Dorothy Garrod Building Life Stories

Newnham alumnae chose to celebrate friendships, memories, relatives and inspirational women, through sponsoring a ‘room of one’s own’ in the Dorothy Garrod Building.

These biographies share the varied lives of the people for whom the rooms were named. There are stories of triumph, of struggle, of significant choices and of lasting relationships. Some of the people celebrated here were students in the 1920s, and others, much closer to the present day.

The College is grateful for the sponsorship, which has all been put towards our student support funds, to ensure that today’s generation of Newnham students can have the experiences that our alumnae treasure, without the struggle caused by financial insecurity.

 

Alexandra Boakes (NC 1985)

Newnhamites always forge extraordinary paths in the world. Here Alexandra Boakes Tracy recounts the directions she took, inspired by her time at Newnham.

Alexandra Boakes Tracy is President of Hoi Ping Ventures in Hong Kong, which she founded in 2011 to provide research and consulting on sustainable and low carbon investment in Asian emerging markets.  Alexandra began her career as an investment banker in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, and then ran a number of start-up businesses, including a software company and a publishing and information business.

Following the sale of the latter, she was for several years Vice President – Strategy at First Eastern Investment Group, an independent private investment group in Hong Kong.  Since 2013, Alexandra has been a member of the Listing Committee of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.  She is also the Active Private Sector Observer to the United Nations Green Climate Fund, a director of the Climate Markets & Investment Association in the UK and a member of the Financial Services Business Council of the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.

Alexandra was non-executive Chairman of the Association for Sustainable & Responsible Investment in Asia for six years, stepping down in 2015, and was instrumental in establishing the Asia Investor Group on Climate Change during this period.  She sits on a number of corporate and non-profit boards in Hong Kong, including Tom Hugh Limited, where she is non-executive Chairman, the Asia Pacific Investors Cooperation and The Indus Entrepreneurs Hong Kong Chapter.  She is also an Advisor to the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology’s Asian Family Business Research Centre and to the NDCI.org climate commitment community.

Alexandra speaks and writes regularly on sustainable finance, development and infrastructure issues.  She has an MBA from the Harvard Business School and MA degrees from Yale University and Cambridge University.

Dorothy Buxton (NC 1901)

Few people have heard of Dorothy Buxton, but people all around the world know, support, and have been aided by the organisation that she co-founded. It was Newnham alumna Dorothy Buxton (NC 1901), together with her sister Eglantyne, who founded Save the Children.

Dorothy Jebb (1881-1963) came up to Newnham in 1901. The college had a strong tradition of social responsibility, as did Dorothy’s parents; the combination set Dorothy on a path that would change countless lives.

After completing her studies, she married Charles Buxton and had two children, Eglantyne and David. When the First World War began, Dorothy gave up the family home to German refugees and in 1915, with anti-German feeling high, obtained permission to import newspapers from neutral and enemy countries. With a team of translators, she produced ‘Notes from the Foreign Press’, to provide balanced coverage of news. By 1918, it was clear that the Allied blockade was causing famine and suffering. After the Armistice therefore, Dorothy and her sister Eglantyne Jebb, alongside others, formed the ‘Fight the Famine Council’.

Children across Europe were suffering from severe malnutrition and disease. In 1919, Dorothy arranged a consignment of aid to children in Austria, with £1,000 from the Quakers augmented by her own funds. This spurred her to propose a non-political relief fund: the Save the Children Fund. Dorothy led the charity in its first months, but then handed over leadership to Eglantyne, whilst still providing crucial support.

Dorothy then moved her own focus to political campaigning. In the 1930s, having learned about German concentration camps, she travelled to Germany to call for their abolition. During the Second World War, she lobbied for the welfare of German refugees and POWs.

Dorothy would not remain silent in the face of human suffering. She believed that its causes were not inevitable and that unjust policies must be challenged. She died in 1963 – a campaigner throughout her life.

For a biography of Dorothy Buxton, see Campaigning for Life by Dr Peta Dunstan

Nicola Chan (NC 1993)

For Nicola, Newnham was a way to follow her father into a career in medicine, while forging her own path in the beautiful and nurturing surroundings of College.

Nicola received her early education in Hong Kong and has always had an interest in science. She knew very early on that she wanted to follow the footsteps of her father to become a doctor. She joined Roedean School in Brighton at aged 14. It was during this time that she set her eyes on studying medicine in Cambridge.

Nicola chose Newnham as her first choice not only because of the beautiful gardens, but also because of the more relaxed, friendly and supportive environment that Newnham offered as a single-sex college. Never will Nicola forget the moment she opened the offer letter from Newnham. It was simply a dream come true to be admitted into Cambridge.

Nicola returned to Hong Kong after graduation and two years of clinical rotations in Cambridge and London. She continued her medical and dermatology training in Hong Kong, Boston and Baltimore in the USA, and has been practising as a qualified specialist in dermatology since 2008. She has also been elected to Fellowships in all three Royal Colleges of Physicians in UK.

In 2012, Nicola set up her own dermatology clinic in Hong Kong with the vision of providing high quality personalized and comprehensive dermatological treatment to her patients. She is currently the Director and Consultant Dermatologists at the Millennium Dermatology and Laser Centre.

Besides clinical work, she is also engaged in teaching of medical students and providing continuous professional education for practicing doctors in Hong Kong.

Nicola is married to Eric Tse, also a Cambridge alumnus and Professor of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong.

Nicola has always considered her time in Newnham as the most formative and memorable years of her life. Being able to mingle, interact and learn from the bests in the field was inspirational and a true privilege. The time at Cambridge also encouraged her to continuously stretch her capabilities to their limits. However, there is nothing that she treasures more than the life-long friendships with many other Newnhamites.

Mary Darke

Mary Darke lived life to the full. From escorting children to safe homes during the Evacuation Scheme of WWII; to becoming Chief Hospital Social Worker for Surrey; to paying long visits to Africa until late in life; Mary balanced hard work with many hobbies and always helped others in the community along the way. Here, her niece Cecilia Powell (NC 1963) celebrates her positive, fearless and adventurous outlook on life. 

