It was said that, after college Fellows were permitted to marry in 1882, ‘an army of brides’ arrived in the ancient town of Cambridge, UK. It is an emotive idea, evoking visions of legions of lace-clad Victorian brides marching along the cobbled streets and swarming through college cloisters.
Although the real women who came to Cambridge as university wives did not storm the barricades, they had to fight to assert themselves in this predominantly male society.
The brides arrived at the same time as the first women came to study at Cambridge University, and their stories are inextricably linked. Some of the early students became university wives, and together the women formed close social networks that had connections and influence far beyond the university.
This website explores the stories, connections and work of these remarkable women.
I first crossed the Irish sea to Cambridge over 30 years ago, as a postgraduate student working on a doctoral thesis on the French poet, Baudelaire. Having met Charles, a university physics lecturer, I decided to stay. We married and had three children, and I worked in publishing, research and adult education before taking an MA in Biography & Creative Non-Fiction at UEA and writing full time.
Appropriately for a project celebrating women’s networks, I became interested in the group of Cambridge University wives through my historian friends. Through my research I’ve discovered the importance of these women’s friendships, with both men and women.
I am very grateful for the inspiration and support that so many of my own friends, female and male, have given me, and look forward to hearing your thoughts about this blog.
Ann Kennedy Smith has contributed entries on Caroline Jebb and the Cambridge Ladies Dining Society to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. She is the author of Painted Poetry (Peter Lang, 2011) and a contributor to The Reception of Alfred Tennyson in Europe (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017). Her proposal ‘Cambridge Wives’ was shortlisted for the Biographers’ Club Tony Lothian prize 2015 for best uncommissioned biography.