Leading Change Since 1878

LMH is a pioneering Oxford University College.

It was the first College - founded in 1878 - to give women an Oxford education and opened its doors in 1879 to nine women. LMH admitted men in 1979 and, in 2016, became the first Oxbridge College to establish a Foundation Year for under-represented students. This is our story.

1878 – A Radical Idea

For the best part of eight centuries Oxford University had only educated men. The very idea of admitting women appalled many of the most venerable figures in Oxford. But all that was about to change. In 1878 Edward Talbot, the young Warden of Keble College, visited Girton College, Cambridge with his wife Lavinia. Edward Talbot demanded: “Why should the Church not be for once at the front instead of behind its development?”

4th June 1878 – The Meeting That Changed Everything

Edward and Lavinia returned to Keble and convened a meeting of figures sympathetic to the idea of educating women at Oxford. The meeting was arranged for 4th June 1878 in the dining room of the Warden’s lodgings at Keble. 17 people were at the meeting, 12 women and 5 men.

4th June 1878 – A Wrong Put Right

The minutes show that most of the women were the wives of Oxford academics. Of the five men, four were clerics. The meeting was described as ‘stormy’ as the participants debated whether nonconformist students could be allowed. But the committee took the historic decision to establish the house which would become Lady Margaret Hall. The key resolution was to establish: “…a small hall or Hostel in Connection with the Church of England for the reception of women desirous of availing themselves of the special advantages which Oxford offers for higher education.” They started a series of events which – 14 months later – saw nine young women – dubbed ‘bluestockings’ arrive in Oxford.

12th October 1879 – The First Nine Women Arrive At LMH

  • Mary Anstruther - "She belonged to a family of Scottish Liberals….her real bent and genius was for social work.” She helped found the LMH Settlement.
  • Edith Argles - “In her early days she spent some time working among the poor, and though she was, I think, too shy to be entirely successful in direct social work, she never lost her interest in social questions.”
  • Eliza Bradby - “At the Hall, she was an advocate of “plain living and high thinking”, and sternly repressed any tendencies to what she considered luxury in any of us.”
  • Winifred Cobbe - "She was sent up by her father...in order to gain the benefits of Oxford’s true religion and sound learning under the safe though stimulating aegis of Miss Wordsworth."
  • E Laura F Jones - LMH 1879-1881.
  • Louisa La Touche - became a Headmistress at Alexandra College Dublin and died in 1908.
  • Edith Pearson - “Her deep interest in and study of social conditions dated a long way back and her hunger and thirst for righteousness was lifelong."
  • Mary Smith - went to teach and work in industry.
  • Charlotte Ward - LMH 1879-1881, died in 1903.

October 1879 – Elizabeth Wordsworth is LMH’s First Principal

The founding Principal, Elizabeth Wordsworth, named Lady Margaret Hall, after Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII, a notable patron of learning and a generous benefactor of Oxford and Cambridge. As Miss Wordsworth put it: ‘She was a gentlewoman, a scholar, and a saint, and after being married three times she took a vow of celibacy – what more could be expected of any woman?’ Elizabeth’s father Christopher was the Headmaster of Harrow School when she was born in 1840. He was soon appointed Canon of Westminster, and later became Bishop of Lincoln. Through both her father and mother, Susannah Frere, Elizabeth was connected to several interlocking worlds of distinguished English life, including diplomacy, scholarship, and the arts (the poet William Wordsworth was her great-uncle), as well as the Church.

1879 – The Rules For Women

There were strict rules that women had to obey while students at LMH. One student wrote: “We went for long walks into the country, but if a student was seen walking in the town somebody was nearly sure to report such a thing to Miss Wordsworth and the student would receive a reprimand. We must remember that at that time there were, I think, only four families belonging to the University where there were grown up daughters and they did not walk about the town alone, or even two together.” As one former student wrote about the rules: “I suspect that by the end of my first year I had broken them all, and retained a fairly safe reputation.”