Mary Darke (1920–2018) was born into a non-conformist medical family, her father being a general practitioner in Hounslow, Middlesex, after serving in the First World War. She was the youngest of three children, her elder brothers eventually becoming a consultant physician and a solicitor. Aged 19 at the outbreak of the Second World War, Mary contributed to the Evacuation Scheme, escorting London children to safe homes on the south coast, and also worked as a Land Girl. After this she attended the London School of Economics, which was itself evacuated to Cambridge for the duration of the war, based in Peterhouse. Mary’s much-admired uncle, the composer and organist Harold Darke (1888–1976), was then acting as Director of Music at King’s College, in the absence of Boris Ord on war service.

After training as an almoner at the Brompton Hospital in West London, Mary went on to work in Chichester and Edinburgh as well as at Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge before her final post as Chief Hospital Social Worker for Surrey, based in Guildford. Hard work was balanced by numerous hobbies: photography (at which she excelled and won prizes), pottery (which she sold at coffee mornings in aid of charity), painting and bird-watching. She was never a great reader and had no interest in cooking or other domestic matters, but liked to quote her mother’s remark that ‘You can’t be good at everything.’

Her faith and membership of the United Reformed Church played a central role in Mary’s life. She served as an Elder and was always an active contributor to community events. She was also a fearless traveller: until late in life she paid long visits to Africa, building close relationships with Kenyan families and often ‘roughing it’. There she helped in a ‘baby home’, supported women’s groups and sponsored college students.

Mary was always very positive and she recognised that being single had enabled her to lead a very full and adventurous life.

Written by her niece Cecilia Powell (Poulter, NC 1963)

 

Margaret Deuchar (NC 1971)

Margaret came to Newnham for the papers in linguistics, and forged an academic path that included a happy return to College as a fellow in 1990.

I applied to both Newnham and Somerville College, Oxford to read Modern Languages (you could in those days), but chose Newnham because we had admissions interviews in both French and German, and also because I wanted to do papers in linguistics, then unavailable at Oxford.  My Director of Studies, Ann Duncan, noted later that I was the only candidate who had worn a trouser suit rather than a skirt to my interview.

My matriculation in 1971 coincided with the early days of “women’s liberation”, and it was an exciting time.  Modern linguists had to arrive before the beginning of our first term in order to take oral examinations, and this was an excellent opportunity to get to know one another and make our first attempts at punting.  My undergraduate Newnham memories include breakfast in our dressing gowns in Clough (now College) Hall, and dramatic changes in the rules for returning to College at night, from an 11.45pm curfew to none at all.

From Newnham I went on to do a PhD in Linguistics at Stanford University, California, and then lectured at the universities of Sussex, Cambridge and Bangor. On returning to Cambridge in 1990 I was delighted to accept a Fellowship in Linguistics at Newnham (1990-94).  It was a wonderful, supportive environment for someone with young children, and I have fond memories of working with Onora O’Neill as Principal. At Bangor I became Professor in 2005 and Director of the new ESRC Centre for Research in Bilingualism, before returning to Cambridge for a third time in 2013 as Bye-Fellow for a term at Newnham.  I then moved back to Cambridge permanently, joining the Dept. of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics as an Affiliated Lecturer.

I am delighted to live now within cycling distance of Newnham, and to be able to participate in its landmark events.

Rebecca Dykes (1987–2017)

Rebecca Dykes was passionate, enthusiastic, energetic and proud to work for causes she believed in. After completing her degree in Social Anthropology, she joined the Civil Service, and worked to support peace and stabilisation in the Middle East. She took on pioneering work to improve the lives of refugees, and today her work is continued by a Foundation in her name.

Rebecca studied Social Anthropology at Manchester University, where her political awareness and sense of global injustice strengthened. She decided to seek a career in which she could contribute her services to make positive changes in the world. After volunteering for youth projects organised by Voluntary Service Overseas in Bahrain, she developed an interest in the Middle East.

Rebecca became a civil servant and worked in the Government’s Stabilisation Unit, which promotes peace-building and stability in countries affected by conflicts. She worked on deployments to Sub-Saharan Africa, and managed relationships between United Nations and European Union peace-building missions. She also studied for an MSc in International Security and Global Governance.

After working as a Research Analyst on Iraq for the Foreign Office, Rebecca moved to DIFD’s North Africa Department to work on projects related to the stabilisation of Libya. She was promoted to the role of Programme and Policy Manager, and moved to the British Embassy in Lebanon where she undertook pioneering work that focused on improving the lives of Syrian and Palestinian refugees, as well as impoverished Lebanese host communities. Tragically, she was killed in Beirut in 2017.

Rebecca’s family set up the Rebecca Dykes Foundation in order to continue her humanitarian work. The UK Government established The Rebecca Dykes Chevening Scholarship to support a female Lebanese or Palestinian residing in Lebanon to pursue her Masters Degree in the UK.

Rebecca Dykes was the daughter of Miranda Jane Clarke, an undergraduate at Newnham (1977-1980).

Rebecca’s family hope that students at Newnham have as much fun, and find their studies as thought-provoking, as Rebecca did at University.

Mary George CBE (Francis) (NC 1967)

Mary Francis, CBE, recalls her first day at Newnham, and the fulfilling career and personal life that followed. 

I’ve chosen my maiden name, Mary George, for your room. That’s who I was when I won an exhibition to read history at Newnham – the single most important event in my life.

I still remember the chilly day my proud parents, neither of whom had been to university, installed me in my room under the eves of Old Hall. You wouldn’t recognise everything about Newnham then. Men were allowed in our rooms for limited hours; we ate in our assigned Hall; and black treacle was served with cheese at lunch: a hangover from sugar-starved wartime. But the friendships, the work, the pleasure of walking through College and Cambridge – those must be the same.

