Oxford College Dining Hall Gets Feminist Facelift

Hertford College in Oxford. Image via Wikipedia.

The patriarchal gallery of luminaries that graces the communal dining hall of Hertford College in Oxford is getting a feminist facelift to celebrate the college’s 40 years of coeducation, the New York Times reports.

The traditionally all-male gallery is being replaced with an exhibition of portraits of distinguished female graduates and fellows, including philosophers, economists, bankers, and museum curators. The photographs were taken by the artist Robert Taylor and will hang for a year.

The new display commemorates Hertford’s audacious decision, taken in 1974, to admit women as undergraduates, joining the ranks of a small group of formerly all-male Oxford colleges that pioneered this progressive policy. By then, Stephanie West, the senior figure among the portraits, had already been on the staff as the head of classics since 1966.

Apparently, no tears were shed when the male gallery was taken down to make room for the new female line-up. “Taking down all the portraits was helped by the fact that nobody felt the slightest affection for any of them, with the exception of [the poet and cleric] John Donne,” Emma Smith, a lecturer in English at the college and the organizer of the exhibition, told the Guardian.

“It’s not just that our previous portraits were all of men, but more that they represented a narrow definition of achievement, and a very hierarchical one,” Smith argued in a statement. “Our new portraits show that we are as proud of unsung achievement and of potential as we are of high office or salary.”


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