexual harassment and assault by naming and identifying the problem, and demonstrating how widespread this issue is. In 2017, Hollaback! Oxford held the Reclaiming Spaces exhibition at East Oxford Community Centre. This exhibition featured feminist artwork, poetry and performances.
The Oxford Lesbian Brunch Club is open to lesbian and bisexual women who enjoy socials, pubs, and brunch.
Oxford Feminist Network is a group for people of all gender identities who are interested in feminism, social justice movements, and resisting inequality. The group shares resources on feminism, and is involved in feminist campaigning on a local and national level.
Oxford Women's Network: This group is aimed at women who are looking for a 'collaborative constructive space' to explore issues around all areas of life, such as business ideas, families, or skills exchange.
Oxford Against Cutting is a group that works with local community groups, schools, the Oxford Safeguarding Board and the Oxford Rose Clinic to help support women and girls who have experienced FGM, and prevent this practice being carried out on others.
Refugee Resource Women's Group: One of Refugee Resource's specialist programmes, this group is for refugee, asylum-seeking and migrant women and their children. As well as providing a forum for women to make friends and share experiences, there are also social outings, craft activities and the opportunity to learn new skills.
The Young Women's Music Project is a charity for women and girls aged 14-21, which offers free music sessions and workshops, facilitates making and recording music or organising gigs, and provides a space where young women can talk about issues that affect them.
The Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre is a collective of women committed to supporting girls and women who are survivors of sexual violence and abuse. As well as providing counselling and a helpline, the centre also runs consent workshops for secondary schools. All self-identifying women are welcome to approach the service for support, or to volunteer.
Oxford has been home to many notable women through the ages, who have produced a lot of important work in fields such as literature, politics, art, business, and philanthropy. Here are some of Oxford and Oxfordshire's famous women:
Samira Ahmed: Samira Ahmed is a writer, journalist, and broadcaster, who read English at St Edmund's Hall. She currently works for the BBC, and has also been a reporter and presenter for Channel 4. She has written for The Guardian, The Independent and The Spectator, and has also presented for BBC Radio 3.
Monica Ali: Author Monica Ali, most famous for her Booker Prize-shortlisted novel Brick Lane, studied PPE at Wadham College. She has written three other novels, and in 2007, Brick Lane was adapted into a film.
Zeinab Badawi: A former St Hilda's student and member of the Oxford University Broadcasting Society, Zeinab Badawi is now a TV and radio journalist. She has been a presenter on World News Today and HARDtalk, and was named International TV Personality of the Year in 2009. She founded and chairs Africa Medical Partnership Fund (AfriMed), a charity which offers support to local medical professionals working in Africa.
Gertrude Bell: Gertrude Bell was a well-known traveller and archaeologist, who played a highly influential role in turn-of-the-century British politics in the Middle East. Educated at Lady Margaret Hall, she later travelled throughout Persia, Mesapotamia, Palestine and Syria. During the First World War, she was the only female political officer employed by the British Army, and advised various officers posted in the Middle East on how to navigate and negotiate the local area. She was a key player in creating the administration of what became Iraq.
Vera Brittain: Most famous for her memoir Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain was a student at Somerville College, although her education was interrupted by the First World War. During the war, she worked as a VAD nurse, an experience recorded in her memoirs. Her fiance, brother, and two close friends were all killed during the war, and by the outbreak of World War II, Brittain had become a committed pacifist - however, she still helped the war effort by working as a fire warden.
Jane Burden: Jane Burden - later Jane Morris - came from humble beginnings. The daughter of a stableman and a laundress, Burden was born just off Holywell Street. When Dante Gabriel Rosetti and Edward Burne-Jones came to Oxford to paint the Oxford Union Murals, they persuaded her to sit for portraits. Burden later sat for William Morris, who soon fell in love with her and asked her to marry him. She was a strong supporter of Irish Home Rule.
Reeta Chakrabarti: Reeta Chakrabarti is a journalist, presenter, and political correspondent for BBC News. She studied English and French at Exeter College.
Agatha Christie: One of the world's most famous crime writers, and the best-selling novelist of all time, Agatha Christie spent her final years living in the Oxfordshire town of Wallingford. She worked as a nurse during the First World War, and spent the Second World War working as a pharmacy assistant, which gave her an expert knowledge of different types of poisons that she would use in her novels. Christie created the well-known fictional characters Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple, and her novels, short stories and plays have regularly been adapted for television and film.
Sarah Jane Cooper: Oxford has long been associated with marmalade thanks to the work of Sarah Jane Cooper, who was the first person to make and sell homemade marmalade in the city. Cooper's marmalade was originally sold in her husband's grocery, and was soon a regular feature of college breakfasts. As the business took off, the Coopers set up a factory near the station - today, this is The Old Jam Factory, a restaurant and art gallery.
Emily Wilding Davison: Emily Davison was a staunch suffragette, most famous for being hit and killed by King George V's horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby. Before her death, Davison campaigned tirelessly for women's right to vote, with nine arrests and seven hunger strikes to her name. She studied English Literature at Oxford, and was also a committed socialist.
Martha Lane Fox: Born and educated in Oxford, Martha Lane Fox is the founder of lastminute.com, as well as being the youngest female member of the House of Lords. Fox has championed many charitable causes, particularly in the fields of human rights, women's rights, and social justice. She was one of the private donors who put up funds for the Orange Prize for women's fiction after Orange withdrew its support for the prize in 2012.
St Frideswide: Oxford's patron saint, Frideswide (alternatively known as Frithuswith), founded a religious site that later became part of Christ Church. According to one story, her prayers made a well appear at Binsey, which can still be seen today at the Church of St Margaret.