October 15th 1879 – Early Life At LMH

One of the early students wrote: “Students in the first term numbered nine…Neither lectures nor examinations of the University were open to girls.” “I fear we hardly took our studies very seriously in that first Term. We used to sit round the table all morning in the room called the Library, though all its books were of the fewest.” “We use to all assemble on Sunday afternoons and sing hymns together; after supper Miss Wordsworth held a Bible Class at which we all attended and later we all went into the Drawing Room and sat, mostly on the floor, as close round the fire as we could get. At the same time we read Milton’s “Paradise Lost” aloud in turn.

1879-1900 – Early Students

Gertude Bell arrived at LMH in 1886 and became the first woman to receive a First in Modern History at Oxford. She embarked on an adventurous career as a traveller, explorer, archaelologist, historian and writer. She was a member of British Intelligence Services in Mesopotamia, awarded a CBE and was an expert member of the British delegation on the Middle East at the Versailles conference. Her career culminated in working with T. E. Lawrence to have the recently deposed King of Syria, Faisal, endorsed at the 1921 Cairo conference as King of Iraq.

Eglantyne Jebb studied History at LMH 1895-1898. She was a social reformer and founded the charity Save the Children. In 1923 she wrote the ‘Children’s Charter’ of rights, which the League of Nations unanimously adopted on 26 September 1924. Eglantyne died on the 17th December 1928 in Geneva, where she worked as an assessor to the League’s advisory council for the protection of children.

1896 – Construction Of New Buildings

Elizabeth Wordsworth oversaw the construction of a new building designed by Reginald Blomfield (Wordsworth Building), and also saw a second (Talbot) well on its way and two more (Toynbee and eventually Lodge) planned by the time of her retirement in 1909.

1905 – LMH Women Travelled To Trinity College Dublin To Collect Their Degrees

According to records from Trinity College Dublin, Janet Mary Gordon was the first woman from LMH to recieve a degree from the College in 1905. Women were not awarded degrees from Oxford University so had to take a steam-boat over to Dublin to collect their degrees from Trinity College. They became known as the 'Steam-boat Ladies'.

1914-1918 – The First World War

Henrietta Jex-Blake was Principal of LMH during the First World War War. She encouraged the students to see their studies through rather than abandon them for war work. Her conviction that the country needed trained teachers and administrators, as well as female labour in factories and on the land, was one reason why the great majority of LMH students in the war period finished their courses before going on to work in the Services, or the War Office, the Cabinet Office, the Admiralty, the War Trade Intelligence Department, the Ministry of Labour and so on, or as Red Cross nurses, relief workers, or ambulance drivers.

1920 – Oxford University Grants Women Degrees

Before October 1920, women were not allowed to be admitted to become members of the University or to graduate. Women had attended lectures, taken exams and had gained honours in those examinations. They were, however, unable to receive the degree to which, had they been men, their exams would have entitled them. The new University statute of 1920, which admitted women to full membership of the University, enabled women who had previously taken, and gained honours in, University exams to return to matriculate (ie go through the formal ceremony of admission to the University) and have the degree conferred on them. Consequently, at the very first ceremony at which women were able to graduate more than forty women did so.

1928 – Jubilee Celebrations

In 1928, LMH celebrated the 50th anniversary of its foundation. Elizabeth Wordsworth was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Civil Laws by the University of Oxford and made a Dame of the British Empire. The College’s Jubilee was marked by a garden party attended by the Duchess of of York, a commemoration service in the cathedral and a dinner in Oxford Town Hall. The College also adopted armorial bearings, which have been its shield ever since.

1930 – LMH Expands

In the 1930s LMH expanded. Giles Gilbert Scott designed the large Deneke residential wing, which opened in 1932, and the Byzantine-style Chapel, consecrated in 1933. A substantial part of the money for the building was raised by Margaret Deneke. Margaret was the sister of Helena Deneke, who was a Tutor at LMH. In 1915 their father, Philip Deneke, bought a house at the entrance to LMH. They had a famous music room, and LMH students were invited to concerts and to meet intellectuals and scientists as renowned Albert Einstein and Albert Schweitzer, who were guests of the family.

1940-1945 – The Second World War

War changed the experience of College life after 1939. The years were spartan. Memories abound of students being cold and hungry. The gardens were turned over to vegetable-growing. When war broke out, Principal, Lynda Grier, wrote to students who had gained places telling them to come to the College as planned and to persevere through their courses.

