Brief History of Mansfield's Women (For Screenreaders)
A new era for Mansfield: C. Coltman (1913-1917)
1913 saw the arrival of the first female student for ministerial training, Constance Mary Todd (later Coltman). The Principal at the time, Dr W.B. Selbie, saw in her not only great intellectual and personal capacity but also a genuine calling to the ministry. She met and surpassed his expectations, winning the Fairburn Memorial Essay Prize and showing a particular aptitude for Hebrew.
As the first, and only, female student at the time, it was much credit to her abilities and personality that in May 1914 the JCR passed a resolution confirming women’s entry to Mansfield College, giving them access to the same facilities for theological study as men- although women still remained banned from House meetings.
Coltman proved to be an active member of the JCR, organizing conference talks such as the one in 1915 given by Maude Royden, which she chaired, and served as its President from 1915-16. One of her greatest achievements, however, was being the first English woman to be ordained as a minister. On 17 September 1917 she, along with her fiancée Claud Coltman whom she had met whilst at Mansfield, was ordained to the Congregational Ministry in London.
She dedicated the following years to her ministry, including Cowley Road in Oxford from 1924-1932 and was a committed pacifist, suffragist and promoter of women’s ordination. Dr. Selbie’s favourable attitude towards women’s ordination, and the example of Coltman, probably encouraged the further four female students who studied at Mansfield during his Principalship.
D. Wilson (1924-1927)
(pictured centre) Dorothy Frances Wilson was the first woman to be a full member of Mansfield College and to gain the Oxford Diploma in Theology with Distinction. She also followed Constance’s footsteps in becoming a Congregational minister, being ordained at Carrs Lane, Birmingham in 1928 and going on to her first full charge at Hest Bank Church, near Lancaster, a short time later.
Like Coltman, Wilson was an active member of the JCR, giving talks in the Chapel. She demonstrated a great depth of personal faith and sympathetic understanding of human need, while battling with her personal ill-health and physical disability.
E. J. Rutherford (1928-1931)
Ellen Joyce Rutherford (1928-1931) followed the examples of Constance and Dorothy by entering into the full spirit of Mansfield College life, becoming the first female JCR Treasurer in 1930. Rutherford was appointed directly from Mansfield to become Women’s Secretary of the London Missionary Society, an organization with a world-wide reach.
M. Thorpe (1951-53)
Marian Thorpe, (later McKean) arrived at Mansfield in 1951. Her father had also been a Mansfield College student. Thorpe had a difficult experience at Mansfield as she was not allowed to have meals in College, except on Sermon Class evenings, nor was she allowed to dine in Hall on the Wednesday evenings when she had preached in chapel at the pre-dinner service.
Due to a mixture of family and personal reasons she wasn’t ordained until 1975, in Scotland. Part of the reason for the delay was the difficulty for married women ministers being called by congregations to a pastorate. From 1978 until 1992 she worked in Mastrick, Aberdeen.
I. Robbins (1930-1933)
Irene Robbins (1930-1933) entered Mansfield College as a mature student having spent her previous years working with children through her teaching at preparatory schools and being involved in pioneering developments in Sunday School work. She too was an active and popular member of College and the JCR, being elected as Secretary, and generally demonstrated great scholarship.
Robbins was ordained in 1935 and settled at Hungerford in Berkshire, a church which had strong links with Mansfield College. Her commitment to the ordination of women was illustrated by her article in Christian World (25 April 1935, p.16) , “A Plea for the Ministry of Women”, written during her last term at Mansfield. She wrote “We do not know whereunto the ministry of women will grow, though we know the fine work which the few women who hold pastorates are doing. What if it be of God? …. Can we [the Christian church] run the risk of being found fighting against God?”.
