Marking 40 years of women at Trinity

More than 100 female students and Fellows gathered in Trinity’s vast Hall early on Monday morning to mark the 40th anniversary of women’s admission to the College.

The portrait of Elizabeth I, painted by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, circa 1597
The portrait of the ‘Virgin Queen’

From her vantage point above High Table, Elizabeth I, glowing in a pale, jewelled dress, surveyed an unusual scene. The tables, chairs and trestles had been pushed to the sides. Only a stool and an umbrella-like flashlight stood in the middle of Hall.

The sixteenth-century portrait of the ‘Faerie Queen’ temporarily replaces the iconic image of her father, Henry VIII, who founded Trinity in 1546.

Elizabeth I has been placed centre stage to mark 40 years since the College statutes were changed, in 1975, to allow the admission of women. The first female graduate student was admitted in 1976, the first female Fellow in 1977 and the first female undergraduate in 1978.

Today, there are 224 female undergraduate and 115 female postgraduate students at Trinity.

On Monday morning, a sense of anticipation permeated Hall. Students and Fellows from across the disciplines intermingled on the High Table dais, including CERN physicist Professor Valerie Gibson, art historian Dr Alyce Mahon, Russian cinema specialist Dr Emma Widdis, Reader at the Department of Engineering, Dr Joan Lasenby, and Downing Professor of the Laws of England, Sarah Worthington.

The Dean of Trinity, Professor Sachiko Kusukawa, whose idea the event was, looked on, as the numbers of women increased.

A break from the formalities
A break from the formalities

Trestles were moved to make extra rows. Could everyone’s face to be seen by the camera? Had the end of a row inadvertently been cut off? Test photos were completed, more Fellows arrived from nursery drop-off, and it was time for the final shot – and then coffee and croissants.

After the applause, Senior Tutor, Professor Catherine Barnard, thanked everyone for coming.

It really was a memorable occasion and a brilliant start to what will be an exciting series of events celebrating women, past, present and future, at Trinity.

The history of women at Trinity shows that we can and do thrive – testimony to this are the many amazing students, Fellows and alumnae. Their stories shall be told as part of this important anniversary.

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