From its foundation in 1879, Somervillians have been making their mark on the world around them.
Its founders insisted that Somerville should be non-denominational (unlike many other Oxford colleges at the time) and that no discrimination would be made on the basis of religious belief. These ground-breaking origins inspired an ethos of openness, inclusiveness and a willingness to question accepted orthodoxies that has characterised the College ever since.
Somervillians have a formidable role model in the woman for whom the College is named. Mary Somerville (1780 to 1872) was one of the best known woman scientists of the nineteenth century. She was the author of best-selling books on science and a highly respected mathematician and astronomer. A staunch supporter of women’s suffrage and a great advocate of women’s education, Mary Somerville juggled home life and career, being twice married and the mother of five children. She was also a talented landscape artist, and some of her paintings are displayed in College.
Somerville College achieved many "firsts" among the five women's halls in Oxford. The first to adopt the title of "college"; the first to appoint its own teaching staff; the first to set an entrance examination; the first to build its own library. In Oxford legend it soon became known as the "bluestocking college", its examination results spectacularly refuting the widespread belief that women were incapable of high academic achievement.
Somerville alumnae have achieved an impressive number of “firsts” - the first, and only, British woman to win a Nobel prize in science(Dorothy Hodgkin); the highest ranking female officer of her time in the British intelligence services (the Queen of Spies, Daphne Park); the first woman to lead the world’s largest democracy (Indira Gandhi); the first Indian woman barrister (Cornelia Sorabji) and the first woman Prime Minister of this country(Margaret Thatcher). Countless others have forged path-breaking careers in academic life, politics, literature, science, law, business, education and the media.
Male undergraduates were admitted in 1994, and although they have had a decidedly shorter period of time, male Somervillians too are making their mark. To take just two examples, Sam Gyimah was President of the Oxford Union, won Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2005, and in 2010 was elected Member of Parliament for Surrey East. Another, Noah Bulkin is Managing Director of Investment Banking at Lazard, and was selected as one of Financial News’ top 100 Rising Stars.
Today Somerville is home to around 400 undergraduates and 100 graduate students. It is a friendly, vibrant, diverse community, with a bright future. Two new accommodation buildings opened in September 2011, meaning that for the first time Somerville will be able to house nearly all undergraduates throughout their course (except those who choose to live out in their second year). The University is undertaking a major new development of the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, right next door to Somerville. The ROQ will be home to the Oxford University administrative offices, the new School of Government, the Mathematics Institute, the Humanities Centre, the Ruskin School of Art and a major development of the Bodleian Library. Somerville, with its new buildings overlooking the site, will be right at the heart of 21st-century Oxford life.