Posted on 15/07/2013
Graduation photograph of Marian Sherrett
For one week in July the sound of trumpets filters up to the archives reading room and all across campus graduates celebrate the culmination of their undergraduate study. This month’s item looks back at the graduation of one of our former students. Marian Sherrett (pictured above) was a student at Bedford College (which merged with Royal Holloway in the 1980s) from 1881 and she worked her way through the matriculation course, passing with a Class 1 in 1882 and the Intermediate Arts course which she also passed with a Class 1 in 1883. She then went on to achieve a first in her German BA Honours degree, graduating in 1886.
This might seem like a fairly ordinary story of an academically gifted student but it’s really the date of her studies which adds extra interest to the tale. She began her studies at Bedford just 3 years after the University of London became the first university in the country to admit women to its degrees. Before this date women could study and take examinations but would never be awarded a degree or permitted to graduate. The tradition of higher education as a reserve for men was what had prompted Elisabeth Jesser Reid to open Bedford College in 1849 as the first higher education college for women in the country. This had opened up ‘masculine’ subjects such as maths and the sciences to women. Previously they would have only been taught subjects deemed suitable for young ladies such as foreign languages, music and domestic skills. In the early years of the College women studied a wide range of subjects but it wasn’t until 1878 that the students could actually gain a degree.
After her studies, Marian went on to become a governor of Bedford College (now as Mrs Marian Nelson after her marriage). She served as governor from 1909 until her death in 1935, a testament to her dedication to Bedford College.
Annabel Gill, College Archivist