'If a female had once passed the gate ...'

Trinity Women Graduates Centenary Exhibition, 1922-2022

The Library of Trinity College Dublin

Ciara Daly

First female graduates who studied at Trinity (1906)The Library of Trinity College Dublin

Introduction

To celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of its establishment, Trinity Women Graduates formerly known as the Dublin University Women Graduates Association has partnered with the Library of Trinity College to present an exhibition of photographs, records and other historical documents from the Trinity Women Graduates’ archive.

Timetable of subjects for the Trinity College Dublin examinations for Women 1876 (1876) by Trinity Women GraduatesThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

Trinity College Dublin Examinations for Women

In 1870, following a request from Alexandra College, Trinity College established its ‘Examinations for Women’, to offer junior and senior level examinations for girls due to a rise in demand for further education.
(TCD MUN V 42/2) 

Register of attendants at the Trinity College Dublin examinations for Women 1876 (1876) by Trinity Women GraduatesThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

The Register of attendants to the Dublin University Examinations for women, shows the variety of subjects that were to be examined and lists the junior candidates for the 1876 examinations. ​


(TCD MUN V 42/2) 

First women graduates of the Royal University of Ireland 1884 (1884) by Trinity Women GraduatesThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

Royal University of Ireland​

The number of candidates of the Trinity Examinations increased over the 1870s and in 1879 the Royal University of Ireland was founded in accordance with the University Education (Ireland) Act 1879 as an examining and degree-awarding university. ​Examinations were opened to candidates regardless of attendance at college lectures. The university became the first university in Ireland that could grant degrees to women on a par with those granted to men. (TCD MUN 9787/211)​

Conclusion to memorandum sent to the Board of resolution passed at meeting of a committee from the Queen’s Institute of female professional schools, signed by A.B Corlett, 9th October 1873. (1873) by Trinity Women GraduatesThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

The Campaign for Admission

Over twelve years, women in Ireland campaigned with several petitions and proposals supporting university education for women and their right to higher education. However, in 1904, women were admitted to Degrees in Trinity College Dublin. The initiative and determination of these women brought about a wave of developments in education for women in Ireland. As early as 1873, there was a demand for the higher education of women. ​​(TCD MUN P 1/2153)

In a memorandum sent to the Board on 9th October 1873 by A.B. Corlett, secretary of the Queen’s Institute of Female Professional Schools, Corlett addresses the need for the higher education of women and states that "It concerns the honor of Ireland that her universities should inaugurate such enlightened policy by inviting women desirous of obtaining the highest education to study in the schools. Nor should it be overlooked that only those women whose influence on Society would be of the most valuable kind are likely to seek their education at mens Universities. The studies to be pursued are not of a nature to attract frivolous minds, nor will many seek for entrance but those who are patiently resolved to devote themselves to gain such an education as will render them benefactors to others."​

Memorial presentation at the tercentenary of Dublin University June 1892., Trinity Women Graduates, 1892, From the collection of: The Library of Trinity College Dublin
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Signatures for the memorial presentation at the tercentenary of Dublin University June 1892 signed by 10,560 Irish Women of the educated classes, Trinity Women Graduates, 1892, From the collection of: The Library of Trinity College Dublin
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TCD MUN P 1/2441

In 1892, coinciding with the tercentenary celebrations of Trinity College; the Central Association of Irish Schoolmistresses presented a memorial of 10,560 signatures of Irish women of "the educated classes" asking the board of Trinity College to open its degrees to women.

