On this day in history : 22nd April 1830 – The birth of suffragist and educator Sarah Emily Davies – who co-founded and was an early mistress of the first English college to educate women….

Portrait of Emily Davies – Public domain

Emily was born in Southampton but spent most of her childhood in Gateshead, where her father, the Reverend John Davies, was rector…. She was educated at home, whilst her three brothers were sent to boarding school…. She was particularly close to her eldest brother, John Llewelyn, who was to be very successful in his studies at Cambridge University…. This only made Emily realise just how much women were missing out on….

After the death of her father Emily and her mother were to move to London, to 17 Cunningham Place – a home found for them by John Llewelyn…. She was to become editor of ‘The English Woman’s Journal’ and began to mix with women’s rights advocates, such as Elizabeth Garrett-Anderson, Millicent Fawcett and Barbara Bodichon…. She was especially good friends with Elizabeth – who was to become the first woman to qualify as a doctor in England…. Emily had considered a career in medicine herself but realised that with her poor early education that this was practically impossible…. She actively encouraged Elizabeth in her quest….

In 1865 Emily became a founding member of the Kensington Society, a women’s discussion group where suffragists would meet to plan campaigns – in 1866 the Society formed the London Suffrage Committee…. They petitioned Parliament to allow women to vote – but were unsuccessful….

Emily began to campaign for a women’s right to education and the ability to obtain degrees and qualifications…. She also played a major role in gaining girls’ access to secondary education examinations…. By now she had decided to devote her life to this campaign – and next she turned her attention to getting women admission to universities…. At this time only men were permitted to attend – she insisted women should be admitted on the same terms as men….

In 1869 Emily led the founding of Britain’s first college for women; with the support of Barbara Bodichon, Dorothea Beale and Frances Mary Buss the Girton College was established in Hitchin, Hertfordshire….the first mistress was Charlotte Manning…. The college was later to relocate in 1873 to just outside Cambridge….

Girton College during the 1890s – Public domain

Emily served on the London School Board from 1870-1873 and in 1870 was responsible for the University of London College’s admission of women for the first time…. She was to serve as mistress at Girton College from 1873-1875 – and then took on the role of Secretary until 1904…. However, it was not until 1940 that Cambridge University finally conceded and began to grant full degrees to women….

During her lifetime Emily was to write two books – ‘The Higher Education of Women’ (1866) and ‘Thoughts on Some Questions Relating to Women 1860-1908’ (1910)…. Emily died in Hampstead, London, on the 13th of July 1921….

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