Irishwomen, Friends and Scholars
Introduction ‘Her best friend is Helen Waddell,’ wrote Professor F. M. Powicke in 1919, while recommending his former student, Maude Clarke, for the post of History Tutor at Somerville College, Oxford.1 It was unusual for an aca- demic reference to prof fer personal information, but Powicke’s letter was unsolicited, addressed to Somerville’s English Tutor, who might have known Helen Waddell’s poems, Lyrics from the Chinese. Helen and Maude were bound not only by the ties of friendship but also by a shared ambition to become scholars. They enrolled at the Queen’s University Belfast in the first decade of the twentieth century when the proportion of women attending university was rapidly increasing but an academic career was still a very long shot for a woman. The obstacles could be personal – Helen was stymied by her stepmother, who prevented her obtaining the research training required for a university post – but they were also professional. Queen’s University’s 1908 Charter might declare that ‘women shall be eligible equally with men … to hold any of fice or enjoy any advantages of the university’ but in practice sexism prevailed.2 There were no sanctions and indeed no pressure to encourage professors accustomed to indulging their ‘half-monastic ways’ to employ women as long as there was an available man.3 Recent publications on the history of women’s university education in the United Kingdom and Ireland have elucidated a fascinating story of personal courage and institutional change. The pages of, among others, Judith Harford’s The Opening of University Education...
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