Two early St Anne’s Fellows and champions of women’s education, Annie Rogers and Ivy Williams, honoured with Oxfordshire blue plaques

We are delighted to hear that the Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board has erected plaques for two remarkable Oxford women in St Anne’s history, Annie Rogers and Ivy Williams, in this centenary year of women’s degrees. Both Annie Rogers — a Founding Fellow of St Anne’s — and Ivy Williams — St Anne’s alumna and Fellow and the first woman to be called to the English bar — were ceaseless campaigners for women’s education. 

Annie Rogers (1856–1937) is commemorated at 35 St Giles’ where she lived 1891 – 1899.  She was a major figure in the long campaign to win full membership of Oxford University for women. Daughter of the Oxford academic James Thorold Rogers, she made an early start at the age of seventeen when as A.M.A.H. Rogers (concealing her gender) she came top in Oxford’s senior local exam list for which Balliol and Worcester offered exhibitions. As a girl she was excluded from the offer but had made her point. When the university conceded separate, degree-level examinations for women over 18 in 1875, she gained first class honours and became Oxford’s first woman don, making her living as classics tutor for the Association for Promoting the Higher Education of Women (AEW), later teaching at St Hugh’s and the Society of Oxford Home-Students (later St Anne’s College). She was secretary to the AEW and an assiduous committee member ceaselessly working for the main goal.  She was a great tactician with a formidable grasp of university statutes and procedures, endlessly canvassing individuals and lying in wait for targets in the Broad. The campaigners were finally victorious in 1920.  The first women matriculated on 7th October of that year and were awarded full Oxford degrees on 14th October. She lost her life when she was knocked down by a lorry in St Giles’ in 1937. Her memoir Degrees by Degrees, a detailed account of the long campaign, was published in 1938.

Ivy Williams (1877-1966), lawyer and university teacher, famous as the first woman called to the English Bar (1922) is commemorated at 12 King Edward Street, Oxford, where she lived 1887–1904. The daughter of George St Swithin Williams, an Oxford solicitor, she was educated at home and then at the Society of Oxford Home-Students.  In October 1920 she received her BA, MA, BCL all at once on 14th October, along with fifty other women, the first to be awarded Oxford degrees proper. She had long demanded that women should be allowed to qualify as barristers. After the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act in 1919, she was admitted to the Inner Temple. On 10th May 1922 she was the first woman to be called to the Bar, although she never practised as a barrister, preferring an academic career. She was tutor and lecturer at the Society of Oxford Home-Students 1920 – 1945, the first woman to teach law at Oxford and the first to be awarded the DCL.  She was a benefactor to town and gown, giving her former house, Sunnyside in Cowley, to the Radcliffe Infirmary and endowing two university law scholarships, one for women only.  In later years when her sight failed, she learned to read braille with some difficulty and to assist others published a braille primer with the National Institute for the Blind.

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