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Women and Power?

A Magdalen Story

Women have played an important role in the life of Magdalen College ever since its foundation in 1458. Yet, for most of its 560 year existence, power has been firmly in the hands of men. This online exhibition raises questions about this power and the way it has been gendered. Why has power been dominated by men in institutions such as Magdalen? How have women accepted, used and resisted power structures within the College? In what contexts have women found ways to shape Magdalen, for themselves, for their peers, and for future generations?

‘Women and Power? A Magdalen Story’ marks over forty years since women were admitted as equal members of Magdalen. Since 1979, Magdalen women have been undergraduate students, graduate students, and fellows within a formally co-educational institution. In spite of the historic buildings and seemingly timeless landscape, much has changed throughout the college’s history and particularly since 1979.

Indeed, this online exhibition traces a longer history of how since Magdalen’s foundation in 1458 women influenced a college from which they were formally excluded. Women took on crucial roles most particularly as benefactors, staff, and relatives of the men who were members of College. Women’s crucial work to sustain an all-male ‘Society’ can easily be overlooked. We have to look harder to find these peripheral and often disempowered women within the College’s history, but they were always there.

Above all, the exhibition seeks to acknowledge the diversity of people’s experiences. Women’s lives were always shaped by more than their gender. There is no one story of women and power at Magdalen; we realise that people who have recently been part of Magdalen will feel that their experiences and views are not always captured on these pages. Sadly, this is the result of gaps within the existing written record of the College. In order to curate this exhibition, we have been working with alumni to collect student memorabilia and memories, both written and oral. We hope that the exhibition prompts members of the Magdalen community – past and present – to help the College to develop its archive. We would love to record more students’, fellows’, and staff experiences.

Who speaks and who is heard are essential political questions for any community. This site raises important questions not only for Magdalen, but also for everyone. One aim for ‘Women and Power? A Magdalen Story’ is to stimulate debate on how we build inclusive, diverse and meaningful communities, for today and for the future. Read on to discover more…