The Arrival of Women
The question of admitting female students was first formally raised in 1978 by one of our late Life Fellows and former Warden of Leckhampton, Professor Longuet-Higgins. It was followed up by five young Fellows who wrote a letter to then-Master Sir Duncan Wilson. This resulted in an investigation and many, many hours of discussion at Governing Body and Executive Body, the committees which make important decisions for the College. The students were asked for their opinion in referendums held by the JCR and MCR, letters were written to various headteachers from feeder schools and Heads of other Cambridge colleges to find out their views, graphs compiled and a report written.
Dr Jack Gordon (m.1974) remembers, "The 'heavy lifting' [to admit women] had been encouraged by Duncan Wilson (Master 1971-80). In 1978 the student representatives petitioned the Governing Body to extend Guest Hours, which led to several long and acrimonious debates; this was followed by further discussions on the subject of co-residence. These also proved contentious, but they were conducted in a more harmonious atmosphere. At the crucial GB meeting in May 1979, a majority of Fellows voted in favour of admitting women, but not enough to change the Statutes."
Things were changing both in College and the wider world. Michael McCrum became Master in 1980, and Christopher Andrew (one of the signatories of the letter) became Senior Tutor, with Hew Strachan as Admissions Tutor in 1981. Comprehensive education was replacing the old Grammar and Secondary Modern system across much of the country, and more state-educated students were applying (and gaining entry) to Cambridge. The majority of Cambridge colleges went co-residential in the 1970s, and fewer students were applying to single-sex colleges; the quality of students was decreasing at Corpus, and grades were slipping. The College, which had done very well academically in the early 70s was losing its way academically. There was also a general feeling that “co-residence was both highly desirable and completely inevitable.” In 1981, the necessary change in College Statutes was passed by the Governing Body, the first year of Michael McCrum’s mastership.
For many students, the change was unremarkable. From The Letter, 1984: The first twenty women to matriculate as undergraduates last October quickly became so much part of the College that the change to co-residence caused very few difficulties. While the Rugger and Association Football Club gained adherents of both sexes, and the College was represented by a women's IV for the first time in the Fairbairns and by a women's VIII in the Mays. The College's activities in music and drama also benefited much from this new intake.
Today the presence of successful women on the Fellowship and within the student body at Corpus is so integral to its history that individual achievements no longer need to be singled out. Five of the key College Officers are women – the Senior Tutor, Tutor for Undergraduate Admissions, Development Director, Bursar, and Domus Bursar – and women represent half of the College’s undergraduate and postgraduate populations.