1960 – LMH Has A New Library

After the war, Dame Lucy Sutherland was elected Principal and LMH expanded substantially. She was a major specialist in 18th Century British History. An Oxford academic once referred to LMH as 'Dame Lucy's Empire by the river.' Architect Raymond Erith designed new buildings, one of which was a new library, opened in 1962 by the Queen. She was joined by Prime Minister and Chancellor of Oxford University, Harold Macmillan. In 1960 LMH also became an affiliated college of the University of Oxford.

1977 – LMH Decides To Admit Men

On 2nd March 1977 the Governing Body took the decision to open up LMH to men and women: tutors and students alike. In February of the same year, St Anne’s had announced its decision to include men but only male students, not tutors.

1979 – Men Arrive At LMH

Although it wasn’t thought possible that the decision for LMH to become fully mixed could be implemented before 1980, in October 1979 the first men were welcomed in to LMH. In contrast to nearly all of the men’s colleges taking women for the first time, LMH tried to create a balanced mix in that first year of change: not a token number but 39 men and 60 women.

1879-2019 – LMH Principals

The pioneering spirit of LMH is testament to the dedication of its Principals, Fellows, students and staff.

1879 - 1909 - Elizabeth Wordsworth

1909-1921 - Henrietta Jex- Blake

1921 -1945 - Lynda Grier

1945 - 1971 - Lucy Sutherland

1971 - 1979 - Sally Chilver

1979 - 1995 - Duncan Stewart

1995 - 2002 - Sir Brian Fall

2002 - 2015 - Dame Frances Lannon

2015 - present - Alan Rusbridger

2010-2017 – The New Era Campaign

During her time as Principal, Dame Frances Lannon (2002-2015), launched a 'New Era Campaign' - an ambitious new buildings project which enabled LMH to offer accommodation to postgraduate students for at least one year and provide excellent seminar and common rooms. The new entrance and Porters’ Lodge serves the whole college community and has transformed the way the college is perceived by the outside world. The first phase of new buildings, Pipe Partridge, was opened on 21st April 2010 by the Chancellor, The Lord Patten of Barnes CH. Its completion enabled LMH to offer all undergraduates the opportunity to live in college for three years. The Simpkins Lee Theatre, Monson Room and common rooms have greatly enriched the intellectual and cultural life of the LMH community. The Clore Graduate Centre and Donald Fothergill building were opened in 2017.

2016 – LMH Launches New Pioneering Foundation Year

Alan Rusbridger became Principal of LMH in 2015 and in 2016, LMH launched a ground-breaking Foundation Year – a four-year pilot offering 12 fully funded places each year to students from under-represented backgrounds. The Foundation Year opens the doors of LMH to students who would not normally have the opportunity to apply for an Oxford degree directly from school. It recognises that socio-economic factors can place obstacles in the path of students’ school achievement, and provides educational and personal support in a stand-alone year in college enabling students to achieve their academic potential. The course is run in partnership with Trinity College Dublin where they have run a similar scheme for 17 years with great success. Until now, nothing quite like this had been done in Oxford.

2019 – Oxford University Announces It Will Develop A Foundation Year Inspired By LMH

Oxford University announced it will develop a Foundation Year course, inspired by the one at LMH. It will be offered to state school students from less advantaged areas and who have also experienced personal disadvantage or a severely disrupted education. Eligible students could include refugees, children in care or those who are themselves carers or estranged from their families. Those offered places will take part in a yearlong, bespoke subject-specific course at Oxford. Students will be based at Oxford colleges, living and studying alongside other students. Those who pass the course will then progress to undergraduate study at Oxford. Once up and running, it is anticipated that the programme will support up to 50 students every year across selected subjects.

2019 – The Future

"As we celebrate 140 years of LMH we pay tribute to the pioneering spirit of our founders and the first nine students who made Oxford University history. Those who have followed in their footsteps have transformed lives and made LMH the thriving academic community it is today. LMH continues to lead change and we carry with us the same pioneering spirit of those women who arrived in 1879." Alan Rusbridger, Principal, LMH


Thank you to Dame Frances Lannon who wrote a history of the first 125 years of LMH which has been used as the main source for this timeline.