Somerville College was founded in 1879 in the vanguard of women’s higher education at the University of Oxford.  Established as a college with no religious affiliation, it gained (and maintains to this day) a reputation for encouraging independent thought, strength of character, questioning minds and tolerant attitudes.

The history of Somerville College follows closely the history of higher education for women in England generally and our archives reflect many of the political debates, negotiations and issues that surrounded the fight for women to be educated to the same degree as men nationally.

The archives are interesting from many points of view: the personalities that were involved in setting up the College (including Bishop John Percival, novellist Mrs Humphrey Ward, philosopher T.H.Green and classicists, Henry Nettleship and Arthur Sidgwick) ; the personalities who were educated at the College (Vera Brittain, Dorothy L Sayers, Iris Murdoch, Indira Gandhi, Shirley Williams, Margaret Thatcher) ; the pioneering academic women who built the College’s reputation (Enid Starkie, Dorothy Hodgkin, ..) as well as the early days of women’s independence and quest for knowledge.

In these pages, it is the image archives that we are celebrating. Photos from over a hundred years ago of the College as it was and during the twentieth century as it developed, the personalities that it nurtured and the buildings that sprung up in the grounds.    This project to digitise and present many of these College photos has been enabled through the funds raised by Old Somervillians as a tribute to the work of Pauline Adams, librarian and archvisit at Somerville for forty years who retired in 2009.