Celebrating women: Bristol’s first female Chair

To mark the 2018 centenary of the first British women winning the right to vote, we are honouring Bristol women who have changed our institution, and the world. From our first woman lecturer to the first British woman to have won a Nobel Prize, these activists, educators and agitators now take their rightful place on the walls of the Wills Memorial building – along with ten of the women in today’s University community to who continue to be inspired by their legacy.

Professor Helen Wodehouse, the first female Chair at the University of Bristol, with Dr Peggy Styles, the University’s oldest graduate aged 86

“Helen was appointed Chair of Education in 1919 – one of the first women in any British university to hold such a post. She went on to shape the University’s teaching of education and, as someone who studied for my postdoctorate within the School of Education, I can testify that her work has had a lasting legacy.

“In 1925, she led the merger of the separate men’s and women’s Departments for Education against some opposition. She also initiated a system of regular assessment instead of a final examination for the Diploma of Education. This system has continued ever since. She established one of the leading departments in the country, both for professional education and for research.

“In 1964, when she died, Helen Wodehouse was still the only woman to have held a Chair at the University and it was therefore fitting that the new Graduate School of Education building in Berkeley Square was named after her that year.

“My dissertation looked at how attitudes towards the education of women have changed in living memory. Helen played a major role in this; her teaching not only inspired future generations of teachers, but her attitude showed that women were able to achieve senior roles and influence positive and lasting change.

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The University of Bristol was the first higher education institution in England to welcome women on an equal basis to men, but our commitment to gender equality reaches far beyond this milestone. The wooden panels of the Great Hall in its Wills Memorial Building have been an all-male domain thanks to hosting portraits of its Vice-Chancellors. But now, thanks to a project specially-commissioned to mark 100 years since the first women in Britain won the right to vote, a series of ten portraits redresses the balance and celebrates notable Bristol women who have changed the institution – and, indeed, the world.

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