Close up of signatures of Jane Francesca Agnes, Lady Wilde and Constance Mary Wilde on the memorial presentation at the tercentenary of Dublin University June 1892 (1892) by Trinity Women GraduatesThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

Signatories include both the mother and wife of Oscar Wilde: Jane Francesca Agnes, Lady Wilde and Constance Mary Wilde.​

The memorial tried to win the support of those who did not have an interest in university for themselves and also highlighted the cultural benefit of university education beyond pursuing a career in teaching. However, the Board refused to acknowledge the petition until the following year.​

Statement of the board regarding Women’s education at Trinity College Dublin, July 1895 page 1 (1895) by Trinity Women GraduatesThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

Statement of the Board regarding women’s education July 1895

The Statement examines the feasibility, possibility and risks associated with admitting women to Trinity College Dublin and the effects this could have on the reputation of the University.​
TCD MUN P 1/2526 [3]

The Board states that "cases of scandal might from time to time occur", and "even if no worse evil occurred than that parents found the son whom they sent here early entangled in an imprudent marriage, they would not consider that evil small.". ​
The Board were overcome by their fear of the consequences of admitting women to degrees but did enact changes to the examinations for women which allowed them to be examined in senior freshman honour courses and in any moderatorship courses.​
This was a conservative approach as women could study at university level in Oxford and Cambridge but could not be conferred with degrees. The campaign for admission continued.

Resolution and Royal Letters Patent received from the King concerning the admission of women to degrees, Trinity Women Graduates, 1904, From the collection of: The Library of Trinity College Dublin
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Resolution adopted by the Board following the Resolution and Royal Letters Patent recieved concerning the admission of women to degrees, Trinity Women Graduates, 1904, From the collection of: The Library of Trinity College Dublin
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TCD MUN WOMEN 8/1 291

​John Mahaffy was appointed as Registrar in 1901 and was an active supporter of the Campaign for the admission of Women. ​He proposed to the Board in January 1902 "that the time had come to take action in the matter of giving degrees in Arts to Women". The proposal carried with Provost George Salmon and two others opposing the motion. ​Mahaffy proposed again in March 1902 that a letter from the King should be sought to give women degrees in Arts and Medicine. The Lord Lieutenant then petitioned to ask the King to issue Letters Patent for the admission of women. However, the King was reluctant to promote this legislation as the provost of Trinity College Dublin, George Salmon was so violently opposed to it. In July 1903, the health of Provost Salmon declined, and he wrote to the King to withdraw his opposition and Letters Patent were issued in January 1904. Provost Salmon died eight days later on 22nd January 1904.

The Board adopted on the 4th June 1904, the following Resolution regarding Women Students: "Women Students or Graduates of other Universities in which women are given full academic status, are entitled to every privilege granted to men of the same standing."

Portrait of Isabella Mulvany, first woman honorary Graduate 1904 (1904) by Trinity Women GraduatesThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

The Admission of Women to Trinity College Dublin

In 1904, formal recognition to admission of women was given by Trinity by awarding honorary degrees to three female pioneers of higher education. An LL.D for Isabella Mulvany, Honorary Litt.D for Dr Sophie Bryant & Honorary Litt.D for Jane Barlow.  ‘Isabella Mulvany’ (TCD MUN SOC WGA)

First female graduates who studied at Trinity (1906)The Library of Trinity College Dublin

First Women Graduates at the Michaelmas Commencements 1906

Muriel Lora Bennett graduated with a gold medal for first place in Modern Literature; Eileen Frances McCutchan graduated in Ethics and Logic; Edith Marion O’Shaughnessy, Eliza Beck Douglas, Brighid Stafford, and Lisabeth Burkitt Craig graduated in Modern Literature; Annie Jane Saunderson graduated in Modern History and Political Science, and Madeline Stuart Baker graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine. (TCD MUN WOMEN 7/1)

Disciplinary Regulations for Women Students 1908 (1904) by Trinity Women GraduatesThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

Regulations for Women Students 1908

The aim of these rules was to have women students fit into college life without making a difference to the current routine. They did not allow for the integration and assimilation of women into the mainstream college routine. (TCD MUN WOMEN 8/1/293)

Although ‘women students are now equally admissible with men students to lectures and examinations, and to the privilege of reading in the library’ they were subject to college rules and statutes. These rules were strictly enforced in the early years but as women steadily assimilated into college life, they began to gain traction and recognition as both students and staff.​

