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Lady Margaret Hall Library: Female Authors & Education

This is a previous exhibition, but if you are interested in viewing one of the objects you can make an appointment (email Exhibitions in the library rotate once or twice a year. Have a look at our current exhibitions to see what's on at the moment.

Female Authors & Education

This exhibition, launched in Trinity 2016, looks at selected items from LMH's Special Collections relating to female authors and the history of female education.

By Jamie Fishwick-Ford and Florence Graham

Female Authors

Titlepage of Les Memoires de la Royne Marguerite

1 of 4 | Margaret of Valois

Before formal education began, the level of female education was incredibly varied. Whilst the majority of women had little schooling, some aristocrats and royals were expected to participate in government and were educated accordingly.

Margaret of Valois (1553–1615) was a fascinating woman: the last surviving member of the House of Valois, daughter of King Henry II of France and Catherine de Medici. She married her distant cousin, King Henry of Navarre, and after all of her brothers died without heirs her husband inherited the throne as the first Bourbon King of France.

Her memoirs, written whilst imprisoned by her brother and then by her husband, provide a behind-the-scenes look at the politics of the disputes and wars between her brothers and her husband during the French Wars of Religion and the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.

She was famous for her beauty, style, and licentious lifestyle. Her life inspired numerous stories, including Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and Dumas’ La Reine Margot.

Les memoires de la Royne Marguerite (Paris, 1628)

Titlepage of Madame du Noyer's memoirs

2 of 4 | Anne-Marguerite du Noyer

Anne-Marguerite du Noyer (1663–1719) was a journalist, who wrote about the negotiations leading to the Peace of Utrecht. She was clever and funny, and specialised in reporting on the scandals and gossip of the ruling classes. She was particularly praised and widely read because she brought an often-lacking woman’s perspective to the political issues of the day. Whilst Queen Margaret wrote as one of the most powerful figures in her country, Madam de Noyer wrote for her living, selling her twice-weekly newspaper in order to survive.

This book, and the previous book by Queen Margaret, were both donated by Yvonne Rowe née Searle (LMH 1938–41).

Lettres historiques et galantes par Madame de Noyer (Paris, 1790)

Titlepage of the second volume of Mrs Behn

3 of 4 | Aphra Behn

Aphra Behn (1640–89) was the first female English author to earn her living through writing. After a brief career as a spy for Charles II she turned to writing for the stage and novels, being a key member of the libertine circles of the Restoration. She is famously praised in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929):

‘All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn which is, most scandalously but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.’

Aphra Behn, Histories, novels, and translations (London, 1700)

Titlepage of Mansfield Part vol. 1 by Jane Austen

4 of 4 | Jane Austen

Jane Austen (1775–1817) had a typically fragmented education, mostly being taught at home by her mother, father, and brothers. Her family had a lively intellectual atmosphere, with rigorous debating, and Jane was encouraged to read her way through their library and that of their friend Warren Hastings. She did have two slightly more formal periods of education: briefly in Oxford under Ann Cawley, the widow of the Principal of Brasenose, in 1783; and in a boarding school from 1785–86.

This first edition of Mansfield Park was donated by Katharine Mary Briggs (LMH 1918–22).

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (London, 1814)

Women's Education in the 19th Century

Titlepage of Wollstonecraft's Vindication

1 of 3 | The Right to Education

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–97) was an 18th-century author and women's rights advocate. This book argues that women should have the same fundamental rights as men, as both are equal before God, and in particular this includes the right to a full education.

Her reputation was greatly damaged by a biography of her published by her husband William Godwin after her death, which included details of her love affairs, atheism, and suicide attempts. Society wasn’t yet ready to hear such details about a woman’s life, and her works were widely ridiculed as a result.

Donated by Edith Bulbring (LMH Fellow 1960–76).

Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the rights of woman (Dublin, 1793)

Satirical drawing of a female teacher

2 of 3 | Opponents of Female Education

Whilst the cause of women’s education and women’s schools spread during the 19th century, the concept was ridiculed by many. This satirical cartoon was published in Cruikshank’s Comic Almanack in 1847.

Donated by Philippa Wigan (LMH 1929–32).

