Today the Ormskirk campus hosts members of Edge Hill’s alumni community to celebrate the 125th anniversary. And tomorrow, staff will join for an Anniversary Celebration day.
I’ll be trying to pop down over the weekend to take photos and report what’s going on.
Update: a few more pictures from Saturday.
She was a passionate believer in social reform, a pioneer in the legal profession and a champion of women’s rights to rival Emmeline Pankhurst. But for Edge Hill graduate Helena Normanton, there is no statue in London or picture in the National Portrait Gallery to celebrate her achievements.
So, why is this remarkable woman so overlooked in women’s history? Alumni Magazine spoke to Judith Bourne, who is writing her PhD on Normanton, to find out.
“The sad truth is that very little is known about her,” says Judith, barrister and Senior Lecturer in Law at London Metropolitan University. “I teach a course on women and law and even I only came across her by accident.
“The fact that her achievements have been so neglected in the past is a real tragedy as, for me, she is up there with the Pankhursts and Rose Heilbron in terms of her contribution to women’s history.”
Helena Normanton was the first woman to practise at the English Bar in 1922, the first female barrister to lead the prosecution in a murder trial, to conduct a trial in America, and to represent cases in both the High Court and the Old Bailey. She was also one of the first two women, along with Rose Heilbron, to become Kings Council, the highest qualification awarded to a barrister.
She scandalised the legal profession, first by wanting to be part of it, then by insisting on practising in her maiden name. A prolific campaigner for equality within marriage, Normanton was the first married woman in the UK to be issued a passport in her maiden name. Speaking about Anne Boleyn, she once quipped, “she may have lost her head, but at least she was allowed to keep her name!”
“It was very difficult for her because a lot of people wanted her to fail,” says Judith. “She faced discrimination from within the legal profession; many male solicitors refused to brief a female barrister, and she was the subject of vitriolic hate mail, some, seemingly, from other women in the profession.
“Helena was also accused of advertising her services, which was illegal and could have seen her debarred. She demanded a full enquiry and, although she was completely exonerated, she never became as successful a lawyer as she should have been and had to supplement her income by writing and renting out rooms in her house.”
Very little is known about Normanton’s life before her legal career. She is known to have been a trainee teacher at Edge Hill, graduating in 1905, but how or why she came to be studying so far from her home town of Brighton is a mystery.
“I’m really looking forward to exploring the Edge Hill connection,” says Judith. “Edge Hill was known to be a hotbed of early feminist thinking and had connections to the Suffragette movement. We don’t know whether she was radical before she went to college or was radicalised by her experiences and the people she met there. It will be interesting to try and find out.”
Helena Normanton epitomises the spirit and ethos of Edge Hill that still exists to this day. The child of a working class single parent, with no family history of participation in higher education, Helena still managed to rise above her circumstances and succeed, thanks, in part, to her education at Edge Hill.
The causes that she fought for – social justice, equal pay, women’s rights – are still important to Edge Hill and form the basis of some of the cutting edge research undertaken by staff at the institution today.
The archive contains a very interesting artefact – a directory listing every student to pass through the College in its first 30 years. The back page of the booklet lists some fascinating statistics including the following snippets:
Number who have passed through the College: 1,705
Number who did not complete the training: 4
Total number who became certified: 1,701
209 are Head Mistresses
The number of Married Students: 527
The number of Married Students engaged in Teaching: 24
Last night I went along to Edge Hill’s Alumni Network event to see a talk by Peter Davies, a corporate lawyer who has worked for the likes of Microsoft, IBM and Apple. He was sharing his experiences of changing direction and starting a new career – he himself trained as a teacher at Edge Hill College before leaving his first school after the first year to study a Masters and then on to Law school for a successful career.
The event was also an opportunity for past students to come together in the surroundings of the fantastic new Business and Law building and “network”! Mary Bernia explains:
The full video will hopefully be available in a few days but you can watch a sneak preview I took using the Web Services Flip Camera before the battery ran out:
Just popped down to the Faculty of Health to see Derek and Zoe Boak’s art exhibition:
Loved-up artists Derek and Zoe Boak show the ‘Layer of Meaning’ to life and loss in a brand new exhibition showing at Edge Hill University as part of the Institution’s 125th anniversary celebrations.
It is the first time the married painting duo from Southport have exhibited their work together but thought it would be a fun project to join up on to help mark the University’s milestone anniversary.
It’s on show until 7th April so get down and take a look.
Earlier this month there was an exhibition by Tony Evans so I wonder what we have to look forward to for the rest of the year!
The alumni team are keen to extract memories of Edge Hill from anyone who studied here and to persuade you to send them in have sent me some quotes from one of Edge Hill’s more well known graduates, Stuart Maconie.
I was asked “how does an English graduate end up being a DJ?” I do regard the DJ bit as being a bit of an aberration. I don’t know quite how I fell into it – and I don’t know when and how I will fall out of it – but the love of literature, and I say this not in a poncy way, though, inevitably, it will sound that way, was instilled in me by the people and things I did here. I chose Edge Hill because it had a great 20th century literature course and it was here I first got excited about Lawrence, Green, Hardy, TS Eliot and Auden. I recorded an edition of Celebrity Mastermind – I’m living the dream now – please watch it to see just what a good education Edge Hill can instil into people.
The quote is from the awarding of Stuart’s honorary degree which you can see here – skip forward to about 50 minutes:
There will be “an audience with” event next month – stay tuned for details of how to get tickets!