I left Newnham with a 2:1 when I’d hoped for a First, a disappointment that faded. The first half of my working life was with the UK Treasury where I eventually became Financial Counsellor in Washington DC; then one of Prime Minister John Major’s Private Secretaries; and finally Deputy Private Secretary to the Queen. I was the first woman in each of these jobs, and having no children probably made my career easier. I hope you won’t need to make that choice.

In 1999 I made a big jump to the City as head of the Association of British Insurers. I’m now an independent director on boards that have ranged from the Bank of England and Barclays to an American oil driller and the Almeida Theatre. I even became chair of governors of my old school. The eleven year old me would never have predicted that!

Work has been important to me, but I wish there was space to tell you also about my wonderful Canadian husband, my step grandson, our summer home in Nova Scotia, the pleasures of living in central London.

I just want to say: enjoy your room and your life at Newnham to the full. They will be part of you forever.

Moon Goh

Moon Goh did not have the opportunity to have formal education, but supported her younger family members in all their hopes and pursuits, including academic achievement. Her great-niece, Yu-Ann Wang, remembers her here. 

Moon Goh was my great-aunt. She was born in 1914 in Guangdong, China. She came to what was then British-Malaya in search of a better life in the early 1930s. As with many young women of her generation, she was not given the opportunity of formal education, and so began her career as devoted nanny to lucky children. She was kind and dedicated, and she became at least trilingual, speaking Malay and Tamil in addition to her native Cantonese.

She was the loving grandmother of the house, the anchor and bedrock in the family, and her cooking was the best! She encouraged us to chase our dreams and to live our lives to the fullest, be it in scholarly pursuits or elsewhere.

She left us after 92 years, and my whole family misses her still. In memoriam.

Clare Holtham (NC 1970)

Clare Holtham (1948 – 2010), was an indomitable woman, a poet, traveller and co-founder of the Cambridge Film Festival.

‘They gave me wonderful cake on the Afghan border’ Clare said. ‘It was full of ants but I ate it anyway.’

Clare’s indomitable character was forged during her extraordinary early life. Child of committed Communist parents, Clare was two when her mother eloped to China. Sleeping rough in London at fourteen, she was guided by mentors to Newnham, welcoming to women with unorthodox academic backgrounds. Before going up to read English in 1970 and during long vacations she travelled alone through Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, immersing herself in their culture, briefly marrying an Uzbek chieftain, recording her experiences in poetry and photographs. Newnham gave her a room of her own and supported her working at the Arts Cinema.

Cambridge and Kabul, one green and fenny, the other dry and mountainous: Clare quietly made both work for her, was an outsider in both. Here, the person in heavy black robes, even in the heat of summer, longing for Afghanistan and bringing magnificent foreign films to the Arts Cinema. There, the woman who travelled alone and spoke the language, read and wrote it. She inspired those who would listen to her and disregarded the detractors who saw only someone out of place. ‘I like to live well’, she would say of food, film and books, and live well she did in her two chosen realms.

After Newnham, Clare and her partner Eddie founded the Cambridge Film and Animation Festivals. Later she became a systems analyst, forming her own company and proving that an arts degree could lead wherever you wanted.

Clare returned to Cambridge after Eddie’s death. She studied as a homeopath and when a brain tumour struck, followed by kidney cancer, she found peace through her poetry: ‘our leaves unfurl, our roots reach out in the dark.’  Her poems were published posthumously as The Road from Herat and dramatised on Radio 4 in 2013.

Professor Jane Humphries (NC 1967)

Professor Jane Humphries arrived in College to read Economics in 1967. Although her academic career has taken her to Cornell University, the University of Massachusetts and All Souls College, Oxford, where she was Professor of Economic History until 2017, her influence at Newnham has remained constant over five decades.

Jane’s academic work is particularly notable for the way in which she combines quantitative and qualitative research to examine the relationship between economic factors, family dynamics and historical social change. She has published extensively on gender, families and the history of women’s work in particular, and in 2016 she became the first woman to give the prestigious Ellen McArthur lectures on the subject of “Gendering Economic History”. The importance of this vital work was recognised with a CBE for Services to Social Science and Economic History in the New Year’s Honours 2018.

After almost a decade in the United States after her undergraduate degree, she returned to Cambridge, and to Newnham, as a Fellow, University Lecturer and Reader in Economics and Economic History. In these roles she taught and inspired many young economists and historians at Newnham, some of whom came together to name this room in honour of a teacher that they remember for her ‘fantastic mentoring and [for] being an outstanding feminist in every conceivable way’. Her academic career has rightly garnered international recognition, but this accolade, given by her former students, demonstrates the indomitable power of inspirational teaching in the lives and the work of the next generations of scholars.

Christine Isherwood (NC 1965)

Christine Isherwood (NC 1965) was a keen Newnham Natural Scientist. Here, her husband Mike recounts the story of Chris’ life, including her love for drawing and painting the natural world she loved so much.

Christine was born in Burnley, moving to Northumberland in childhood. Her teachers encouraged her to apply for university, and to her amazement, she was offered a place at Newnham to read Natural Sciences (botany, zoology and geology), the first of her family to go to university.  Like many others, she thought the college had made a mistake and she would soon be found out and sent packing!

Chris loved to sing, and joined the chapel choir of Queens’ College where she met her future husband, Mike. They married in 1969.  Notably unsporty, Chris took to rowing and rowed for the university, winning a Full Blue in the 1968 Women’s Boat Race.

She taught biology for four years at Hitchin Girls Grammar School then moved to the Lake District where she found herself pregnant with the first of three children.  That ended her formal teaching career, though she spent much of the ensuing years teaching informally, introducing children to the beauties and fascination of the natural world.

This was the point at which she started drawing and painting, activities which dominated and defined the rest of her life. Beginning with flower studies, she soon moved on to birds, mammals, and landscapes, particularly mountains, all executed with meticulous precision.  She also excelled in pen and ink illustration, exemplified in a series of walk guides covering the whole of Scotland.

In 2004, Chris was diagnosed with breast cancer.  After treatment, she continued to walk, climb Munros, paint and draw with undiminished enthusiasm, but the disease returned and she died in August 2017.

