During Women’s History Month we often focus on great women and women pioneers. But for Women’s History Month 2022, here at the Department of History, we are privileged to be able to concentrate on one of our own, Mary Turner Wolstenholme. Mary represents so many women who might have considered themselves ordinary but whose achievements tell us so much about women’s lives and opportunities. With the kind permission her daughters Gilly Pinner and Julie Wolstenholme and through their generous donation of their mother’s documents and photographs from her time at Reading we present: Mary Turner Wolstenholme.
Mary Turner completed a BA Hons in Geography and graduated on 1st July 1948. She graduated in the same year that the eminent historian Doris Stenton received her doctorate in History. 1948 was also an auspicious year that saw the founding of the NHS. After graduating from Reading in 1948 with a BA Hons in Geography, Mary (known as Molly) went on to complete her teacher’s diploma at Manchester Victoria University. She subsequently became a teacher at a local high school in the Rossendale Valley, Lancashire, known as Whitewell Bottom. She married Robert Wolstenholme in 1952 and her daughter Gilly was born in 1956 and Julie in 1959. Mary retuned to teaching when her own daughters started school, as a primary school teacher, first at Stubbins County Primary then Edenfield CofE Primary. She continued teaching at Edenfield, later becoming Deputy Head, until taking early retirement in the 1980s. Through the kind gift of Mary’s personal papers we can see her journey to becoming an educator herself though her time at Reading.
Rag Week 12th March 1947
Rag week is almost a lost tradition, it was a designated week when the university and the town came together; students organised fayres and a procession of floats to raise money for local charities.
Students attempt to kidnap Phoebe Cusden, first female mayor of Reading and eminent peace campaigner. Read more about Phoebe Cusden at the Berkshire Records Office where her papers are held The Berkshire Record Office.
BA Geography examinations consisted of eight 3-hour papers. How would you have done?
Other papers included: Human and Historical Geography, Geography (PRACTICAL), Physical Geography, Regional Geography (EUROPE), Regional Geography (BRITISH ISLES AND FRANCE), Economic Geography, Cartography.
Graduands for presentation
When Mary graduated there were a surprising number of women gaining a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Faculty of Letters. For the Bachelor of Science degrees however the number of women dwindles hugely!
Doris Mary Stenton (Lady Stenton), was awarded her doctoral degree D. Litt. from the Faculty of Letters at the same presentation.
Reference in application for Education Methods (modern PGCE)
What Mary made of her reference from Professor Austen Miller in 1949 we do not know but it is eye-wateringly misogynistic by C21st standards! While Mary was of a ‘frank, cheerful and warm-hearted disposition’, she might not make ‘a great scholar’. In fact
In 1878, the University of London was the first to award degrees to women. Both Oxbridge universities were among the last to grant women degrees on the same terms as men: Oxford in 1920 but not until 1948 at Cambridge, the same year that Mary Turner graduated from Reading. The granting of degrees by Cambridge caused a huge amount of unrest with male undergraduates burning effigies of women students and throwing fireworks at the windows of women’s colleges. Even then, the university was allowed to limit the numbers of female students relative to men and continued to exercise that power to the full. The University of Reading awarded degrees to women on the same terms as men from its inception in 1926.
Mary Turner, BA Geography, 1st July 1948
By Dr Jacqui Turner, with great thanks to Mary’s daughters for sharing these wonderful images with us.