Our History

St Anne’s was the work of a coalition of radical Victorian women and men who determined that there should be a way for women to study at Oxford University without having to be immersed in a college at all.

St Anne’s, in 1879, was not so much founded as invented. The Society of Home-Students, as it was then called, was a manifesto rather than a location. This invention was the belief that, if this University were to be a place for the emancipation of any woman who had the potential to study here, it had to think afresh about how to attract them. The Society allowed young women to live in lodgings across the city, and to attend lectures and tutorials, just as those in the colleges did, providing a more affordable way of obtaining a degree at Victorian Oxford.

This conviction – that any student, whatever their financial situation, who has the appetite, talent and determination to spend three or four years here immersed in the life of the mind, can do so – endures to this day. In 1942, the Society of Home-Students became the St Anne’s Society, and in turn a full College of the University, complete with Royal Charter, in 1952.

The College, now a friendly, co-educational community of some 700 students, tutors and staff, represents the best of the University’s values. St Anne's has always set its outward face towards the world. It has always been driven by its sense of connecting the ideals of the University to those who have not previously had the chance to encounter them – originally it was women, then women too poor to come to Oxford otherwise, and latterly a confident, tolerant, diverse and multicultural community of women and men.

St Anne’s has changed in its short history more radically than many other colleges with far longer histories. The College was one of the first of the women’s colleges to admit men, in its centenary year of 1979, since when the proportion of women and men studying here has remained evenly balanced. Once a college famed chiefly for its strength in the Humanities, St Anne’s is now strong across the full range of academic disciplines: in the Social Sciences, the Life and Medical Sciences, and the Mathematical and Physical Sciences.

St Anne’s is now one of the few colleges in Oxford able to offer affordable on-site accommodation to almost all our 430 undergraduate students, and affordable off-site accommodation to half our 160 graduate students.

St Anne’s was founded on the principle that it integrated the values of the University with the world of its students: it is implacable in the pursuit of academic excellence, but does not see this as setting it apart from contemporary society. The College defines itself by respecting our students for who they are, and what they can make of themselves.

A detailed History of St Anne's from 1952 to the present day has been written by Dr David Smith, Librarian. 

World War I

For those who stayed up during the war, routines carried on much as normal.  Students knitted during classes and dug vegetable patches in lieu of games afternoons, while regular lectures and hymn singing in the Sheldonian helped to boost morale.  Vacations were spent in strenuous bouts of fruit picking, hopping and working on the land.  They contributed to relief parcels for prisoners of war and visited the wounded in Oxford's hospitals, wheeling them out for fresh air and rousing spirits with their company.

A mathematician, Miss Sandeman, paused her studies in 1917 to work at an aerodrome where new inventions were to be tested.  Others became heavily involved in work with Belgian refugees, of whom there were some 500 in Oxford by 1915.  Two Home-Students were killed during the war.  Miss Doyle, a geography student, was on board the Leinster when it was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland in October 1918.  Miss Chagrin, a Russian national, had left to join the nursing effort and was killed by a shell on the Russian front. 

Although international student numbers had tailed off sharply during the war, the community of Old Students remained cosmopolitan and The Ship issues from the war years contains letters of goodwill from around the world.

Find out more in the Library blog. You can also view the Register of War Work.