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Davies, Emily

Emily Davies (Sarah Emily Davies) (dā´vĬs), 1830–1921, British feminist, co-founder of Girton College, Cambridge. Educated at home, she became (1862) secretary of a committee to obtain the admission of women to university examinations. Out of this undertaking grew another committee, of which she was also secretary, to form a college for women. The college was organized at Hitchin, Hertfordshire, in 1869 and in 1873 transferred to Cambridge as Girton College. Davies was mistress of the college (1873–75) and its honorary secretary until 1904. From 1866 she was closely associated with the English woman-suffrage movement and was active in organizing the first woman-suffrage petition presented to Parliament by John Stuart Mill in 1866. She wrote Higher Education of Women (1866) and Thoughts on Some Questions Relating to Women (1910).

See D. Bennett Emily Davies and the Liberation of Women, 1830–1921 (1990).

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Davies, Emily

Davies, Emily (1830–1921). Born in Southampton, brought up in Gateshead where her father had a parish, Emily Davies began by helping Elizabeth Garrett Anderson to obtain her medical training. In 1862 she joined a committee to lobby for access to university examinations for women and then moved on to help organize a women's college. This opened at Hitchin in 1869 with five students and transferred to Girton, just outside Cambridge, in 1873, with fifteen. Davies served as mistress from 1873 until 1875 and as honorary secretary from 1867 to 1904. She was also a strong advocate of women's suffrage and organized J. S. Mill's petition to Parliament in 1866. ‘Small and plain … her face unrevealing between smooth bands of mouse-coloured hair’ was a contemporary assessment: ‘all at once friendly and formidable’ a later comment.

J. A. Cannon

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Davies, Emily

DAVIES, EMILY

DAVIES, EMILY (1830–1921), English educator.

Any account of nineteenth-century British feminism must place Emily Davies squarely in the center at of it, even though, paradoxically, her political beliefs and social conservatism often put her at odds with much of its agenda. Born into a professional upper-middle-class family, Davies felt acutely her father's refusal to provide her with any of the educational opportunities he afforded her brothers. While they attended elite public schools and Cambridge University, she was refused even the most basic instruction; her strenuous and persistent efforts to open higher education to women, culminating in the founding of Girton College in 1869, derived their inspiration and sustenance from her personal experience of discrimination. She spent the entirety of her adult life campaigning against the societal beliefs and strictures that justified inequality for women on the basis of the so-called natural differences of the sexes, arguing that what society regarded as innate qualities of femininity were no more than mere conventional expectations.

But what we might see as a fairly radical philosophical stance was complicated and constrained by a profound belief in conservative principles: Davies might demand extensive educational and legal reforms for women, but, unlike her coworkers in the struggle for women's rights, she had no wish to transform the society in which she, they, and future generations lived. So strong were her conservative and Conservative principles that when the campaign for votes for women became identified with the Radical wing of the Liberal Party, she removed herself from the London Society for Women's Suffrage. When she rejoined the movement in the 1880s, she dissented from its aims to enfranchise women on the same terms as men; rather, she sought the vote only for single women who met a substantial property qualification. Again, in the early years of the twentieth-century, when the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies decided upon an affiliation with the Labour Party in order to elect members of Parliament who favored votes for women, Davies resigned from the women's suffrage movement.

Although known primarily for her work to obtain educational opportunities for women, Davies was involved in virtually every aspect of the women's movement from its inception in the 1860s. She became a member of the pioneering Langham Place group in 1862 and took over the editorship of its English Woman's Journal; she was a founding member and secretary of the London Women's Suffrage Society; and she spearheaded the effort to gain a medical degree for Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836–1917), sister of activist Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847–1929). Indeed, one biographer argues that Davies was the women's movement of the nineteenth century, so central was she to the activities and survival of so many individual organizations. She worked tirelessly behind the scenes, corresponding with people she believed would further the interests of the association she represented, but disavowing any public action or affiliation with any individuals that she feared would bring the causes she supported into disrepute. Here again is the paradox of her politics: involved in a variety of reform efforts that as a whole sought to dramatically change British society, Davies regarded each one as a discrete entity with a particular concrete goal, eschewing any possibility of a larger social or political intent. And, in seeking out prominent people she believed would be influential in furthering her causes, she necessarily found herself dealing with advocates who sought far less extensive reforms than she envisaged. When she sought the support of the Dean of Canterbury, for instance, in gaining admission for girls to the Cambridge Local Examinations, he responded that, though he warmly wished for the expansion of women's education, he could not sign on to an effort that would introduce "anything like competition or personal public designation into the characteristic of female society in England—believing that any personal eminence would be dearly bought at the sacrifice of that unobtrusiveness, which is at the same time the charm and the strength, of our English women" (Caine, p. 101).

Such talk was calculated to incense Davies, but she was unable to bring herself to enlist the support of sympathetic people who had any connection with radical or unconventional causes.

Davies's own radical and unconventional belief that the "natural" distinctions drawn between men and women were artificial contrivances informed her most significant achievement—the founding, with Barbara Leigh Bodichon (1827–1891), of Girton College at Cambridge. Davies insisted that the women attending Girton study a curriculum identical to that of the men's colleges; anything less, she believed, would pander to societal notions of weak femininity. She demanded "a fair field and no favor" for women students; the fact that the classical curricula of Cambridge and Oxford were, at that time, under attack by educational reformers swayed her not a bit: no matter how misguided it might be for men, it must be the same for women. Davies sought in an equality of education for women the means by which men and women could act as intellectual and political equals of one another, engage in discussion as equals, learn from and enrich one another as equals. She refused the prescriptions of femininity that painted women as maternal, intrinsically nurturing, unable to withstand the rigors of learning. At the same time, she embraced the conventions that assigned to them particular social roles, insisting that her students behave with decorum in every aspect of their lives, in accordance with the strictures of her class. In this as in so many other ways, her deep-seated conservatism did battle with her radical inclinations, making her a person her coworkers found difficult to work with and a figure historians have found difficult to understand. For all of her centrality to the nineteenth-century women's movement, for all her efforts to make pronounced and profound changes for the way women might conduct their lives, her express unwillingness to advocate for a new world for women and men has left her but a shadow lurking in the recesses of the pantheon of British feminists.

See alsoFawcett, Millicent Garrett; Feminism; Suffragism.

bibliography

Bennett, Daphne. Emily Davies and the Liberation of Women. London, 1990.

Bradbrook, Muriel. "That Infidel Place": A Short History of Girton College. London, 1969.

Caine, Barbara. Victorian Feminists. Oxford, U.K., 1992.

Davies, Emily. The Higher Education of Women. London, 1866. Reprint, London, 1988.

Fletcher, Sheila. Feminists and Bureaucrats: A Study in the Development of Girls' Education in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge, U.K., 1980.

Stephen, Barbara. Emily Davies and Girton College. London, 1927.

Susan Kingsley Kent

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