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Pioneering women

Royal Holloway has supported the careers of many inspirational women in history

Royal Holloway College and Bedford College were originally founded to give women access to higher education. Both Colleges helped some remarkable women achieve great things.

Notable Alumni Helen Maudcam


Cam’s career started at Royal Holloway College in 1904 with a scholarship to study history. She achieved a first. Cam went on to be a highly respected academic in medieval history, and was appointed professor at Harvard in 1948 – the first woman to hold the role. Cam also helped establish Hillcroft College with one of her contemporaries from Royal Holloway.

In 1933, Hilda Martindale joined the Treasury and became one of the first women to reach the higher levels of the Civil Service. She argued strongly for equal pay and for women to be given the right to choose to stay in work after marrying, and wrote several influential reports and books.

As head of Mayfield School in Putney, Miles fought for comprehensive educational reform throughout her life by writing, speaking, debating and appearing on TV. As President of Bedford College’s Student Union she displayed natural leadership qualities, and became known for her courage, humour, pragmatism and common sense.

Notable Alumni Louisa Martindale

Martindale championed women in the medical profession internationally and worked to open women’s hospitals throughout her life. She performed more than 7,000 surgeries, specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology, and was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians in 1933. She also pioneered radium treatment for cervical and ovarian cancer in Britain.

Taylor was awarded a scholarship to Royal Holloway and attained a first in Chemistry in 1903. The author of several books on Tudor geography, in 1930 she was appointed chair of geography by Birkbeck College. Her name lives on with The EGR Taylor lectures, which take place on her birthday in October every year at the Royal Geographical Society.

Kerstin Hesselgren

Hesselgren qualified as a Sanitary Inspector from Bedford College in 1905 and focused on improving the appalling health and living conditions for the working classes in Stockholm.  These experiences guided her political career, and she was active in promoting women’s access to political positions, campaigning for equal salary, for the legalisation of sex education and birth control, and for the lowering of the punishment for abortion.

Watts studied at Bedford College in 1913 and was active in the movement to secure equality for women from the 1920s to 1960s. She focused on the taxation of married women, the marriage bar in the civil service (women were forced to stop working when they married), the issues of superannuation paid by women, and accountancy.

Rosalin Pitt-Rivers

Pitt-Rivers was a pioneering biochemist linked with the discovery of the thyroid hormone triiodothyronine T3 in 1952. She became the first woman president of the European Thyroid Association in 1971, and in 1973 was made a fellow of Bedford College.


Remond broke many barriers for women by travelling around the US and Great Britain in 1859, without a male escort, to make speeches against slavery. She attempted (sadly, unsuccessfully) to have New York’s state constitution reworded to 'expand rights to women and black people', and spent the rest of her life working in Italy as a physician.

Notable alumni Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay

Chattopadhyay was active in the Indian Independence Movement and the All-India Women’s Conference. She travelled across Europe and initiated several social reform and community welfare programmes as well as setting up educational institutions for women, run by women. In the 1930s she became the first Indian woman to be arrested after entering the Bombay Stock Exchange to sell packets of contraband salt.

One of the first Bedford College students was George Eliot (christened Mary Ann Evans), who is justly famous for the novels Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1872) and Daniel Deronda (1876). Her insightful psychological novels anticipated the narrative methods of modern literature, prompting D.H. Lawrence to write: "It was really George Eliot who… started putting action inside."
Emily Wilding Davison was renowned for her leading role in the suffragette movement, with extreme protest to demand women’s right to vote. She attacked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, went on hunger strike and, fatally, jumped in front of King George V's horse during the 1913 Epsom Derby.

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