As my days at Jesus college pass by with ever increasing speed, each day is a new adventure in the English Literature major. The city of Cambridge is our classroom. Jeff shares his extensive knowledge of incredible locations–debate houses, colleges, libraries, chapels, museums, and river banks to name a few. Each day brings the close investigation of a new poem or memoir. Allusions, hidden meaning and literary devices consume class discussions as we dissect pieces of writing and draw inferences about the experiences of many scholars we have examined.
I particularly enjoyed our trip to Newnham College. Ivy creeps up sides of ornate red brick buildings surrounding the college grounds. Large white windows and balconies allow for plenty of exposure to sunlight, and lush green lawns are alive with color. Walkways are abundant with a display of purples, pinks, yellows, reds and whites from the flowers. Entering Newnham, I felt a sense of serenity. While not being as large or as grand as other Cambridge colleges, I imagine Newnham is a place where students can explore their thoughts and queries without the bustle of the outside world. I imagined the women who had come years earlier, sitting on the grass lost in thought, until an idea occurred to them. Or perhaps women were sitting together, having conversations, when together discoveries were made.
Founded as a women’s only college the early 1870s, Newnham remains an institution solely focused on female education. An impressive host of alumni have attended Newnham, although our class has looked most closely at the mathematician Philippa Fawcett and writer Sylvia Plath. These two women took full advantage of their opportunity to attend Newnham, Plath producing extraordinary works of writing and Fawcett achieving the highest mathematics score in all of the university, out of both men and women. For centuries in nearly every part of globe, education has been unavailable to women. To this day, the right to attend school is an ongoing challenge for women across the world.
At the time Newnham was founded, women were still not perceived as having intellectual capabilities of their own, and thus women were prevented from graduating or receiving their degrees after completing their course of study at Newnham. Women were also prevented from accessing many university laboratories, libraries and other facilities. Finally in 1948, however, women were given equal treatment to men at Cambridge.
To learn about the incredible achievements of young women who defied the odds and got and education is inspiring. Newnham is a special place certainly worth visiting. Not only is the college a beautiful, old, setting, but it also has a rich history.