Photograph of Miss Lucy Gwynn, Lady Registrar and Miss Margery Cunningham, Warden with residents of Trinity Hall, 1910 (1910) by Trinity Women GraduatesThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

In 1905, Miss Lucy Gwynn was appointed as Lady Registrar for women students. By having a separate Registrar and residence for women the college were able to emphasise the separation of the male and female student populations in everything except lectures and exams. (TCD MUN WOMEN 7/2)​

Lucy Gwynn, Lady Registrar and Margery Cunningham, Warden with residents of Trinity Hall, 1910.​

Photograph of the July 1906 TCD Commencements of the Oxbridge women (1906) by Trinity Women GraduatesThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

The Steamboat Ladies

Following the admittance of women to degrees in Trinity in 1904 a request came from women in Oxford and Cambridge to have Trinity degrees awarded to them ad eundem gradum at a time when their own universities refused to confer degrees upon women. (TCD MS 4717/201)  ​

Commencement books 1904-1927 (1904) by Trinity Women GraduatesThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

Between 1904 and 1907, hundreds of women from Oxbridge women's colleges travelled to Dublin on steamboats to receive their degrees. They became known as the 'Steamboat Ladies'.
This is the commencement book from 1904 listing the names of women from Newnham and Girton colleges, Cambridge who received ad eundem gradum degrees from Trinity College Dublin. ​​(TCD MUN WOMEN/2/1)

Documentary on the Steamboat Ladies by Patricia Baker

Steamboat Ladies is produced by Patricia Baker and is a Curious Broadcast production funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland with the television licence fee. Steamboat Ladies was originally broadcast on Newstalk FM, and is available to listen to at http://curiousbroadcast.com/steamboat-ladies/2191/

Dublin University Women Graduates' Association Committee Report from 1922, Trinity Women Graduates, 1922, From the collection of: The Library of Trinity College Dublin
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Dublin University Women Graduates' Association Proposed Constitution 1922, Trinity Women Graduates, 1922, From the collection of: The Library of Trinity College Dublin
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Membership Card for the Dublin University Women Graduates Association, Trinity Women Graduates, 1922, From the collection of: The Library of Trinity College Dublin
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'Dublin University Women Graduates' Association Report, 1922'  (TCD MUN SOC WGA) 'Membership Card' (TCD MUN SOC WGA)

​In March 1922 a preliminary meeting, with Lucy Gwynn as the chair, decided that an association of Women Graduates was needed for the rising number of female graduates.​ The Dublin University Women Graduates Association was founded on 25th April 1922 and held its inaugural meeting in Trinity Week that year. Lucy Gwynn, the first Lady Registrar of Trinity College was the founding president, with Olive Purser, first female scholar, as vice-president​. The first secretary was Averil Deverell, one of the first women lawyers. Other members included Olive Armstrong, Fridzweeda Berry, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Frances Moran, Lillian Luce and Muriel Thompson. A significant milestone in increasing the status of women within Trinity College was the founding and establishment of the Dublin University Women Graduates Association, now known as Trinity Women Graduates. The association was established so that women graduates could stay connected with the university and with each other. The association had rooms in Number 6 Front Square and organised lectures, visits, weekly gatherings, alumni dinners and an ‘At Home’ during Trinity Week.

In 1904 there were 47 women admitted to Trinity, in 1914 that number grew to 198 and then in 1924 there were 245. By 1922, there was a significant number of women graduates and the Dublin University Women Graduates Association was established with 108 members.​

Presidents of the Trinity Women Graduates from 1922-2022 (2022) by Trinity Women GraduatesThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

Presidents of Trinity Women Graduates 1922-2022

Trinity Women Graduates has had many Presidents, all of whom have had a lasting impact on the Association.  They have adapted and developed the society over the last 100 years to make it one of the longest running alumni societies in Trinity. 