At her funeral, her daughter Isabel said ‘She was kind, wise and patient; undemanding; a collector and nurturer of people. She was observant and phenomenally knowledgeable about the natural world, and one of the most contented people I have ever known.’

Eglantyne Jebb

Eglantyne Jebb was a pioneer of children’s rights and the co-founder of Save the Children, an international organisation that saves the lives of children, and supports their communities, around the world.

Eglantyne Jebb (1876-1928) was brought up with a strong sense of social responsibility. After studying history at Oxford, she trained as a teacher but, with some feeling of failure, illness forced her to abandon this career. Aged 27, and encouraged by Newnham’s Mary Marshall and Florence Keynes, she took her first steps in social work, writing a groundbreaking survey of poverty in Cambridge and establishing practical initiatives to tackle its effects.

Organising relief in the Balkans in 1913, on behalf of the Macedonian Relief Fund, Eglantyne witnessed “the slow torture of gradual starvation” and the plight of refugees. In 1916 she joined her sister, Dorothy Buxton (NC 1901) in publishing ‘Notes from the Foreign Press’, which highlighted the impact of war on civilians. After the Armistice, they joined the Fight the Famine Council, campaigning against the ongoing blockades perpetuating famine in Europe. When Dorothy proposed a fund to relieve starving children, Eglantyne was at the forefront of the charity’s promotion. Arrested and tried for distributing unauthorised leaflets, she conducted her own defence and, although found guilty,  received a donation to the fund from the Crown Prosecutor. Together, the sisters capitalised on the trial publicity by officially launching the Save the Children Fund.

Eglantyne found her life’s meaning in her work for children’s wellbeing, and through her commitment, the charisma that inspired others, and her pioneering approach to policy and fundraising, Save the Children grew rapidly from a small single-purpose fund, into a permanent, international charity union. Her vision transformed the way the world treats children – she drafted the original Declaration of the Rights of the Child adopted by the League of Nations in 1924.

Eglantyne’s work sustained her through increasing ill-heath, but she died of heart-failure aged just 52. Her legacy, however, lives on in Save the Children, and in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, now the most universally accepted human rights instrument in history.

For a biography of Eglantyne Jebb, see The Woman Who Saved the Children by Clare Mulley.

Dr George C. G. Koo

Dr George Koo is a surgeon and educational philanthropist; his daughter Charmaine (NC 1994) celebrates his belief in educating young people.

Dr Koo’s ancestry is from HuZhou, Zhejiang Province, China. He was born in Shanghai in 1934. His father, J L Koo, while still a young manager at Jardine Matheson, founded the Shuping Scholarship in 1939 in China for poor high school students in memory of his father Koo Shuping. The motto of the scholarship is “Giving back to the society what you gain from it”.

George moved with the family to Hong Kong in 1948 and was sent to the UK where he was admitted to Leighton Park School, Reading. Aiming to be a medical doctor, Dr. Koo went on to read natural Science at Trinity Hall College, Cambridge (1952-1955). He also founded the Chinese Society in the University with only five other undergraduates from Hong Kong supported by many associate members. He married Cheong Ian Chon Doris in the same year in London at St Peter’s Church, Vere Street.

Determined to be a surgeon, he was successful at first attempt for Fellowships at both the surgical colleges of England and Edinburgh. He returned to Hong Kong in 1965 and from 1965 to 1971 he was Lecturer in Surgery at the University of Hong Kong. In 1972, he carried out two living related renal transplants, one patient is still living this day, married with a daughter. Dr Koo retired from surgery in 2008 having had a very happy and fulfilling career, with grateful and fond memories of Cambridge. He is delighted that his daughter Charmaine Koo, was awarded a scholarship to Newham College. She is now a leading Intellectual Property lawyer practising in Hong Kong.

Dr Koo continues with the tradition of philanthropy of the family. He has been an active member of the Rotary Club of Hong Kong since 1974 and president in year 1990, constantly supporting, and planning, funding charitable projects. In 1998 he succeeded his father as the Chairman of the Shuping Scholarship Foundation.

Through the family’s close connection to the Jardine Foundation, a trust that awards full undergraduate scholarships to Oxbridge each year, the Foundation initiated a China Programme in 1995 that started awarding a few such scholarships to local China high school graduates chosen from our list of Shuping scholars. Since then, some 18 Shuping scholars were awarded and each on graduation achieved first class honours at Oxbridge, with four achieving distinctions and one of them awarded the prestigious senior wrangler title. Dr. Koo’s family tradition is “investment in the education of the youth is the best investment in life” and he is devoting his life to continue this tradition.

Susi Luss (NC 1969)

“Even if Oxford offer me a scholarship and Cambridge a place, I want to go to Newnham!” I said after the interviews. They did and I did. And I never looked back.

It wasn’t easy for me as I came from a French co-educational school in London and found living in an all-female environment, reminiscent of a boarding school for grown-ups, rather strange. I also had no tradition to follow as I was the first woman in my family to go to Cambridge. I knew not a soul. Homesick? Yes, very for a while. Gradually I made friends who helped me overcome that feeling of not quite belonging. A bout of flu at the end of my first term, confining me to the sick bay, was a blessing in disguise. When visitors saw the note on my door, they came with fruit, flowers and sympathy. Those new Cambridge friends made me realize that I now was a real Newnhamite.

I read English, a challenge after a mainly French education. At lectures and supervisions authors were featured of whom I’d heard but never read. It all overwhelmed me until I realized that my French background was a good basis for English studies- there was much to compare and contrast, which my understanding supervisors encouraged.

I’d like to think that you will enjoy your life in this room and experience all the positives which Newnham gave me. The College has an exceptional atmosphere which rubs off on you. Maybe it’s the library, combining old and new, or the wonderful gardens, where I revised under shady trees? Or sharing meals in Hall, then drinking endless mugs of tea or coffee through the night- talking, laughing, discussing with fellow students, all starting out on exciting new lives as Newnhamites together?