Indira Gandhi: The first female Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi has something of a notorious reputation. She was known for being politically ruthless, taking India to war with Pakistan in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. She was assassinated in 1984, by her own bodyguards.
Maureen Gardner: Athlete Maureen Gardner won silver medals in the hurdles at the 1948 Olympics and 1950 European Athletics Championships. She grew up in Temple Cowley, and, after her athletic career, returned to Oxford to start a ballet and dance school. She was an examiner for the Royal Ballet School, later becoming Chief Examiner.
Olive Gibbs: Born in 1918, the year of the first major victory of the Women's Suffrage movement, Olive Gibbs was an extremely active figure in local and national politics. Gibbs became the first female chair of the County Council, and Lord Mayor of Oxford twice over. A die-hard and outspoken socialist, she was also involved in preserving Jericho, stopping the building of a road across Christ Church Meadow, and preventing nursery closures in the city. Gibbs was a founding member and national chair of CND, and also a Labour councillor on Oxford's City and County Councils.
PD James: Author PD James is best known for her Dalgliesh mysteries. She was born in Oxford, and began writing in the 1950s, after previously working in hospital administration. Many of her books were adapted for television, while the 2006 film Children of Men was based on her 1992 novel The Children of Men. There were many differences between the book and the film, but James went on record as being pleased with the result. James was also the author of Death Comes to Pemberley, a Pride and Prejudice sequel with a murder mystery twist.
Alice Liddell: Alice Liddell's father was the Dean of Christ Church, and she spent part of her childhood living in the college. Here, she met Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, who became a close family friend. During a trip down the river with Dodgson and her sisters, Liddell asked him to tell a story; the tale that he told eventually became Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
Val McDermid: Oxford clearly attracts crime writers! Val McDermid, the author of four different crime series as well as several stand-alone books, studied at St Hilda's College, where she was the first student from a Scottish state school to attend. Like Agatha Christie and PD James, McDermid has had many of her novels adapted for television.
Miriam Margoyles: Actress Miriam Margoyles was born in Oxford and attended Oxford High School. She studied at Cambridge, and, like many other comic actresses and comediennes, joined the Cambridge Footlights. Depending on your generation, Margoyles is either best-known for playing the cheerful Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter films, or the extremely not-cheerful Lady Whiteadder in Blackadder II.
Janice Meek: Janice Meek is an adventurer and ocean rower. Before she took up adventuring, Meek worked in the British film industry, before moving to Chipping Norton and opening a children's clothes shop and a restaurant. She was Chipping Norton's Town Mayor, and also the first female Chairman of the Chipping Norton Chamber of Commerce. Meek started her life as an adventurer in 1993, when she backpacked solo around Taiwan, China and Australia. With her son, she rowed from Tenerife to Barbados in the 1997 Atlantic Rowing Race, a journey of 3044 nautical miles. In 2007, the pair took part in the Polar Race, walking and skiing 350 miles. They became the first mother and son team to reach any Pole by foot, and Meek also became the oldest woman to reach the North Magnetic Pole by foot.
Nancy Mitford: Writer Nancy Mitford was born in the Oxfordshire village of Swinbrook, in the ancestral home of the extremely powerful and privileged Freeman-Mitford family. Mitford is most famous for her novel Love in a Cold Climate, as well as several other fiction books and historical biographies. Unlike her sisters Diana and Unity, Nancy Mitford was a staunch anti-fascist; her novel Wigs on the Green was a satire of her future brother-in-law Oswald Mosley's Blackshirt movement.
Iris Murdoch: Dame Iris Murdoch studied at Somerville, and later became a Fellow of St Anne's. A highly successful novelist, her most famous work was The Sea, The Sea, which won the 1978 Booker Prize. Murdoch's novels focus on good and evil, relationships, and morality; unsurprising, since she was also an eminent philosopher, whose contributions to the field are only just receiving full recognition.
Dorothy L Sayers: Dorothy L Sayers' father was choir master for Christ Church Cathedral School, and so Sayers herself was born in the Master's House, right in the heart of Oxford. She studied at Somerville College, finishing her course in 1915, five years before women were awarded degrees; however, she received her hard-earned degree when this rule changed in 1920. She worked as an advertiser, but is best known as the author of the Lord Peter Wimsey detective series. In her novel Gaudy Night, women's education at Oxford is a central focus of the plot.
Felicia Skene: Felicia Skene and her family moved to Oxford in the 1840s. During the 1854 cholera outbreak in the city, Skene organised a group of nurses to look after the sick. Many of these nurses later went out to the Crimea to work with Skene's childhood friend, Florence Nightingale. Skene continued her philanthropic work in Oxford, working with people living in poverty and with prisoners at the city jail. She also wrote poetry, and several non-fiction and semi-fictional books.
Mary Augusta Ward: A novelist and activist, Mary Ward held the notorious position of President of the Women's National Anti-Suffrage League, an organisation devoted to stopping women being granted the vote in parliamentary elections. The Anti-Suffrage League believed that women's role in politics should be limited to local activities, as this would be all they could be reasonably expected to take on. Mary Ward also took on some more progressive causes, however - she was heavily involved in promoting the education of poor people, founding the Mary Ward Centre, which is still open today.
Jeanette Winterson: Jeanette Winterson read English at St Catherine's College, before going on to become a famous author. Her best-known work is Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit; she has also written children's books, short stories, and memoirs.
Barbara Woodhouse: Barbara Woodhouse founded Headington Riding School, but was best known for her TV series Training Dogs the Woodhouse Way. She wrote several books on dog and horse training, as well as her autobiography, Talking To Animals.