Mary Ward

(1851-1920) – Educationalist and social activist

Mary Ward was closely involved in the negotiations surrounding the foundation of Somerville Hall. She was the person who originally suggested that Somerville should be named for Scottish scientist Mary Somerville. The choice was deliberate: to keep the naming of the new establishment well away from the religious figures for whom other such halls and college had been named.

Ward was also a novelist, and her strong Victorian values made her work very popular (it was said that Julia Stephen recommended to her daughters Virginia (later Woolf) and Vanessa (later Bell) that they should take Mrs Ward as one of their role models of femininity. Her aim in ensuring that Somerville came into existence was what she called the ‘equalisation’ for women. She was Somerville Hall’s first secretary and her cousin was Emily Penrose, who would go on to become Somerville’s third Principal.

However, Ward was far from holding the suffragist sympathies shared by so many Somervillians at that time. She did not advocate ‘votes for women’, and in 1909, she wrote an article in the Times explaining that she felt legal, financial, military and international problems were ones that only men could solve. She went on to become the founding member of the Women’s Anti-Suffrage League and to create and edit The Anti-Suffrage Review.

Did you know? Mary Ward’s passion for educational work lives on today, with the London adult education centre, the Mary Ward Centre, named for her.

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