International Women’s Day at Magdalen Library

08 March 2024

This year, Magdalen College Library has put together an exhibition for International Women’s Day under the theme ‘Inspire Inclusion’. Magdalen was founded in 1458 as a college for men, and in 1979 Magdalen was formally made a co-educational institution, admitting women as students and fellows (you can learn more about this story by visiting the online exhibition ‘Women and Power? A Magdalen Story’).

In 1994 student Katrina McGrath published an article in the JCR handbook welcoming incoming students to Magdalen, writing ‘Now women have set their many and varied marks on this place and it is alive with our creations.’[1] In 2019, after 40 years of co-education, the incoming first-year undergraduates included more women than men for the first time.

This book display promotes Magdalen authors, past and present, who have studied or tutored here. Who will be next to join them in our Magdalen authors collection?

Some of Magdalen’s notable women alumni include: Professor Lizzie Fricker (Magdalen’s first female fellow whose portrait is displayed in the Hall), Camilla Gibb (writer and doctor of anthropology), Emily Cockayne (historian), Katie Mitchell (film and theatre director), Martha Lane Fox (businesswoman, philanthropist, public servant), Rachel Kelly (journalist, writer and mental health campaigner). Magdalen Library also holds the most important single text of Jane Barker’s poems.[2]

Here are the books the library highlighted in their display this year:

Mouthing the words – Camilla Gibb (1992, Dphil Anthropology)

Camilla Gibb studied for her DPhil at Magdalen, and wrote her first novel, Mouthing the Words, in 1999. She wrote it while living in her brother’s trailer home, working on a borrowed laptop, after receiving a $6,000 gift from a benefactor. In 2000, the novel won Gibb the City of Toronto Book Award, and in 2001, she won the CBC Canadian Literary Award for short fiction.

Walking on Sunshine – Rachel Kelly(1984, Modern History)

Rachel is an ambassador for SANE and Rethink Mental Illness and runs wellbeing workshops for companies, schools and universities.Her second book Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness  revolves around activities and other ideas that have helped Kelly in the past in dealing with her depression.

Safe and Sound – Philippa East

Philippa East grew up in Scotland and originally trained as a Clinical Psychologist. Philippa’s second book safe and sound is a twisty and compelling tale, touching on themes of mental health, obsession and isolation. 

Slipstream –  Kate Bingham (1990, English Language and Literature)

Kate Bingham is the  author of three poetry collections, two novels, an illustrated children’s alphabet, and several feature-length screen-plays. Slipstream is a novel about three friends who have just finished A levels and a life at school together. They set off, singularly lacking in nautical skills, on Nina’s family barge, which is only reasonably shipshape itself.

Five Arguments All Couples (Need To) Have: And Why the Washing-Up Matters – Joanna Harrison (1997, Classics)

In this book, Joanna Harrison details the five distinct issues that all couples have to work through if they are going to have a healthy, functioning relationship.It was published in 2023. 

Poems of Jane Barker – Magdalen Manuscript

Jane Barker (1652–1732) was a popular English fiction writer, poet, and a staunch Jacobite. She went into self-imposed exile when James II fled England during the Glorious Revolution in 1688.This working manuscript contains poems, and her many revisions showing her process.  Jane Barker was one of the first female authors to publish writings both in manuscript and print form, allowing modern scholars to study “the passage of Barker’s poetry from coterie circles to larger, more impersonal communities of readers.” 

Rummage – Emily Cockayne (1999)

Emily Cockayne is a British historian, known for her work on sensory nuisance and material culture.Rummage tells the overlooked story of our throwaway past. Emily Cockayne extracts glittering gems from the rubbish pile of centuries past and introduces us to the visionaries, crooks and everyday do-gooders who have shaped the material world we live in today – like the fancy ladies of the First World War who turned dog hair into yarn, or the Victorian gentlemen selling pianofortes made from papier-mâché, or the hapless public servants coaxing people into giving up their railings for the greater good.

Jane Barker, Exile – Kathryn King (2016, MSt Music)

Kathryn R. King is an academician and writer. This book is the first full-length study of one of the most important early modern women writers, and in it Kathryn King finds evidence through marginal notations in the Magdalen Manuscript that Jane Barker’s works are autobiographical.

Searching for Juliet Sophie Duncan, Magdalen Welfare Dean

Sophie Duncan grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon and was educated at the girls’ grammar school there. She read English at Oriel (BA, MSt) and Brasenose (DPhil) in the University of Oxford before coming to Magdalen asa Research Fellow and Dean for Welfare. Searching for Juliet is an engaging guide to Shakespeare’s most famous female role – and how it has been misread and misplayed for centuries.

[1] Katrina McGrath on 15 years of co-education from an article published in the JCR handbook welcoming incoming students to Magdalen, 1994. MCA O2/1/N9/6