Eve Mason

Eve Mason, a Newnham supervisor in German, gained little formal recognition for her superb academic work. Here her student Deborah Bunn (NC 1975) celebrates her as a scholar, teacher and friend.

On learning of the ‘Room of One’s own with a View’ initiative, I knew at once that my much loved and respected German supervisor, Eve Mason should have her name on one the doors. During my years at Newnham in the 1970s I had many fascinating conversations and discussions with her on wide-ranging areas of German literature and language which went far beyond the ‘essay of the week’.

 

Eve was born into one of the ‘old’ Swiss families of Basle, whose origins trace back to the 14th century.  At University she read German literature with History of Art and English and went on to a PhD on German Mediaeval Drama via the old demanding nine-year (!) route.  There she met her husband-to-be, Harold Mason and in 1949 they moved to England on his appointment to a Fellowship at Downing College.

 

In 1955 they moved to Exeter where Eve restarted her own career, teaching, translating and examining.  Back at Cambridge in 1965 she established herself as a supervisor for several Colleges including Newnham where she was elected to a Fellowship, as College Lecturer in Modern Languages and Tutor of Old Hall in 1974.

 

A highly qualified Mediaevalist, Eve enjoyed working for the special papers in European drama and Courtly Romance, but her intellectual interests extended over a much wider field.  Her knowledge of Goethe fuelled my own enthusiasm for him and my determination to collect all the volumes of the classic Hamburger Ausgabe of his works! Eve knew well, however, that, like other gifted women academics, her contribution and qualifications received scant formal recognition. We have gained much ground in that key area over the last couple of decades but we still need to do more to ensure that where deserved, women’s intellectual achievements are properly recognised.

 

For me as for all her students, Eve was an inspiring teacher and a true friend. Honouring her memory on a door is but a small gesture: the best honour for all Newnhamites to give ‘heroines’ like her is to embrace the intellectual rigour Cambridge offers and live life to the full – which means much more than partying with friends though that has its place!

Jean Mitchell (NC 1923) and Lucy Adrian (NC 1954)

Two Directors of Studies in Geography who spanned most of the 20th century between them, and who always went the extra mile for their students. 

Jean Mitchell and Lucy Adrian between them spanned most of the 20th century as Directors of Studies for Geography (1933-1992).  Miss Mitchell was a Scot with beady eyes, quizzical eyebrows and a twinkly face.  A scholarly lady, she had total integrity and a great sense of fairness.  Jean was equally pleased for her students whether they became professors or mothers – it was the doing of a task well that mattered to her.  She was delighted when one of her former students, Lucy, was appointed as her successor.  Lucy shares Jean’s twinkle and sense of fun, and she too has been an inspiration to her students, many of who count her as a most valuable friend.

The major contribution to geography at Newnham from these two was not through publications but through the teaching in supervisions.  Jean was precise with information and logic; Lucy was said by her students “to make them think”.  Both encouraged enterprising student dissertation and research projects.  Their success can be measured in the numerous geographers who have made their mark in academic and other fields.

Both women went the extra mile for their students.  Lucy provided buns from Fitzbillies for fieldwork excursions; she remade a May Ball dress for a student in distress, and taught another how to fold shirts and bake a ham.  Jean always took time to turn on the fountain in the Newnham garden for visiting small children.  Her description of cataloguing babies evacuated to Newnham in 1938 recorded in Ann Philip’s ‘A Newnham Anthology’ is priceless.  Both are remembered with great affection by their former students and both have given practical support to Newnham over and above their academic contribution.   Jean used her extensive knowledge of silver, and Lucy was much involved in looking after the buildings and the College’s special collections.

This room, chosen by Lucy, should be a very happy, serene space in which to work hard and benefit from all that Newnham and Cambridge have to offer.

Hilary Muirhead (NC 1955)

Like many others before and after her, Hilary Muirhead remembers arriving at Newnham uncertain about what the future would hold, but makes the case for seizing every opportunity that comes along…

I came to Newnham in 1955 with very little idea of what to expect! Although I did not know anybody the atmosphere was very welcoming and I felt at home immediately. I remember that at my interview all the other candidates seemed far more confident and experienced. I changed subjects from Maths to Physics in my second year. This was a tough and challenging course and I struggled.

Delia Agar (Director of Studies) suggested a PhD place with Max Perutz in his laboratory in the Cavendish Physics Laboratory. This was funded by the Medical Research Council and Max was working on the structure of haemoglobin. I had no background in Biology and hardly knew what the letters DNA stood for. This was the beginning of an amazing few years meeting scientists from all over the world and led to my career in Protein Crystallography.

From 1962 to 1964 I had a postdoctoral position in the Chemistry Department at Harvard University. This was an exciting time to be in the USA – the aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. After returning to Cambridge for 3 years I moved to the Department of Biochemistry at Bristol University.

Beyond science I remember a series of undergraduate lectures entitled ‘Art for Scientists’ as well as some very stimulating speakers on Sunday evenings at Great St Mary’s. One memorable talk was by Trevor Huddleston who had just returned from South Africa.

My main hobby was Bell Ringing and I am still a member of the Cambridge University Guild of Change Ringers (CUGCR). I was the first woman to be elected Master of the CUGCR.

The most important thing is to grasp the opportunities which come your way – being in the right place at the right time. You never know what will happen!

Cecilia Powell (NC 1963)

Reflecting on a fulfilling career, Cecilia Powell advises that ‘every cloud has a silver lining’. If everything had gone just as Cecilia planned towards the end of her time at Newnham and if she had not struck out and changed direction, Cecilia would not have met her husband nor enjoyed the satisfaction of researching and writing her own books, and curating exhibitions at the Tate, Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Wordsworth Museum…

I look back on my time at Newnham with pleasure and gratitude despite the fact that it began and ended badly. Within days of arriving I went down with glandular fever and had to spend my first term very quietly. At the end of my last term I again became ill and had to abandon my plans. Instead of going to Madagascar with Voluntary Service Overseas, I prolonged my connection with Newnham and my Cambridge friends, spending a year most enjoyably in Clare Road; I shared a tiny house with three overseas students attached to the college and did miscellaneous paid jobs ranging from typing to needlework.

