Portraying Diversity at Oxford

Mary Fairfax Somerville (1780-1872)

Mary Somerville Mary Fairfax Somerville was a student of mathematics and astronomy, overcoming limited educational opportunities by teaching herself (sometimes in secret, after her parents decided that studying damaged women’s health and forbade her to learn any more mathematics). She went on to translate Pierre-Simon Laplace’s Mécanique Céleste into a popular English edition, and write best-selling books on science and geography. In 1835, she became one of the two first female members of the Royal Astronomical Society. Somerville College was named after Mary Somerville in 1879.

Mary Somerville by James Rannie Swinton (1844). Courtesy of The Principal and Fellows of Somerville College.

Ved Mehta (b. 1934)

Ved Mehta Ved Mehta is a writer of novels, journalism, travel writing and memoir. He was a staff writer for the New Yorker for more than thirty years, and has held academic posts at Yale, Vassar, Columbia, Stanford, and Balliol, where he also studied as an undergraduate. Mehta was born in Lahore, which was then in India; at Partition in 1947 his Hindu family escaped as refugees when the city became part of Pakistan. He had lost his sight at the age of four, and was sent to schools for the blind in Mumbai and America, but famously aims to live and write, in his own words, very often “as if he could see.”

Ved Mehta by Paul G. Oxborough (2012). Courtesy of the Master and Fellows of Balliol College.

Lady Elizabeth Hastings (1682-1739)

Lady Elizabeth Hastings Lady Elizabeth Hastings had the flattering nickname “Aspasia”, “the female philosopher”. An educated theologian and pioneering improver of her estates, she is best known as a philanthropist. She gave especially generously to religious and educational causes, and was a major benefactor of Queen’s College, Oxford, posthumously founding the Hastings Trust, which still provides scholarships for students from the north of England.

Lady Elizabeth Hastings by the studio of Godfrey Kneller (1710). Courtesy of The Provost and Fellows of The Queen’s College, Oxford.

Sir Hugh Springer (1913-1995)

Sir Hugh Springer Sir Hugh Springer was a lawyer who became a politician and public servant. He was from Barbados, and came to Oxford as an undergraduate student of Greek at Hertford College (later becoming a Senior Visiting Fellow at All Souls and then an Honorary Fellow). Returning to Barbados after his degree, Springer led the Progressive League, was the first General Secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union, and went on to write scholarly works on politics and work on developing higher education institutions in the Carribean and the wider Commonwealth. In 1984 he was appointed Governor-General of Barbados.

Sir Hugh Springer by Hector Whistler (1950). By kind permission of The Warden and Fellows of All Souls College.

Marie Beazley (1885-1967)

Mrs Marie Beazley Marie Beazley was the wife the Oxford classicist, archaeologist and collector Sir John Beazley. A Jewish woman who had previously been widowed in the First World War, she was regarded by early twentieth-century Oxford society as eccentric: A.L. Rowse, a student at the time, described her as “an exotic figure against the ecclesiastical desert of Tom Quad” and notes that she was known for her flamboyant wardrobe and hospitality, and her pet goose, which she would take for walks. However, Marie Beazley also spoke several languages, and was a skilled artist and photographer. She assisted with her husband’s academic work, in particular taking many of the pictures of archaeological artefacts which make up the Oxford Classics Faculty’s Beazley Archive today.

Mrs Marie Beazley by Harry Bloomfield (1923). By permission of the Beazley Archive, Faculty of Classics, Oxford.

Lucy Banda Sichone (1954-1998)

Lucy Banda Sichone Lucy Banda Sichone was described after her death as Zambia’s “voice of conscience”.  An activist for human rights, she studied law as a Rhodes Scholar at Somerville but returned to Zambia to work in politics, founding the Zambian Civic Education Association, practising law, and writing a series of popular newspaper columns, many of which were fiercely critical of government corruption and abuses of power. Her outspokenness led to prosecution by the state – she was forced briefly into hiding – and won her an Independent Women in Media Foundation Courage in Journalism before her early death in 1998. She is the only female Rhodes Scholar to appear in a portrait at Oxford.

Lucy Banda Sichone (2015) by Deirdre Saunder. Courtesy of the Rhodes Trust.

Dame Fiona Caldicott

Dame Fiona Caldicott Dame Fiona Caldicott studied medicine at St Hilda’s College and had a successful career as a psychiatrist and psychotherapist and became the first female President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Since the 1990s she has  led investigations into the challenges of circulating and protecting patient medical information in a digital age: chairing what became known as the Caldicott Committee to advise the NHS, before being appointed to the new role of National Data Guardian for Health and Care in 2014. She was the Principal of Somerville College from 1996 to 2010.

Dame Fiona Caldicott by Thomas Leveritt (2002). Courtesy of The Principal and Fellows of Somerville College.

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (1900-1990)

The Honourable Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit Vijaya Lakshmi Nehru Pandit became in 1937, the first female Indian cabinet minister, and went on to have a long career in politics and international diplomacy. After India became independent in 1947 she represented the country as ambassador and as head of the Indian delegation to the United Nations, serving as the first female president of the UN General Assembly. Her niece, Indira Gandhi, would later become Prime Minister of India – strongly criticised by her aunt for the more controversial aspects of her rule – and also has a portrait at Somerville College.

The Honourable Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit by Edward Irvine Halliday (1956). Courtesy of The Principal and Fellows of Somerville College.