In 1908, at what was then Reading University College, Edith Morley was appointed as the first female professor in the UK, 37 years after Harriette Cooke achieved the same distinction in the USA and 5 years before Caroline Spurgeon was appointed to the role at King’s College London. Far from being feted as a landmark decision, Morley’s appointment was met with resistance and calls for retraction and is only now starting to become more widely known.
This paper examines the 1908 letters between Morley and William Childs the principal of Reading at the time, as well as the letters and paperwork regarding Reading’s discussion of demoting Morley in 1912 in preparation for becoming a university. In doing so it considers the ideas at stake in naming a woman as professor for the first time and the ways in which these identities are produced as conflicting and contradictory. It also examines Morley’s construction of her career in her memoir Looking Before and After, which was rejected by Allen & Unwin when she first wrote it and has recently been published by Two Rivers Press. The talk focuses on selfhood and identity and the ways in which constructions of Morley as female, an academic, a writer and a colleague intersect and it considers the implications this has for our thinking about female professors then and now.
Tuesday 3rd May, 1.10pm – 2.30pm, HumSS 181. All welcome!