St Hugh’s College

Founded in 1886, the history of St Hugh’s College is not a long one.

It is, however, an important one.

Elizabeth Wordsworth founded the College in 1886 to increase access to an Oxford education for poor women. The name and arms of St Hugh of Avalon were adopted in 1886. St Hugh of Avalon was Bishop of Lincoln, a position also held by Elizabeth’s father. 

St Hugh’s College has been consistently committed to ensuring equal access to an Oxford education for underrepresented groups ever since that time. Despite the College’s humble beginnings as a women’s college with just a handful of students, St Hugh’s has provided support for both women and men (first accepted in 1986, our centennial year). A timeline of our history can be found here

St Hugh’s originally focused on assisting women who would otherwise have been financially unable to study at the University. Besides its generous financial assistance to women from impoverished backgrounds, St Hugh’s was also home to the first black African woman to graduate from the University of Oxford—Lady Kofoworola Ademola, MBE, an influential Nigerian educational reformer, author, and teacher, who read English at St Hugh’s. You can read more about her achievements here, which includes a description of the fund set up in 2020 in her honour to support graduate students and visiting scholars from Africa. 

Another notable component of the College’s history was its time as the Hospital for Head Injuries during the Second World War. The site was requisitioned by the military for use under the directorship of Hugh Cairns, the first Nuffield Professor of Surgery. Over 13,000 servicemen and women were treated here between 1940 and 1945. Brick huts were constructed on the grounds with space for 300 beds, which remained in place until 1952.