Photograph of Professor Frances Moran (2004) by Trinity Women GraduatesThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

Professor Frances Moran

One notable woman who held the presidency was Professor Frances Moran, who was the first female appointed Reid Professor of Criminal Law at Trinity College Dublin in 1925 and was then elected to the Board in 1958. Professor Frances Moran was elected President of the Dublin University Women Graduates Association in 1950 and held the position for two years. She was given an Honorary Fellowship in 1968.​ 'Professor Frances Moran' (TCD MUN SOC WGA) 

List of attendants to the first Dublin University Women Graduates' Dinner in London, February 1926 (1926) by Trinity Women GraduatesThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

Dinner for DUWGA members in London 1926

On 26th February 1926, a Dinner was held in the Renommé Restaurant in London for DUWGA members living in London. ​Some of the earliest women graduates attended this dinner, including Eileen McCutchan, chair of the London branch and M.F Greeves, honorary secretary. (TCD MUN 4311/5/1)

Several functions were held for DUWGA members in London and after the war the DUWGA went on to set up an official London branch. Events included an annual dinner, theatre outings and talks given by speakers invited from Trinity and elsewhere in Ireland, to keep members up to date. The dinner was the first official gathering of DUWGA members in London. Many Trinity graduates had emigrated there, and the London branch of the Association offered a way for former graduates to stay connected while living abroad, as well as a support network for new graduates moving to Britain.

Minutes from DUWGA Minute Book 1934-1955 dated the 30th March 1954 concerning the organisation of the Jubilee Dinner in the dining hall (1954) by Trinity Women GraduatesThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

Dublin University Women Graduates Association Minute book

In a committee meeting on the 30th of March 1954, it was decided that a dinner be held on the Saturday following the Provost's reception commemorating the 50th anniversary of women being admitted to degrees in Trinity. 'DUWGA Minute Book 1934-1955' (TCD MUN SOC WGA)

Flyer for Dublin University Women Graduates Association Jubilee Dinner on the 9th October 1954 (1954) by Trinity Women GraduatesThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

Jubilee Dinner 1954

On 9th October 1954 the doors of the College dining hall were thrown open to women in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of women being admitted to degrees in Trinity College Dublin. This was a historic event in the history of women in Trinity as it was the first time women were allowed to host a dinner in the College Dining Hall.  'Flyer for DUWGA Jubilee Dinner' (TCD MUN SOC WGA)​

These celebrations were extremely significant in the history of women and Trinity: An Annual Record states that in 1954 "it is already possible to envisage profound changes in a University where the proportion of women continue to rise, and where ancient statutes, drafted with no thought of women, are held to leave the highest offices open to them."

Trinity News, a student newspaper, covered the celebrations, stated that 215 guests attended the dinner and some of the first women graduates were able to attend (Dublin University Women Graduates' Association, 1954, Trinity News)​.

Photograph of Olive Purser, First Woman Scholar and Lady Registrar, Trinity Women Graduates, 2004, From the collection of: The Library of Trinity College Dublin
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Front Cover of 'Women in Dublin University 1904-1954' by Olive Purser, Trinity Women Graduates, 1954, From the collection of: The Library of Trinity College Dublin
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'Olive Purser' (TCD MUN SOC WGA) and  'Women in Dublin University 1904-1954 by Olive Purser' (TCD MUN SOC WGA) 

In recognition of all her work and to mark the jubilee of women being admitted to Trinity Olive Purser, the first woman scholar in 1906 and Lady Registrar from 1918 to 1932, was awarded an honorary MA degree by Trinity College at the Jubilee Dinner. She wrote a succinct history based on her own experiences in Trinity entitled Women in Dublin University 1904-1954. In it she acknowledges how far women in Trinity had come in 1954.

'Fifty Years of Women' in 'Trinity an Annual Record' Michaelmas 1954 (1954) by Trinity: Record'The Library of Trinity College Dublin

Changes in attitudes to women

In the 1950s attitudes to women in College began to change. This shift eventually led to full academic equality in the 1960s.  ​(OLS L - 4- 437 EPB)

Rosaleen Mills was President of the DUWGA from 1959-1961.

