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(History of Oxford IX)


The 20th century was an age of upheaval and revolution in many fields, an unprecedented age of development and change. Oxford and its traditions were not spared. It was in the 20th century that the University underwent a radical transformation. It completed the process of equal opportunities for women begun in the previous century, it became less elitist and it expanded at an unprecedented rate.

The issue of women's rights, so prominent in the 20th century, could not fail to leave its mark on the University, which still managed to survive as a male stronghold in the early years of the century.

The problem of women and higher education had been faced by central government towards the end of the 19th century by setting up Parliamentary Commissions, the first in 1850 and another in 1874. Cambridge had already admitted girls to examinations in 1863 but in Oxford it was only in 1878 that Lady Margaret Hall was founded for girls and a year later Somerville College. These were followed by St. Hugh's in 1886 and St Hilda's in 1893. Girls were finally allowed to sit examinations in 1884. However, this process of opening up to women was completed only in the 20th century when degrees were conferred on them in 1920. Despite these recent developments women were still excluded from most of the University's clubs.

The University also expanded greatly during the second half of the 20th century. A quick look at the list of colleges and their foundation dates gives an idea of the phenomenal expansion that did take place. Much of this was due to Lord Nuffield who financed the foundation of Nuffield College. The University also admitted an increasing number of grant-aided students during the 1930s which meant that the character of the University was gradually changing, although even to this day it still has a long way to go as most of its undergraduates still come from elitist public schools.

The University, as the city itself, has shown its ability to adapt as it always has done throughout the centuries, at times slowly and perhaps even grudgingly, but nonetheless it has changed and will continue to do so at it's own pace but perhaps not so quickly as people or government would prefer.


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latest update: 10/4/03