Living History: Emma Widdis
My defining moment at Trinity
When I first arrived at Trinity, as a 28 year old, the only ladies’ lavatories for Fellows were accessed by going outside. It was quite an adventure: you had to pluck up your courage to walk through the quietest room of the Fellows’ Parlour, filled with senior male Fellows reading newspapers, rattle the (always stiff) door, and push your way out into the cold – effectively proclaiming loudly: “look at me, I’m a woman, and I have a bladder.”
So it was that I found myself making my first speech at a full College meeting: in my gown, surrounded by all those senior colleagues, talking about loos. At the time I had thought I would wait at least a decade before daring to make a speech at a College meeting; yet all of a sudden, there I stood.
And the College reacted so brilliantly to my doing so. The parlour was changed, the loos were integrated – and the Master and others affectionately praised my maiden ‘loo speech’. As for me, I realised something fundamental: that everyone has a voice in Trinity if they want to use it. Over the years, I’ve tried to use mine to talk about more than just lavatories, and I have found that Trinity is always (or at least usually) open to change.
Emma Widdis is Professor of Russian and Film Studies at Cambridge and Director of Studies in Modern and Medieval Languages at Trinity. She was elected a Fellow of the College in 1998.