However, in 'Fifty Years of Women' in Trinity: An Annual Record (Michaelmas 1954) Rosaleen Mills, former president of the DUWGA, commented on the achievements of women over the last 50 years. She remarked that while marked improvements had been made, women were still seen as inferior in the College due to the restrictions that still applied to them. Women still had to be off campus by 6pm and membership of the major societies was still closed to them. Trinity Women Graduates also had to request special permission to use their rooms in the evening and women staff still could not be members of the Common Room. ​
"All this after fifty five years, through the influence of individuals, has come by evolution, not revolution. The many change and pass, but the College endures, and may the women ever go from strength to strength" (Christabel Godfrey in the 1959 edition of Trinity: An Annual Record)

Barbara Wright,  Ita Kirwan (O'Boyle) and Vivienne Darling speaking about the changes for women in Trinity. Produced for WiSER Women in Science and Engineering Research by Angela Mezzetti of Ocarina Productions. You can watch the full video here. 

Photograph of Professor Jocelyn Otway-Ruthven (2004) by Trinity Women GraduatesThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

Equality for female staff

Following on from the milestone event of the DUWGA Jubilee, the late 1950s and early 1960s were an important time for female academic staff. Professor Jocelyn Otway-Ruthven was appointed as staff in 1938 and was one of the first four female staff members elected to Fellowship in 1968. Professor Jocelyn Otway-Ruthven (TCD MUN SOC WGA)

Photograph of Ita O'Boyle, Trinity Women Graduates, 2004, From the collection of: The Library of Trinity College Dublin
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Photograph of Catherine Brock, Trinity Women Graduates, 2004, From the collection of: The Library of Trinity College Dublin
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Professor Barbara Wright, Trinity Women Graduates, 2004, From the collection of: The Library of Trinity College Dublin
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 Ita Kirwan (O'Boyle) was appointed as junior lecturer in German in 1959; Catherine McNamara was appointed as junior lecturer in Economics in 1961; Barbara Wright was appointed as lecturer in French in 1965 and became a senior fellow in 1990. Ita Kirwan (O'Boyle)  (TCD MUN SOC WGA),  Catherine Brock (TCD MUN SOC WGA) Barbara Wright (TCD MUN SOC WGA).​​

On 4th October 1967, the Board decided that women could be admitted to Fellowship and Foundation Scholarship. Women had previously been eligible to apply for non-Foundation Scholarship but could now be appointed as Foundation Scholars.

Barbara Wright, Ita Kirwan (O'Boyle) and Corinna Salvadori talking about being elected to Fellowship in the 'All Changed', a documentary produced for WiSER Women in Science and Engineering Research by Angela Mezzetti of Ocarina Productions. You can watch the full video here.

Caligraphy reading 'Trinity Monday June 1968' (2004) by Trinity Women GraduatesThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

On Trinity Monday, June 1968 the first women Fellows were elected. This was a significant time for women in Trinity.  'Trinity Monday' (TCD MUN SOC WGA)

The 1960s brought about greater equality for women both outside and inside Trinity College. ​​

Photograph of the 207th Committee of The Hist, with Mary Harney, as the first female auditor of the Hist (1976) by The HistThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

Women were first admitted to the student debating society the Dublin University Historical Society (‘the Hist’) in 1968.  This society had been dubbed “[o]ne of the world’s last masculine strongholds” by a contributor to the 1962 Trinity Handbook. ​

Then in 1976 Mary Harney, later Tanaiste, was elected as the first female auditor of the Hist for the 207th Session.  This was another momentous occasion for women in Trinity.  'Photograph of Committee of the 207th Session' ​(TCD MUN SOC HIST)

Women were slowly assimilating fully into College life and by the end of the 20th century they were no longer seen as "a danger to the men."​

Programme of Events for 'A Century of Women in Trinity College Dublin' 2004 (2004) by Trinity Women GraduatesThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

2004 Centenary- 100 Years of Women in Trinity College Dublin

In 2004 Trinity College Dublin and the Dublin University Women Graduates Association celebrated the centenary of the admission of women as students to the college. This was a very important point in the history of Trinity College, and the Dublin University Women Graduates Association was at the forefront of preparatory activities. 'Programme of Events 2004' (TCD MUN SOC WGA)

They organised various events across the year including an exhibition, a Women's Commons and the launch of A Danger to the Men? A History of Women in Trinity College Dublin 1904-2004 by Susan M. Parkes. 