Having moved to London, I worked in the editorial departments of two major publishers for over a decade. It was then time for another change: I took an MA in the history of art at the Courtauld Institute, University of London, immediately followed by a PhD. My choice of subject – J.M.W. Turner in central and southern Italy – was not unconnected with my Classics studies at Newnham, since my love of Italy stemmed from the months I had spent there between school and Cambridge, at the instigation of Joyce Reynolds. Since the 1980s I have been an author, editor and curator, initially specialising in Turner but latterly working also in a wider field and on many diverse artists.

My advice to students today is: don’t be afraid to strike out and change direction if you need to, and remember that ‘every cloud has a silver lining’. Had I gone to Madagascar, I would not have met my husband Nick whom I married in 1969. Had I remained working for publishers, I would not have had the satisfaction of researching and writing my own books and curating exhibitions at the Tate, Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Wordsworth Museum in Grasmere.

Katharine Skinner (Woodbridge) (NC 1928)

Katharine’s Newnham days are legendary in the family – because of a meeting she failed to attend.

Katharine was the secretary of the Newnham Arts Society in 1928, and as such, was the student who wrote to Virginia Woolf to invite her to give a lecture. The talk Woolf gave was the inception of “A Room of One’s Own.” Being at this historic talk would have been a lasting claim to fame – except that Katharine skipped the meeting. At the time, though, her biggest worry was that she had to write a thank-you note to Woolf, with no idea what had been discussed.

Katharine had gone up to study Classics in 1927. Newnham allowed her to develop further a fascination with foreign cultures, and an abiding desire to connect with people from all over the world.

After Newnham, she took on a job as a teacher in Northumberland, and in 1934, married an American, George Woodbridge. She found herself moving to make a new life in America, at the height of the Great Depression.

From a world focused on learning, she found herself with a life centred around raising her three children, supporting her husband, and serving the community. But her intelligence, organisational powers and ability to run a team, meant that she could help charitable organizations flourish. Without being domineering, she found herself leading any group she joined.

During the Second World War, Katharine supported her husband in taking up war work in Washington DC. She became involved with the Free French and the Greek War Relief effort. Some of the French living temporarily in exile became lifelong friends.

Katharine believed that working through organizations enabled individuals to have a bigger impact than they could alone. She hoped that building personal connections between people from different nations could avoid a repetition of some of the horrors of the war.

Katharine would have been delighted to see the international body of students that make up Newnham today – and would have loved the annual Classics students’ Paris trip. Her advice to today’s students might be that together, you can achieve far more than you can apart.

Priscilla Skinner (NC 1929)

Priscilla Skinner was a  mathematician, with a love of travel, maths and children (not necessarily in that order). She put her varied skills to work during times of war and times of peace.  

In 1929, she joined her older sister Katharine at Newnham College, to read for the Mathematics tripos. Throughout her life, she argued that the best thing about maths was that you could do it for a maximum of 5 hours a day, leaving huge amounts of time for other things. While at Newnham, she joined  with friends helping at  a free creche for the young children of local women earning money by picking strawberries in the farms around Cambridge. Knowing the children were safe, happy and maybe even learning something was a great relief to the strawberry pickers, even if they thought it strange that these ‘learned ladies’ were spending time with their children.

Priscilla went on to do Schedule B, the forerunner to Part III Mathematics, and was the first woman to achieve a distinction in that examination. Of course, at the time the University didn’t allow women more than a titular degree – no ceremony in Senate House for Newnham students then. None the less, Priscilla applied for and was awarded an Commonwealth Fund Fellowship (now called a Harkness Fellowship), and travelled to America to work with  Professor Van Vleck, a leading theoretical physicist in Wisconsin.

The Fellowship had more than academic study in store for her – while driving across America, she stopped off to visit Mesa Verde National Park. The Park Ranger pointed out another visitor from England – a handsome young engineer who, to their mutual astonishment, was also the holder of a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship. With her at Harvard (where Professor Van Vleck had moved) and him at MIT, romance blossomed, and they married on their return to England.

Priscilla took up a mathematics research post at Imperial College, working as the ‘Calculator’ for a team looking at atmospheric tides with Sydney Chapman. She particularly enjoyed arranging the multiple complex calculations that were involved in those pre-computer days – perhaps the pre-cursor to today’s computer programming. She took a ‘career break’ to raise her first child, but in 1940, with the break out of war, ‘Calculators’ were in high demand. Priscilla went to work for the RAE (Royal Aircraft Establishment) at Farnborough, and put her mathematical ability to work in complex, secret calculations.

Later in life, with her own four children nearly grown up, an old Newnham friend, Kathleen, who had become a maths teacher, persuaded her into a change of career. Priscilla spent happy years teaching sixth form maths to a new generation of young women.

Her advice to today’s students? Perhaps it would be never to do more than 5 hours of maths a day!

Alan & Betty Street

Alumnae marked the retirement of Penny Hubbard, after 11 years as Director of Development and Registrar of the Roll at Newnham College, with a fund in her name for student support. Penny Hubbard (Street NC 1979) chose to name the bedroom in the Dorothy Garrod Building after her parents. Here, she celebrates their passion for education, and their ‘have a go’ spirit.

I was a Manchester girl whose parents, Alan and Betty Street, both stopped their formal education aged sixteen. Alan grew up in a working-class background during the Second World War, and left school to join the navy – at which point, peace broke out. In civilian life, he worked in marketing, working his way up through the ranks. To satisfy his passion for the sea, he bought a sailing boat as soon as he could, and took his family sailing every weekend, learning how to sail as he went along which led to a number of hairy escapades such as crossing the Irish Sea in a gale eight!

Betty came from a middle-class family in Liverpool. Her father (“Poppa”) owned a business delivering beer from the breweries to pubs, on horse-drawn carts. Poppa didn’t believe girls needed careers or further education, so she was sent to school to be “happy”.

