"The creativity, intelligence and activity of successive generations, rather than the fact that we're female [or] that Sylvia Plath studied here, make the College what is right now." Caroline Brown


Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900), Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy and Founder

Henry Sidgwick threw huge energy into founding Newnham: not a popular project in nineteenth-century Cambridge. He was a leader in finding and funding temporary, then permanent buildings; in promoting Univerity reforms, including the gradual and grudging acceptance of women; and in teaching women students when they arrived (he worried about their ‘unfortunate personal appearance’— too good-looking to be inconspicuous!). He married Eleanor Balfour, who as Mrs Sidgwick became the second Principal.He lived and died at Newnham, and is commemorated in the names of Sidgwick Pond, Sidgwick Hall, Sidgwick Avenue and Sidgwick Site.

Sidgwick wrote on classics, philosophy and political economy. In 1869 his religious doubts led him to resign his Fellowship at Trinity, for which there was a religious test (later abolished). For the rest of his life he opposed religious requirements; this is reflected in the fact that Newnham remains a College without a chapel. Sidgwick’s conversation was full of fun, mischief and joking word-play, known to his contemporaries as ‘Sidgwickedness’; yet he thought it right to suppress wit and sparkle in writing philosophy. He succeeded in this, and his most significant book, Methods of Ethics, is a dry read, but still admired and discussed a century after his death.

Onora O'Neill, 2004

To read further

  • Method of Ethics; Henry Sigwick, Macmillan, London, 1874 and 6 further editions
  • Sidgwick’s Ethics and Victorian Moral Philosophy; J.B. Schneewind, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1977.
  • Sidgwick, Henry; Bart Schultz, in E. Craig, ed., Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Routledge, London, 1998.
  • Henry Sidgwick: Eye of the Universe. An intellectual biography; Bart Schultz, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2004
  • A Newnham Anthology;  Ann Phillips, Newnham College Cambridge, 1979
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