These celebrations ensured that "the women students of 2004, who readily accept the privileges of higher education, may honour the previous generations who led the way from that day in 1904 when the first women passed through Front Gate and modestly trod the cobblestones of Front Square." (Susan M. Parkes, A Danger to the Men? A History of Women in Trinity College Dublin 1904-2004).

Invitation to the launch of 'A Danger to the Men' on the 6th May 2004 (2004) by Trinity Women GraduatesThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

The celebration of the centenary of women being admitted as students to Trinity was a major event for the Dublin University Women Graduates Society and was marked by the publication of A Danger to the Men?: 'A History of Women in Trinity College Dublin 1904-2004' by Susan M. Parkes.​​
'Launch Invitation 2004' (TCD MUN SOC WGA) 

Reminiscences and memoirs were collected from women graduates and female staff members by the DUWGA to record the lived experiences of women attending Trinity College Dublin in the twentieth century.​ 

​In one such memoir entitled Recollections of Tranquility: Trinity Hall 1920-1925 Maura Conran muses that "by today's standards our lives will appear to have been dull and monotonous, but to us it was an exciting new-found freedom. It was accepted for the first time that women had their own opinions and were entitled to express them. […] Of course, many of our more serious discussions revolved around the age-old problem of 'boys' and little did we realise that we were in fact the pioneers of a new world order involving the freedom and independence of women." ​​

Women in Trinity have come a long way since the first women were admitted in 1904 and the Trinity Women Graduates continue to inspire future generations of women graduates of Trinity College Dublin.

Photograph of Provost Linda Doyle with statue of George Salmon, former Provost (2021) by Trinity Women GraduatesThe Library of Trinity College Dublin

A writer in the 1954 edition of Trinity: An Annual Record  mused that “time has done its work and it is not beyond the imaginative powers of the junior freshwomen of 1954 to picture a woman Provost of Trinity”.

Professor Linda Doyle was appointed as Provost after an all-female election in 2021, one hundred and seventeen years after women were admitted to Trinity College. Now when a woman passes through the Front Gate, there is no limit to what she can accomplish. 'Provost Doyle with past provost, George Salmon' (Photo courtesy of the Provost's Office)

The Library of Trinity College Dublin is delighted to have contributed to the centenary celebrations of the establishment of the Trinity Women Graduates and is very grateful to the Trinity Women Graduates for donating their archive and for collaborating with us on this project.

We wish to acknowledge the very generous funding towards the cataloguing, conserving and digitising of the collection provided by the TCD Association and Trust and the support of Trinity Development & Alumni (TDA).

Credits: Story

The physical exhibition, online exhibition and exhibition booklet was curated by Ciara Daly, Project Archivist.

Photography by Gillian Whelan, Senior Digital Photographer, Digital Collections.

Conservation work for exhibition by Clodagh Neligan, Senior Paper Conservator.

Technical support by Greg Sheaf, Web Services Librarian.


We are very grateful to Provost Linda Doyle, and all the staff in the Provost's Office for their support, and for providing the iconic image of the Provost that concludes this exhibition.

We would like to thank Angela Mezzetti of Ocarina Productions and TCGEL (WiSER Women in Science and Engineering Research) for use of the All Changed documentary and Patricia Baker and Curious Broadcasts for the Steamboat Ladies documentary.

We are also grateful to the Irish Times and Trinity News for permission to use articles from their respective digitised archives.

Thanks to colleagues in the Early Printed Books department for access to Trinity: An Annual Record.

And lastly a big thank you to Ellen O'Flaherty and all colleagues in the Manuscripts & Archives department for their support, patience and guidance.

Credits: All media
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