DAVIES, Emily (1830-1921)
Plaque erected in 1978 by Greater London Council at 17 Cunningham Place, St John's Wood, London, NW8 8JT, City of Westminster
Promoter of Higher Education for women
Education, Philanthropy and Reform
EMILY DAVIES 1830-1921 Founder of Girton College Cambridge lived here
Emily Davies was a promoter of higher education for women and an early campaigner for women’s suffrage. Her most significant achievement was the founding of Girton College, the first residential college for women to offer degree-level education.
17 CUNNINGHAM PLACE
Born in Southampton and raised in Gateshead, Davies came with her mother, Mary, to London in January 1862, following the death of her father. The pair – with a cook and a housemaid – moved immediately into 17 Cunningham Place, a house found for them in St John’s Wood by Emily’s brother Llewelyn. Part of an early to mid-19th-century terrace, it was apparently ‘small but cheerful’, with ‘a minute garden in which Mrs [Mary] Davies could potter about to her heart’s content’, and its position was described by Emily as ‘ideal’. It continued to be her home until shortly after her mother’s death in 1886.
Once in London, Davies actively campaigned to raise the status of women. Working with her friends from the Langham Place group – Barbara Leigh Bodichon (1827–91), Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836–1917), Frances Mary Buss (1827–94) and others – she pressed for the opening of university courses and professional careers to women. In 1866 she published her successful book The Higher Education of Women, and later the same year the London Schoolmistresses’ Association was founded at number 17, with Emily as Secretary.
Most notably, in 1869 Davies and Bodichon founded Girton College, based initially at Hitchin, Hertfordshire, and from 1873 on the edge of Cambridge. Girton, a residential college where women took the same courses and exams as men, remained a major part of Davies’s life until 1904, and survives as her greatest memorial. However, it did not become part of Cambridge University until 1948.
THE RIGHT TO VOTE
As part of the Kensington Society – a ladies’ debating group comprised of many from the Langham Place set and other like-minded women – Davies helped organise the petition for women’s suffrage which was presented to Parliament by John Stuart Mill in 1866. Although she subsequently dedicated most of her time to Girton and women’s higher education, she returned to the suffrage cause in 1904, becoming secretary of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage and later one of the vice-presidents of the Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association.
In the general election of December 1918 – the first in which the right to vote was extended to (some) women – she was the only one of the original Langham Place group still alive to cast a vote.