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Cambridge's famous first female graduate


Rules and regulations of university life in Cambridge
Norman Greenwood Scientist
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Okay. So, after that, I came back to Cambridge. By this stage, Harry Emeléus – Emmy, we must call him, because everyone called him Emmy – Emmy had got me into his college as a graduate student. That was Sidney Sussex College which was founded in 1596, so it's one of the younger ones of the older foundations. And I think it's worthwhile just noting one or two things about Cambridge, because it is an exceptional place. One of the things which interested me was how a place which was so steeped in tradition and arcane rules and regulations, could at the same time be at the forefront of so many branches of science and literature and other branches of knowledge. And I suppose in the end, and perhaps at the end of my story, one will have a better feeling for how this trick is managed, but let's start at the rookie end, of an Australian undergraduate coming off the ship, being in England for a month, wandering round, looking at the sights, coming to Cambridge. What things does one notice?

Well, I soon learnt that there were 21 colleges. They were what we would call single-sex colleges now, in other words, there was no co-habitation, there was no co-education. There were 21 colleges, of which two were women: Girton, and Newton... Newnham College. The rules were quite strict. I've already mentioned I was a resident tutor and lecturer at Trinity College in Melbourne, so I was responsible for discipline in the college there, along with other tutors. When I came, I was given BA status grudgingly, because I didn't have a Cambridge degree of course, but I was a graduate student and therefore I had to be in by 10.30, and if I wasn't, there was a gate fine. If I was out in the town, in the evening, I had to wear a gown. On one evening, I was hastening back to college, having seen a friend to the bus stop, got caught by the Bulldogs, and said, 'Are you a member of this college, sir?' 'Yes'. 'Would you have a word with the Proctor?' And the Proctor read me a lesson, and I said why I was late. And he said, 'Normally, the fine is six and eightpence' – that's a third of a pound in modern coinage – 'but,' he said, 'as you're a graduate already, a BA status, the fine would be twice that: 13 and fourpence. However, as you seem to understand the nature of your transgression, sir, I'll let you off with a caution'. So that was Cambridge.

But there were some sensible rules as well. You certainly weren't allowed to have any hire purchase agreement, you couldn't have a motorcycle or a car, you had to have a bike with the college name and number put on it, S25 I think was my number, but they were rules.

Norman Greenwood (1925-2012) was born in Australia and graduated from Melbourne University before going to Cambridge. His wide-ranging research in inorganic and structural chemistry made major advances in the chemistry of boron hydrides and other main-group element compounds. He also pioneered the application of Mössbauer spectroscopy to problems in chemistry. He was a prolific writer and inspirational lecturer on chemical and educational themes, and held numerous visiting professorships throughout the world.

Listeners: Brian Johnson

Professor Brian FG Johnson FRS, FRSE, FRS Chem, FAcad Eu, FAS. Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Edinburgh 1991-1995, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Cambridge 1995-2005, Master Fitzwilliam College Cambridge 1999-2005. Research interests include studies of transition metal carbonyls, organometallic chemistry, nano- particles and homogeneous catalysis. Professor Johnson is the author of over 1000 research articles and papers.

Tags: Cambridge University, Sidney Sussex College, 1596, UK, Girton College, Newnham College, Melbourne University, Harry Emeléus

Duration: 3 minutes, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2011

Date story went live: 25 November 2011