George Cruikshank, The Comic Almanack (London, 1847)

Titlepage of The Barnacle

3 of 3 | Women Educating Each Other

The Barnacle was an in-house publication of the Gosling Society (1859–1877). The novelist Charlotte Mary Yonge, a friend of the first principal of LMH, was the ‘Mother Goose’ of this society, which fostered female intellectual stimulation in a time before universities were open to women. In the top right side of this page (the cover page of the first issue of The Barnacle from 1863), the ladies are shown distributing their magazine at a university. The caption reads: ‘Ye University do sue for a copy of ye famous Barrnacle’, suggesting the women’s desire to have an active presence at universities.

Each young lady wrote two pieces an issue and sent them to Mother Goose, who then circulated the best around the society. Most of the pieces are essays or stories written in instalments but there are also poems, illuminations, drawings and jokes. Punctuality was very important to Mother Goose; she kept a record of when she received each essay and is often depicted in illustrations as a goose advocating punctuality. The contributors all had pennames, such as Albatross, Bog Oak, Mockingbird, Ladybird, Gurgoyle [sic] and Frog. Bog Oak (Anne Elizabeth Mary Anderson Moreshead) was one of the most active contributors to The Barnacle.

Donated by Ester Georgina Battiscombe née Harwood (LMH 1924–27).

Women's Education at Oxford

Titlepage of Wordsworth's

1 of 4 | LMH's First Principal

Female education in Oxford began with the opening of Lady Margaret Hall and Somerville in 1879. This book is by Elizabeth Wordsworth (1840–1932), the founding Principal of Lady Margaret Hall, a prolific author who wrote poetry, plays, novels, children’s literature, religious articles, and biographies.

Like Jane Austen, she was largely educated at home apart for one year at a boarding school, and read widely. Her brother was a Fellow of Brasenose, and it was through him that she met the group intent on providing a university education for women in Oxford. It was her who proposed that this new female hall should be named after Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, a gentlewoman, a scholar, and a saint: exactly what Elizabeth felt our students should be.

Donated by Ruth Marion Hallowes (LMH 1905–08).

Elizabeth Wordsworth, Only a Feather (London, 1904)

Titlepage to The Daisy

2 of 4 | The Daisy, LMH's First Student Newspaper

The Daisy was an early LMH student publication that was published once a term.  The issues contain works that vary in genre: articles on current and local events, reviews of lectures and performances, updates on the various College societies, short stories, poems and travel accounts. Every issue includes a summary of the latest Debating Society Meeting, citing the members who attended and the topic discussed. An unusually stirring topic in 1890 seems to have been on ‘the morality of artificial bids to beauty’. The longest works are the travel accounts, which include much detail on journeys through Romania and America.

A pamphlet relating to giving women degrees

3 of 4 | Degrees For Women

LMH was founded in 1879, and women were given the right to sit University examinations in 1884. However, at first they were not allowed to claim degrees. There was a bitter debate on this topic in 1896, illustrated by this pamphlet, but Congregation rejected proposals to give women the right to take BA degrees. A compromise proposal, to allow women to be awarded a diploma rather than a degree, was also rejected. It wasn’t until 1920 that women were allowed to take Oxford degrees.

Donated by Joseph Wells (Warden of Wadham 1913–27, Vice Chancellor 1923–26).

Admission of Women to the B.A. Degree (Oxford, 1896)

Article from The Fritillary about women's degrees

4 of 4 | The Fritillary

The Fritillary was a magazine of the Oxford women’s colleges published 1894–1931, which replaced The Daisy. It was enthusiastically pro-suffrage and campaigned relentlessly for women to be able to take degrees, but also containing a wide mix of reports from debating societies, poetry by students, and letters from the Cambridge women’s colleges.

Contact the Library

LMH Special Collections are open to visitors by appointment (email during staffed hours, Monday to Friday, 9.30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Lady Margaret Hall Library
Norham Gardens
United Kingdom


Telephone: (01865) 274361

The librarian, Jamie

Jamie Fishwick-Ford

(Librarian, they/them)

Sally Hamer

(Assistant Librarian, she/her)