It is not easy to capture in a few words what makes Somerville special, because it means so much to so many. And yet, if you visit our College or browse through these pages, you’ll soon realise that there is a shared spirit in all we do – a distinctive balance of fierce intelligence, progressive values and empathy that unites Somervillians across the generations.

You can see that shared spirit in our College’s past. Somerville was founded in 1879 to include the excluded, offering an education to women when universities refused them entry, and people of diverse faiths when conformity was widely demanded. Building on that radical promise, Somerville went on to nurture young minds that became true originals in the worlds of politics, literature, science and the arts: Vera Brittain, Iris Murdoch, Dorothy Hodgkin, Indira Gandhi, Shirley Williams and Margaret Thatcher all studied at Somerville.

You can also see the distinctive Somerville ethos in our present. Thanks to its unconventional origins, Somerville has been free to develop into one of the least formal and friendliest college communities in all Oxford. The ‘Ville, as it is known by today’s students, is a place where tradition is worn lightly, and the friendships you make in places as diverse as Baking Society or the College Choir are likely to last a lifetime. Alongside such informality runs a great respect: other people’s views are an occasion for learning and growth at Somerville, and our thriving JCR and MCR committees testify to the openness and transparency of our community.

Finally, you can see the distinctive Somervillian blend of intellect and values in our future. As a community, we are working together tirelessly to create and implement solutions that will make our College and the wider world a better, fairer place. In 2021 we were recognised as a College of Sanctuary, reflecting our commitment to welcome stateless and displaced students, and we have also launched an ambitious sustainability plan as well as new Fellowships for BAME early career academics. In short, we are working harder than ever to ensure that the next generation of students who join us are the most diverse, progressive and unapologetically brilliant Somervillians yet.

If you are reading this, then perhaps you will be one of them.

A portrait of Oxford University's Heads of House and senior university figures, taken to commemorate the 2020 centenary of the matriculation of women at Oxford.

A portrait of Oxford University’s female Heads of House and senior university figures, taken to commemorate the 2020 centenary of the matriculation of women at Oxford.