Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A History Lesson

I enjoy the occasional present: fun when it is something I have expressed a desire for, even nicer when it is a surprise. Several years ago Andrew presented me with a surprise—a book entitled Educating Women, A Pictorial History of Bedford College, University of London 1849-1985. I got my Bachelor’s degree at Bedford and I had always surmised that the names of various buildings and Scholarships were derived from founders of the college and the book proved that to be true, while it traced the history of the college from the beginning, through the war years, through the addition of (gasp) male students to the eventual merger in 1985 with Royal Holloway.

I was thumbing through it yesterday. I am afraid I had not paid much attention to the history of the college while I was attending it. I should have, because the women who supported it financially and with hard work in those early days were fighting for an unpopular cause—the education of women. There were photos of them, most the kind of women we would have uncharitably called old battle-axes. I came across a photograph of the first Principal, Miss Emily Penrose. Here she stands erect and imposing in her pleated shirtwaist. The book is vague about her own degrees—remember it was not until 1878 that the University of London allowed women to take degree examinations, and not until the 1920’s that they were allowed to do so at Oxford, thanks the diplomatic skills of Miss Penrose, who had left Bedford for Somerville College. I do know that she taught Ancient History.

Why did I notice Miss Penrose's photo? Yesterday the Wall Street Journal interviewed a trio of experts on the reasons why America lags behind in Math and Science. I wasn’t going to read the article, but this photo of a radiant blond caught my eye. Who is she? Amy Gutman, president of the University of Pennsylvania.

What a difference a century makes.

No comments: