Feminist & Radical Histories at Newnham: a new student-led project for the 150th Anniversary

A map of Newnham showing links to stories

As part of the 150th Anniversary Open Programme, two Newnham PhD students have created a remarkable map, exploring some of the feminist and radical histories associated with the College. 

Discover the Feminist & Radical Histories at Newnham project.

Paula Keller and Rosa Campbell drew on Newnham’s archives and library for what they described as “a critical and celebratory history”, highlighting women’s activism at Newnham. Paula is a doctoral candidate in philosophy, exploring the value and possibility of knowing about injustice. Rosa is a doctoral candidate in history, exploring the global history of Australian Women’s Liberation. Together, they were able to address a range of topics in thoughtful, nuanced short articles.

Rosa explained, “We spent some time in our college archives and were surprised by the many amazing radical and feminist histories that had taken place at our college. We knew about the links between Newnham and the suffragist Milicent Fawcett, but there was lots that we hadn’t known about, like the Newnham student Akua Asabea Ayisi who had been involved in the movement for Ghanaian decolonisation before coming to Newnham, or the Working Women’s Summer Schools held at Newnham between 1922-1950. These offered working women a chance to discover the joys of higher education and took them seriously as learners and intellectual subjects.”

Some histories may be unfamiliar to readers, while others may be well known – indeed, some people may discover that their own student days appear within the project. These stories are planted within a map of Newnham itself, and bring together wonderful photos and quotations from our own archives. Again, Rosa explains, “As we researched, we found that radical histories were tied to specific places in college, so we created a digital map to make this history come alive and to show the wide variety of radical and feminist histories that took place at Newnham. We were inspired by other public history projects that have used maps in this way such as the Business of Women’s Words ‘Spare Rib Magazine’ map.”

With so many histories to research, the pair had to make decisions about what to focus on. Paula explained, “For the most part, we only included radical histories that took place at Newnham. There are many amazing women who went onto wonderful careers, broke the path and did all kinds of radical things after college, but we wanted to think about Newnham as a space of radical history and feminist history. There is an exception to this, and that is Akua Asabea Ayisi, but in her case, she did lots of radical things before college, and so brought them with her into Newnham.”

Topics include the different ways in which feminist activism has manifested itself over the years, including student-produced magazines, the Women’s Settlement Movement,  Working Women’s Summer Schools at Newnham, and the second-wave feminist movement. The individuals discussed include Virginia Woolf, Amy Levy, Akua Asabea Ayisi and Diane Abbott.

Dive into the map, and discover new aspects of Newnham’s history!

The project was supported by many members of College, including Frieda Midgley, Dr. Jean Gooder, Dr. Gill Sutherland, Claire Sawford and Beth Walters. Funding was made available from the Open Programme and the Guild of Friends.