“If a female had once passed the gate…” Exhibition marks 100 years of Trinity Women Graduates

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A new exhibition marks 100 years of Trinity Women Graduates and is inspired by the quote: “If a female had once passed the gate it would be practically impossible to watch what buildings or chambers she had entered or how long she might remain there.” 

In 1895, the Board of Trinity College Dublin identified this as one of a number of dangers associated with admitting female students to the College. 

Less than 10 years later and in the same month as the death of Provost George Salmon, who had famously proclaimed “over my dead body” will women enter the college, the first three female students were admitted to Trinity in January 1904.

Trinity was the first of the historic universities of Ireland and Britain to admit women.

This statement from the Board expounding on the risks of female students is one of the fascinating items featured in a new exhibition charting the story of women graduates of Trinity and their hard-fought victories to be acknowledged as equal citizens, students, academics and graduates.

Trinity Women Graduates
Images captured as part of the exhibition on the Dublin University Women Graduates’ Association, 2022

The exhibition marks the centenary of the foundation of Trinity Women Graduates, in 1922.

Entitled ‘If a female had once passed the gate … ’: Trinity Women Graduates Centenary Exhibition 1922-2022, the exhibition is on display in the Long Room as part of the Book of Kells exhibition. It is also available as an online exhibition on the Trinity Library website and on Google Cultural Institute.

Developed in partnership with the Library of Trinity College Dublin, the exhibition features highlights of the Trinity Women Graduates archive.

Photographs, letters, administrative records and collected reminiscences trace the long campaign for admission, the achievements of early women graduates and the struggle for equality by female students and staff. 

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Images captured as part of the exhibition on the Dublin University Women Graduates’ Association, 2022

It forms part of the wider Trinity Women Graduates Archive Project which involves the cataloguing, conservation, and partial digitisation of the Trinity Women Graduates archive as part of the Virtual Trinity Library project. 

Highlights of the exhibition:

A statement from the Board of Trinity College Dublin in 1895 on the feasibility and risks associated with admitting women to Trinity. It argued that “if a female had once passed the gate it would be practically impossible to watch what buildings or chambers she had entered” and noted that “parents who place their sons in residence in Trinity College do so in the persuasion that their morals will be subject to some supervision”.
A petition signed by 10,560 “Irish Women of the educated classes” in favour of the admission of women to Trinity College Dublin, 1892. Notable signatories include Lady Jane Francesca Wilde and Constance Wilde.
Official ‘Regulations for Women’, 1908. Once admitted, female students were subject to strict regulations, which emphasised the separation of the male and female student populations in everything except lectures and exams. The regulations stipulated that women must wear their formal university attire in the college squares and parks unless accompanied by a chaperone. In the 1960 women were still refused campus accommodation and had to leave Trinity by 6pm.  
Photograph of the July 1906 graduation of the ‘Steamboat Ladies’ – students from Oxford and Cambridge universities, which at that time refused to confer degrees on women, who travelled to Dublin for conferring. Between 1904 and 1907 hundreds of women from Oxbridge women’s colleges travelled to Dublin on steamboats to receive their degrees. 
Flyer for DUWGA Jubilee Dinner, 1954, which was the first time women could host in the College Dining Hall. It was only in 1965 that women were allowed to dine at Commons in the Dining Hall, and in 1968 when women were finally admitted as members of the student debating society, the College Historical Society (the Hist). 
Calligraphic memorial of the first women to be elected as Fellows of the College, June 1968. 

“The main aim of Trinity Women Graduates was to afford members an opportunity to stay connected with the university and each other. These records and reminiscences give a deeper insight into the lived experiences of these women and ensures that the voices and experiences of these women form part of the historical record of both Irish society in the twentieth century and Trinity College Dublin.”

Ciara Daly, Project Archivist, Library of Trinity College Dublin, and curator of the exhibition

“Following a long campaign, the first three women were admitted to Trinity in January 1904. A further 47 were admitted the following September,” Grace O’Malley, Chair of Trinity Women Graduates Centenary Committee commented.

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Images captured as part of the exhibition on the Dublin University Women Graduates’ Association, 2022

“Once admitted female students were subject to strict regulations because their presence was judged to be a danger to the men.

“These rules and regulations did not deter women and by 1922 there were sufficient women in Trinity to warrant the foundation of an alumni society. A century later, 60% of the student body is female and the university is led by a woman.”

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