Alan met Betty after hearing that a “gorgeous” woman was teaching at the local riding school. He was hopeless at riding but he succeeded in asking Betty out. Their path to nuptials wasn’t smooth, as Poppa was unimpressed by this ambitious working-class young man. But obstacles just made them all the more determined. They were a great team and were married for over fifty years before Betty’s death.

Ambitious and brave, they were always believers in ‘having a go’. With little money, they bought a lovely but run-down manor house, and were left with a huge mortgage and eighteen shillings and sixpence cash till the next pay cheque. When Betty lay on a mattress the first night in the Hall, listening to the wind howl round the chimneys and asking herself ‘What on earth have we done?’, she decided to start a decorating business. The plan: for the decorators to work for paying customers when they could, and work on the Hall when they couldn’t. The business was a great success – one of my best memories of Betty was returning from Newnham to find her (aged 60) on her knees with photographs all over the floor. She excitedly informed me that she was creating ‘something called a website’ for her business! Alan always supported her in her ambitions, giving her flexibility to work even though it was unusual for a woman to run a business in the early 1970s.

When I came home from my Direct Grant School in 1977 and said ‘they want me to take the Oxbridge exam but I don’t think it would be my sort of thing’ – Betty immediately said ‘I think it would darling – why not have a go?’ That decision changed my life. I made wonderful friends, met my husband and the Newnham connection resulted in a fantastic career move from lawyer to Development Director.

Following my getting an Exhibition to Newnham, my younger sister decided she would have a go too, and went to St Hugh’s College, Oxford, where she rowed for the Blue Boat. Then our youngest sister decided that if we two had gone to Oxbridge she was ‘jolly well going to go’ – and got into St Johns’ College, Oxford.

Alan and Betty were so very proud of all their three girls going to Oxbridge. They spent their lives encouraging us to reach our best potential and never stopped reading, questioning and learning.

I hope the students who live in this room love their special space where they can grow, learn, make friends and dream – and that the Street spirit of ‘having a go’ is passed on to all who live here.

Margaret Waite

While Margaret Waite did not have the opportunity to have a university education, she celebrated the family members who did. Newnham has become a family tradition, as her niece Susan Adams recounts…

For my aunt Margaret, a university education was not an option. She was required, at 16, to leave school and work with her parents and then, after the early death of her father, with her mother in the family business of corn and seed merchants in Herne Bay, Kent.

After the sale of the business and a short unsuccessful marriage, she became carer to her mother, combining this with secretarial jobs.

Always hardworking and determinedly independent herself, she encouraged and took an interest in the education and careers of family members.

Newnham has played a defining role in the lives of myself, Susan Adams, retired solicitor  [Waite; Nat Sci 1960-63], my daughter Rosie Adams, consultant radiologist [Nat Sci, Medicine 1986-89], and my daughter-in-law, Saskya Huggins, environmentalist [Nat Sci; 1990-93]. Saskya met my son Joss [Medicine, St John’s 1990-93] in Newnham bar!

With such a family involvement, it seemed appropriate for Newnham, and future students, to benefit from family money coming to me via Margaret’s Will.

Sarah Ward (NC 1960)

How a life in farming, and the politics of food and farming, grew out of a degree in English literature…

Sarah Rogers read English at Newnham, her tutors being Jean Gooder, Queenie Leavis, and briefly F.R. Leavis. For all three she felt a life-long gratitude. Queenie’s occasional remark amused her (“Frank disagrees with me on this – he’s wrong, of course!”), but Leavis too was a most sensitive and serious teacher. Cambridge gave a wide social round and many life-long friendships; plus — sheer joy – just reading, reading, reading. Sarah had enormous respect for Jean Gooder and never forgot her.

She then entered the Foreign Office (Middle East desk), but left soon after; long overseas postings had never appealed. But Sarah always said the FO gave her valuable insight into government practice and motives. There followed fourteen years in Wales, where her husband’s job was, and for which landscape and working people she conceived the profoundest affection. She never quite grasped the rules of rugby, but tried hard (once clearly rather enjoying an international in Cardiff). She was briefly Registrar of Swansea College of Education, and gave office-admin courses to employees at the DVLC in Swansea. Both proved useful wider experience.

In 1979 with her husband and their two sons she returned to Kent. This arose tragically, from her mother’s death in a car accident, but it led to Sarah gradually taking over the 800-acre family farm. Not altogether surprisingly though; her parents had borne other sadnesses, and Sarah’s childhood was often spent with the farm staff, from whom she learnt much for the years ahead.

So came the eventual career in agriculture. Sarah won national prizes for her hops and cereals; introduced lavender for the pharmaceutical market; and by innovative care of newborn lambs, earned sales in the top retail outlets. (Amazingly, she could predict the first day of hop-picking two months ahead.) She took no credit for all this, ever grateful to her father and grandfather for their years of experience.

Her aptitude was also political. In the 2007 foot-and-mouth crisis Sarah banned overnight stays for her animals en route to slaughterhouses; and was on the Countryside Commission panel which imposed the controversial 10 mph speed-limit on Lake The Women’s Farming Union, of which she was a founder-member in 1979, targeted food-marketing under the slogan Linking Producer to Consumer; the group felt feeling that wives knew, far better than their farmer-husbands, what the housewife really wanted. Sarah gave numerous talks and lectures, and was a sometimes excessively firm committee chair, gently apologising afterwards. She revelled in it all, got frustrated like anyone else, then just cooked a meal or something and started again.

In 1998 she was awarded the OBE for services to the countryside. But she continued reading all her life. George Eliot and Thomas Hardy were the constant companions. For advice to today’s Newnhamites; maybe a principle she repeated often, and always applied to herself. “Never ask for a job. Never refuse one.”

Lynda Martin Alegi (Watt) (NC 1970) and Hilary Wilson (NC 1970)

Lynda and Hilary met in 1970 when they came up to read law. They chose to name a room together because they shared paired rooms in the then gloriously modern Strachey building now knocked down to make space for the new rooms.

