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Blanche Athena Clough 1861 - 1960

Blanche Athena Clough  1861 - 1960 Blanche Athena Clough, known to her family as Thena and to her students as B.A., was the last child of the poet Arthur Hugh Clough and Blanche Mary Shore Smith. Her father named her but he never saw her: he was already travelling in Europe for his health and three months after her birth he died in Florence.

Thena came up to Newnham in 1884 to read Classics and stayed on to act as secretary to the Principal, her aunt, Anne Jemima Clough. She was persuaded to remain after her aunt's death, despite enduring doubts about her own capacities, and accumulated a variety of offices, as her administrative talents were revealed and honed. She also took a major role in the planning of the Newnham gardens. In 1911 the College Council offered her the Principalship but she insisted it went instead to Katharine Stephen. She gave Katharine every support during the war years, while also piloting through the Royal Charter and Statutes (granted in 1917) which made Newnham the first women's College to become a self-governing academic community. In 1918 she became the token Cambridge woman on the Royal Commission to consider the finances of Oxford and Cambridge.

While the Royal Commission was sitting, the supporters of women's higher education were trying again to persuade the University of Cambridge to admit women to full membership. This tricky public situation led her colleagues to draft Thena into the Principalship in 1920. She fought valiantly; but the men on the Royal Commission were unwilling to force Cambridge to admit women as the price of receiving government money. And in October 1921 Thena had to face down male undergraduates celebrating Cambridge's refusal to admit women and using a coal trolley to batter the wrought-iron gates commemorating her aunt. She concluded that the next phase of the campaign for recognition would be a long one, best left to the younger generation, and retired from office in 1923. She divided her time between the New Forest, where she was a passionate gardener and bird-watcher, and London, where she did voluntary work for the London and National Society for Women's Service, working to expand employment opportunities for women.

The Clough family name resonates through Newnham and evokes Thena as well as her aunt. In 1887 it was Thena who presented the bouquet to the Princess of Wales at the opening of Clough Hall. The Arthur Hugh Clough Graduate Scholarship was endowed by her mother in memory of her father. The gardens are perhaps the memorial she would have appreciated most.

Gill Sutherland, 2004

Further Reading

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
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