The mid-century & WW2 (1932-1953)
Several factors contributed towards the decline in numbers of female students during these years, the initial being the massive social upheaval of the Second World War. Dr Selbie retired in 1932 and was succeeded by Nathaniel Micklem, who was Principal until 1953. While not averse to female students, Micklem sadly had reservations about the need for women ministers, as he wrote in a pamphlet on ecumenism in 1951 :
“My own view ….. wherever there is a small group of ministers working together, at least one of them should be a woman … but I am very doubtful whether, except in a very few cases, there is an opening for women ministers or a desire for them in our ministry as it is now”.
WW2: Code makers at Mansfield
The National Service (Armed Forces) Act in 1939 brought great changes to the composition of the UK’s workforce, as men between the ages of 18-40 were conscripted to serve in World War Two. The war also brought changes to Mansfield, as the College was requisitioned in 1939, under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act by the Government Codes and Ciphers Division (a precursor to the modern-day GCHQ).
The arrival of these code-makers, known as the Construction Section, meant that all of a sudden, Mansfield was largely occupied by civilian women. Their work in Naval Communications was vital to national security.
A new kind of College life: Bletchley Park at Mansfield
An in-house magazine called The Monitor featured a satirical poem called ‘The Ten in the Tower’. The author of the verses is unknown, but we know that it was written by the first of several members of the British Women's Royal Naval Service to join the men in their separate activities. The tongue-in-cheek verses joke about about the various naval officers who were in charge of the operations and is an interesting artefact of the extremely gendered hierarchies and attitudes of the time:
“At Mansfield College, Mansfield Road,/ We labour, making many a...ssh./ Two hundred girls, all shapes and ages/ And ten strong men all wise as sages” .
(Courtesy of Bletchley Park Oral History project.)
Spotlight: J. Coppock, Code Maker
"All the colleges of Oxford University had been taken over by government ministries... Mansfield had the Foreign Office; also in Mansfield Road was Manchester College which was occupied, I think, by Cartography [...] Our job in Room K was to record every Naval message, whether sent by cable or wireless, from Royal Navy or Merchant Navy ships, or shore establishments. We recorded them in lead-weighted books, the same as on-board ships, which in an emergency could be ditched overboard, and sink. Where we would sink them if they had to be disposed of in Oxford I don’t know – the Isis probably! ...Our main purpose was to ensure that no code was used too often. We would send the information off to Bletchley Park and they would probably arrange for a different code to be issued."
- June Coppock
(Text and photo courtesy of Bletchley Park Oral History Project interview with June Coppock, May 2015.)
1970s: Women in the SCR
Pamela Busby (now de Witt) was the first woman member of the SCR. Pamela was a Lecturer in English from 1971- 1978 Next came Lecturer in Mathematics, Janet Dyson, who joined the SCR in 1977.
1979: The first mixed cohort
Sue Unerman (1979, Modern History) writes about her experiences in the first mixed-gender cohort in 1979. "I’d been at an all girls school for 10 years. My teachers had recommended applying to a women’s college, but at that time I really wanted a change. Joining what was essentially a men’s college as the first intake of women undergrads wasn’t necessarily the plan, but it didn’t feel intimidating, it felt exciting. Joining Mansfield however was thrilling in any respect. A life changing moment. I think we were very conscious of being the first women. There were 9 of us undergrads with over 150 men! The first JCR meeting it felt like everyone’s eyes were on us. You certainly didn’t lack for attention of every kind. Mostly it was curiosity and very warm. But there was talk of the fact that we shouldn’t be trusted to use the billiard table, and some envy that only the women’s rooms were equipped with full length mirrors. We were housed in pairs next to each other, which made sense as it gave us a friend, and my next door neighbour on that first day, Sandra became my soulmate throughout Oxford. "
1980: Revd J. Wyatt Appointed
Justine Wyatt was appointed as Mansfield's Assistant Chaplain, the second woman Chaplain in the University.
1980: The second mixed cohort
“It didn’t bother me at all that it had previously been an all male college, after seven years at an all-girls grammar school I was determined to do some mixing! It turned out that I very much enjoyed being part of the tiny female minority. From memory there were only seven girls in the 1980 intake, and had only been six the year before, so it was fun to be in The First Mansfield Ladies’ Eight, ‘first’ because there had never been enough women to crew a boat before.
