Wednesday 20 March 2013

Clever Girls

St Hilda's College, Oxford, founded 1893

It appears that St Hilda's College, Oxford, has lost its sense of humour in recent years. See the story of their apparently heavy-handed reaction to a "Harlem Shake" which erupted in their library here.

They certainly used to have a sense of humour. I gatecrashed an official graduation party there in the long, hot summer of 1979 (please don't ask me what I was doing there) but was rapidly unmasked by their formidable Principal and Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University the late Mary Letitia Somerville Bennett (it was quite easy to spot me as this was then a women only college).

Nobody's fool, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor quizzed me vigorously and quickly exposed my feeble attempts to explain my presence but, having established the truth, she called the vast assembly to silence and (to my acute embarrassment) introduced me as a special guest and ordered a flunky to bring me a sherry at once.

Perhaps she warmed to me as a fellow classicist. She was, I found out later, the world authority on ancient Roman grain supplies. She would have needed a sense of humour to study that.

This tireless and venerable academic would not countenance even a discussion about admitting men to St H's, once saying that the motivation of the men's colleges for admitting women was to get the "stupid men out and clever girls in" which sounds about right. I like to think that I contributed in a small way to the college holding out against admitting men ("But just look at how they behave!") until 2008, long after all the rest went co-ed.