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Jesus celebrates 40 years of women

Jesus is celebrating 40 years since it first admitted women to the College in what was known as the “Jesus experiment”, with three events for current students and alumni having been planned for this weekend.

Women from the JCR and MCR hosted a drinks reception to celebrate a donation of portraits of the college’s first female fellows on Thursday, while a bar party is planned for Friday and a panel discussion on Saturday.

Although the first women-only colleges, LMH and Somerville, opened in 1879, there were no co-ed colleges until Jesus, Brasenose, Wadham, Hertford and St Catherine’s opened their doors to women in 1974.

Organiser Ellie Armstrong told Cherwell, “Celebrating steps towards equality is always important, and this milestone allows us to look back at the advances that have been made through women’s admission and to look forward to see what we still have to do to get diversity and equality in the University.

“So many of us are grateful for the opportunity to study at Jesus College, Oxford University and the women of the community wanted to give something back. We also wanted to make sure that Jesus did something to commemorate the opportunity in the college, as Hertford and Keble have also done.”

The drinks reception on Thursday celebrated the donation of portraits of some of the first female fellows to the College. Taken by a female undergraduate photographer, Liberty King, in Jesus Fellows’ Library, it is hoped that the portraits will be hung in the Porters’ Lodge.

Armstrong explained, “Getting in touch with these fellows has been really inspiring as it’s shown how important their positions in Jesus were to their academic careers.”

The fellows had interesting stories to tell. One explained how, after dining at high table with the other fellows, she was initially expected not to join the men when they went for coffee in a separate room, much to her dismay. Meanwhile, Susan Ballard, who joined the college’s GCR in 1977, commented, “It was a shock to the college that we wanted irons and ironing boards and sewing machines!”

Friday’s bar party will involve creating a college-collage with memories and photographs about experiences of co-education for current Jesus students. With regard to costume theme, organisers have told students, “Take a great woman as your inspiration and get creative.”

The panel discussion, meanwhile, sees Ruth Saunders, a member of the 1974 matriculation class, and Susan Ward, one of the two fellows admitted in 1974, sitting on a panel with current fellow Patricia Daley, post-grad Rohini Giles, and undergrad Kathy Page. Armstrong explained, “We hope to discuss how College has changed over the intervening 40 years, how attitudes and expectations have been influenced by the presence of women at Jesus and how their memories and experiences have been shaped by attending Jesus.”

JCR President Leo Gebbie told Cherwell, “It’s fantastic to see Jesus students celebrating the contributions that women have made, both within and beyond our college, over the last 40 years. The events which have been organised are encouraging people to think of those women who have inspired them, and it’s great to see so many JCR members coming together to celebrate the achievements of our alumnae.” 

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