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Leading Women gather in St James’s Palace to celebrate 150 years of women’s higher education in the UK


London, 30 January 2019 – In 1868, nine women were admitted to the University of London – the first time in the UK that women had gained access to university education. 

Leading Women with Chancellor HRH The Princess Royal at St James's Palace

150 years later, the University has marked this anniversary with its Leading Women campaign. Celebrating the stories of 150 remarkable women associated with the University through blog posts, podcasts and pop-up theatre, staging events from panel discussions to art competitions, and founding 150 new scholarships for the next generation of women students, the activities have continued to promote and reinforce the role of women in global higher education into 2019. 

As the year-long celebration draws to a close, Leading Women from across the world were invited to gather on 29 January at St James’s Palace, London to continue conversations about issues of equality. Hosted by the Chancellor of the University, Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, guests included Dr Dipu Moni, the first woman Foreign Minister and now Education Minister of Bangladesh, Dr Margaret Busby, who became Britain’s youngest and first black woman book publisher by co-founding Allison & Busby in 1967, human rights activist Rebecca Bunce, and composer Errolyn Wallen MBE, as well as university staff and students.

Leading Women brought together many of the University of London’s member institutions, arts initiatives such as the Bloomsbury Festival, and the worldwide University of London community. Activities celebrating remarkable women associated with the University included a field of all-female honorary graduates at the University’s Foundation Day as well as at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama’s graduation ceremony, lectures at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Royal Holloway, a Women in Music exhibition at the Royal Academy of Music, and exhibitions at Senate House Library and LSE (as part of the Suffrage 18 series of events and activities), as well as a range of public engagement events at this year’s Being Human festival, from Classics-inspired storytelling nights to avant-garde dance performances.

The Leading Women celebration has also honoured the significant global contribution of women associated with the University. From its participation in the 2018 Women of the World festival to events promoting women’s leadership in Singapore, the campaign joined wider international conversations about the importance of promoting women and their achievements. The year’s highlights can be seen on the University’s Leading Women video: 


A permanent sculpture in Torrington Square, created by UCL undergraduate student Ariel Tse, “I am rooted but I flow”, honours the first nine female students at the University of London, as well as affirming it as a space in which women will continue to grow and develop. 150 scholarships have also been offered for women to enrol on the University’s Global MBA programme, open to prospective students all over the world.

Dr Mary Stiasny, University of London Pro Vice-Chancellor (International) and chair of the Leading Women celebration has said:

The gender debate is critical for the world’s future. For too long, women across the world have been disadvantaged educationally, socially, economically and politically. They are now asking why, and education is key to having this conversation. Beyond the 2018 campaign, Leading Women has also aimed to effect a wider cultural change within the University. We have used the year to reflect on our internal policies and opportunities to support women in the workplace.

More information about the Leading Women campaign, as well as blog posts and podcasts celebrating stories of women like trailblazing barrister Helena Normanton – the first woman to practice law in England – and Muslim war heroine Noor Inayat Khan, can be found on the Leading Women website.