During summer 2018, History student Amelia Hutchinson undertook an internship researching the hidden histories of women at Trinity, as part of the 40th anniversary celebrations of undergraduate women’s arrival at the College. Paula Wolff, Library Assistant, caught up with Amelia to discuss the project and her research, which is published below.
Why did you apply for the internship?
It seemed to combine all the things I’m most interested in. It was something to do with history (which I love), it was something to do with Trinity (which I love) and it was something to do with women’s education which I’m really interested in.
How did you go about discovering the histories of women at Trinity?
There were lots of different ways. I spent a lot of time in the archives in the Wren Library looking through different types of sources – letters, newspaper articles, correspondence between men about women – but also time talking to people in College who had really interesting things to say.
More difficult was looking for women who may have not been so obvious in the archives. It was quite easy to find a lot of material about Master’s wives, for example, as there were rich collections of letters and diaries, but looking for female bedmakers it was a bit more difficult because there were fewer written sources.
Women at Trinity is not just about the last 40 years …
I’m not saying anniversary celebrations are bad at all. It is a great thing and needs to be celebrated but a danger could be that we focus solely on that. That’s why I think this project is really good because it goes back a bit further and says it wasn’t just nothing – and then something. It was a long process to get to the point where we are today.
What was most interesting?
It was really nice to be able to get to know some personalities. As a second-year history student, you don’t get to get to work too much with sources or in archives so I found it was a very personal sort of history that I was doing in getting to know the personalities of people through the things that they wrote down.
Is there one woman from the past who particularly inspired you?
They were all inspiring in different ways but two who stood out for me were Mary Somerville and Hester Adrian. Perhaps because they were the two women whose correspondence I read most. I think maybe I felt a more personal connection as I got to know them.
Did you get a sense of how these women felt about their place in College?
I think you really can, especially for example, through the speech by Agnata Ramsay in 1912. This speech to the Perse School really inspired me. From that there is a really interesting sense of perspective. She told them to look how far they had come, not to forget the struggle that came before, and the progress still to be made. I thought that was very applicable to our situation as women in Trinity today. It was a strong view of how she saw her role.
Has your research informed your experience as a woman at Trinity today?
The project did change my outlook. Obviously I knew when I came to the College that it has a larger male group. So while you know the statistics, as a student I don’t feel too much in the minority.
Doing this project has made me appreciate that it’s not always been as easy as it has been for me. A lot of people have had to work really, really hard to get the things that I now have and have really fought so that I can be in the place I am today.