Most Reading University Students are familiar with the maze known as Edith Morley but what many people don’t know is that it was named after a woman who was a Professor of English Language at the University in 1908. In fact, she was the first women to be appointed to a Chair at any British University. She is widely recognised as being the UK’s first female professor.
She was born in 1875 in Victorian England meaning that a comprehensive education was not the social norm for women. Despite this she attended King’s College of English and English Literature in Oxford after being transferred from Kings College London Ladies Department due to her exceptional talents. Women were not allowed to be awarded degrees at Oxford University until the 7th October 1920 so when she graduated in 1899 she was sent off with an ‘equivalent’ degree unlike her male counterparts. It was only in 1926, 27 years after she completed her examinations, that she was granted an honorary Master degree from Oxford.
She was outspoken about her desire for women to have the right to vote. She even refused to pay her taxes in protest and some of her things were seized by authorities. She also wrote a number of books. One of these, written in 1914, was called: ‘Women Workers in Seven Professions’. In this she described how constricted female academics were by society as demonstrated by her own experiences. She also wrote an autobiography called: ‘Before and after: reminiscences of a working life / by Edith Morley’ which is available in the library on the second floor.
Outside of her academic career she also helped to set up the Reading Refugee Committee during World War II and for this she was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire, also known as an MBE.
Every year the university hosts an Edith Morley Lecture, which began in 2013, in the Van Emden Lecture Theatre. The most recent one occurred on the 12th March 2019 with guest speaker Laura Bates.