When we arrived in 1970, there were only about 30 women undergraduates amongst several hundred men in the Law Faculty. We threw ourselves into the law, its libraries and societies across the University.

In our final year we were elected as Secretary and Treasurer of the CU Law Society and had the privilege of dining with famous lawyers of the time, from Lord Denning to the lawyer and novelist Henry Cecil; but it felt equally an achievement to learn to punt and laze up the river to Granchester.

Although being a student means debts and shortage of cash, we didn’t let the whole holidays be taken up by the drudge of waitressing. We spent a never-to-be-forgotten six weeks travelling with four friends in a Bedford van through Europe to Greece. We had next to no money but with a battered copy of the Blue Guide to Greece and a student pass we visited the ancient sites and only subsequently realised we had failed to visit any beaches.

After post-graduate studies in Brussels, Lynda joined an international law firm, becoming the first woman partner in the London office and founding Chair of the Global Antitrust Group. Remarried to an Italian-American, summers are now spent working remotely in Umbria. Hilary qualified as a barrister, teaching law in the evenings to make ends meet and subsequently became an in-house construction lawyer,  whose work led to far-flung places such as Burma, Iran, Hong Kong and Poland whilst it was still behind the Iron Curtain. Our university friends have become teachers, civil servants, legal translators and in one case a media personality.

We found the friends we made at Newnham and the peace and tranquillity of the college and gardens a great jumping off point to enjoy all that Cambridge had to offer. Our advice is to try all sorts of things you have never tried before: there are great opportunities to “have a go”. In our experience this will end in some abject failures, some but not all as amusing as our ballroom dancing efforts, as well as the joys of success. Nevertheless, have a go!

John Weston Smith

John Weston Smith was a British businessman and writer who wanted others to benefit, as he had done, from the opportunities opened up by a Cambridge education. Newnham alumna Meg Weston Smith recalls…

John Weston Smith, my husband, read law at St John’s, the first in his family to go to university. The experience changed his life and aspirations and he wanted others to benefit similarly. He generously supported Newnham, where, like my mother, I read natural sciences.

John worked hard at Fettes College, Edinburgh, (where he was a foundation scholar), but would not have reached Cambridge had his housemaster not overcome his father’s distrust of academia. After gaining a minor award in the entrance examination, John did his national service as a Royal Signals subaltern. At St John’s his tutor steered him towards additional means of financial support.

Born in 1932, John had a peripatetic childhood in Sliema in Malta, Dover and Rosyth and dockyards to which his father, a Royal Navy engineering officer, was sent. From him John inherited a gift for solving problems, for devising gadgets, and a robust sense of humour with a penchant for practical jokes. To his mother John owed a warm heart, a caring, gentle, kindly disposition, and the capacity to mix easily with people.

After Cambridge John moved to London with a job in insurance then at the Abbey National Building Society rising to joint general manager. Under pen names he wrote on mortgages and savings for national newspapers. In 1971 he joined British Land, a property company, becoming finance director and chief operating officer. In Hampstead he helped rescue from closure a girls’ school, St Christopher’s, and as chairman oversaw its wellbeing for 30 years.
John loved words, whether writing, reading or contriving groan- worthy puns. Though seemingly conventional, he encouraged initiative and independent thought. He cherished his children and grandchildren.

He would wish for occupants of this room to make the most of opportunities in Cambridge and the wider world.

Pauline Poh Ling Yeoh

Sharon Yeoh came to Newnham with the encouragement of her parents. Her mother, Pauline, was a lifelong learner, and supported her daughter through her time at Newnham.

The Newnham Prospectus was a physical book in 1991.  The cover has the timeless Clough Hall against the blue skies.  I remember vividly how I would turn each page and study the photos of the gardens, the Old Hall room with its furniture, the students in a supervision.

One day, after again showing my father the prospectus, I asked “Daddy, surely I have shown you all this before.”  He replied “Many times, my darling daughter.  But you were so happy and enthusiastic, I didn’t want to interrupt and I’d listen again.”  I learned anew my parents’ love for me that day.

Pauline is my late mother and she continues to inspire. She had a curious mind, and was full of wonder and awe for nature, beauty and goodness.  Mummy was a perpetual student in life – I grew up watching her read, learn languages, paint, appreciate music, attend open university courses in the sciences and the arts.  She would be a renaissance woman if she had the same opportunities and nurturing as my brother and I had.

She is also one of the most sensitive souls I know, with feelings and emotions.  During my first year at college, I went through a period being rather down, struggling with the meaning of life.  She wrote me a letter a day for a whole month, which kept me going.  I still have those handwritten letters which arrived by post in my pigeon hole.  A few years after graduation, I received another heart-pouring letter – a stern one this time, on being grounded, having empathy and kindness.

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things and the God of peace will be with you.”

Seven 59ers (NC 1959)

Newnham alumnae who matriculated in 1959 share how the College has created life-long friendships…

When in 2009 Newnham invited the Year of 1959 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our matriculation we found that, though several of us had met continually over the years, others had not. Some of us enjoyed the occasion so much that we have been meeting annually ever since.

The group has comprised people who have explored a wide range of paths in life, including teaching, medicine, writing, archaeology, psychology, scholarly research and writing, science, art history, religious ministry, foreign affairs, mathematics, film making, politics, using languages, writing poetry, translating, financial management and voluntary work. Some have led public lives and others private ones.

Hearing about the ‘Room Naming’ project for the Dorothy Garrod Building triggered the idea of sponsoring a room; it caught the imagination of the group, some seven of whom became sponsors, hence the name: Seven 59ers.

This is one way of marking the significance for us of our years at Newnham, the spring-board that it was for our lives, as well as the source of life-long friendships, and friendships forged more recently after five decades since graduation. Naming this room also gives us the opportunity to pass our best wishes for their years at Newnham to all who live here.

Our advice? Take advantage of the many activities beyond your studies that are open to you at Cambridge, and be warned: not too much from the punch-bowl if you don’t know what went into it!