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175 years since first student was welcomed at Whitelands

175 years ago today, Whitelands College – now part of the University of Roehampton – enrolled its first student, Elizabeth Ransom.

Posted: 13 January 2017

image for news story 175 years since first student was welcomed at Whitelands
Elizabeth Ransom's enrolment document

Whitelands College, now part of the University of Roehampton, was founded as a teacher training college in 1841 and on 13th January 1842 it opened its doors. Today, the University is of Roehampton is not only one of the longest standing providers of teacher education, but it has also provided higher education for women longer than any other institution in the country.

Elizabeth Ransom was the first of an all-female cohort of 12 who joined Whitelands in 1842. She was one of the first British women to receive a formal higher education, starting her studies when Queen Victoria was on the throne and Robert Peel was Prime Minister and doing so 77 years before women were granted the vote.

Historic details from the 1922 Whitelands Annual record that Elizabeth was not from a wealthy background, describing her as a 'poor girl who was entirely dependent on the benevolence of a Lady'. She studied hard to complete her studies, which qualified her to take charge of a school, the Tenterden National Society School, in Kent. She started her job on salary of £25 per year.

The University of Roehampton archives also reveal Elizabeth's experience during her time as a teacher including challenges, mostly due to her 'diminutive size' which made the task of maintaining discipline more difficult. However, her conduct was thought of as excellent and she was described as being 'completely dedicated to the children's best interests', gaining the respect and confidence of all connected with the school.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul O'Prey said, "At a time when it was uncommon for women to go on to higher education, Elizabeth was the first of 12 young trailblazers. Whitelands was revolutionary in delivering higher education to women students. Today, we remain committed to making education available to all, whilst delivering excellence in teaching and research, and our University has a higher proportion of students first in their family to go to HE than the national average. We are proud that our rich heritage continues to inform what we do today, and will do so for many years to come."

To mark the 175th anniversary celebrations, the University held a service of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey, led by Pro-Chancellor and Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall. The 'Class of 2020' scheme also launched to commemorate the milestone, which aims to enhance the ambitions of 175 young women through the power of education.

Later this year, the University will be hosting an honorary degree ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall. All former students from Roehampton's four Colleges - Digby Stuart, Froebel, Southlands and Whitelands - who were awarded a Certificate of Education before 1985 will receive an honorary degree in recognition of the work required to gain this certificate and subsequent services to education. The event will take place on 15 May 2017.

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