I can only remember two problems : that the male rowers wouldn’t let us use a proper shell, we had to row in an incredibly heavy wooden clinker. More unfortunately, the Bursar had thought it was a nice idea to keep all the women together in the ground floor rooms of B and C staircase – not a great idea when there was no security on the grounds or locks on the front doors at all. I vividly remember my first experience of a peeping tom looking through my window! The next year, I hope the girls were moved upstairs.
My first year at Mansfield surpassed all my expectations of what life at University could be like. It was the most welcoming and friendly place, helped by the high proportion of state school students and the feeling that as we were all in the same ‘rejects’ club’ we had a lot to prove."
- Sarah Harkness (PPE, 1980) reflecting on her time in the second mixed-gender cohort.
2002: D. Walford CBE FRCP appointed Principal
Diana Walford is an English clinical haematologist, who has held senior posts in the NHS, the civil service and higher education. She was the first woman to be a Principal at Mansfield, holding the post for 9 years, from 2002 – 2011.
2011: Principal H. Kennedy, QC, FRSA, Hon, FRSE
Helena Kennedy succeeded Diana Walford as Principal of Mansfield from 2011-2018. Helena is a Scottish barrister, whose expertise include human rights law, civil liberties and constitutional issues. broadcaster and member of the House of Lords. Photo by John Cairns.
2018: H. Mountfield QC becomes Principal
Helen Mountfield succeeded Helena Kennedy as Principal in 2018. Specialising in constitutional law, human rights and equality law, she has appeared in many cases in the Supreme Court, European Court of Justice and European Court of Human Rights. Helen is a founder member of Matrix Chambers, an accredited mediator, a Master of the Bench of Gray’s Inn, a Recorder and a deputy High Court Judge.
Helen also plays an active role in public policy. She was co-chair, with Tom Watson MP, of the Independent Commission on the Future of Work in the Digital Economy; a member of the Royal Society of Arts’ Commission on Drugs Policy; and part of the Disability Rights Commission’s review of barriers to access to the professions. She is a trustee of the Institute for the Future of Work, the Equal Rights Trust and the National Campaign for the Arts.
We're proud to have so many world changing women as Honorary Fellows. Here are just a few who are leading the way in their respective fields and who we are proud to consider part of the Mansfield community.
(From L - R Prof Dame Parveen Kumar CBE DBE BSc MD FRCP FRCP (E), Dame Maggie Smith CH DBE, Hillary Rodham Clinton, 67th Secretary of State of the United States of America, Errollyn Wallen MBE, Prof Dame Julia Slingo DBE FRS, Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Baroness Shami Chakrabarti CBE and Baroness Hale Richmond DBE PC LLD FBA)
Spotlight: Dame Prof J. Bell Burnell
Jocelyn is an astrophysicist from Northern Ireland who discovered the first radio pulsars back n 1967. Her supervisor went on to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1974. In 2018 she was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. She donated the £2.3 million prize money to help unrepresented groups seeking to become physics researchers in a bursary known as the “Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund”.
Spotlight: Prof H. Margetts, OBE
Professor Helen Margetts is a Turing Fellow and Director of the Public Policy Programme at The Alan Turing Institute. Her fields of research include the relationship between technology, politics, public policy and government. Helen sits on the UK government’s Digital Economy Council, the Home Office Scientific Advisory Council, the WEF Global Agenda Council on Agile Government and the Ada Lovelace Institute for Data Ethics.
In the 2019 New Year's Honours List she was awarded an OBE for services to social and political science. In 2019 she was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy and also took up a visiting appointment as the John F Kluge Senior Chair in Technology and Society at the Library of Congress.
Looking to the future
We've come a long way since 1913, but there's still much to be done to make education, academic life and ideas available to a broad range of people without discrimination. Mansfield College values diversity and difference as necessary elements of a vibrant intellectual culture. In the present day, we are striving to foster an inclusive community based on equality and respect.