Somerville College takes pride in the warm relationship it enjoys with Margaret Thatcher, who studied here and has been since 1970 an Honorary Fellow of the College.
Raised in modest circumstances above her father’s shop in Grantham, Margaret Hilda Roberts arrived at Somerville in 1943 to study Chemistry. Her tutor was another extraordinary woman, Dorothy Hodgkin, who remains to date the only British woman to have won a Nobel Prize for science. Margaret’s academic work was strong, and she won several grants and prizes. It was during her time at Somerville that she also became the first woman President of the Oxford University Conservative Organisation.
After four years as a research chemist, Margaret Thatcher went on to a career in law. She became the MP for Finchley in 1959 and, in 1979 Britain’s first – and so far, only – female Prime Minister.
Lady Thatcher (as she became in 1992) maintained a close friendship with Daphne Park, the Principal of Somerville (1980-1989), who served a remarkable thirty years in the Secret Intelligence Service, rising to a higher rank than any woman before her. It is largely thanks to the fundraising activities of Baroness Park that the College was able to build the Margaret Thatcher Conference Centre, which the ex-Prime Minister officially opened in 1991. Margaret Thatcher’s public visits to Somerville during her premiership included her attendance at the College’s centenary celebrations in 1979, just after she had won the general election, and the unveiling of a sculpted head by the artist Mr Oscar Nemon.
In 2005, Lady Thatcher joined the Principal and Fellows of Somerville College for an historic event to unveil Study for portrait of The Rt. Hon. Margaret Thatcher when Prime Minister, painted by Michael Noakes during her final year in office. The painting is now on permanent display in Somerville’s Margaret Thatcher Conference Centre, thanks to Dr Damon Wells who kindly donated the portrait to the College.
Somerville College sets students from all backgrounds on the path to success. We believe that lack of financial means should never be a barrier for those who demonstrate the potential to do well, just as Margaret Thatcher’s modest means proved no barrier to her. Somerville’s Margaret Thatcher Fund for studentships pays tribute to the determination and achievement of one of the most remarkable politicians of the Twentieth Century.