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Emily Carpenter - 1st Female Principal of Women's Hall of Residence

Emily Ann Carpenter (23 January 1835 -30 March 1933)

Emily was born in Lambeth, London in 1835 to Joseph and Sarah Carpenter and baptised as a Methodist, although she later became a Quaker. She had an older sister Eliza Marshall Carpenter. Neither girls married, and they both worked as private teachers and governesses at various points in their lives.

Both Emily and Eliza attended lectures by Henry Morley Professor of English Language and Literature at University College London during the academic years 1884/5 when they were in their late 40’s.

UCL was very forward thinking and took a wide diversity of students regardless of religion, sex, ethnicity or age. They offered economic assistance to students and many could be non residents which meant that women could attend while living at home without advertising their ‘Bluestocking’ tendencies. The Bloomsbury set were part of UCLs student body. Emily was a suffragist, a Liberal Activist and a Council member of the Education Society.

Professor Henry Morley was an engaging and warm teacher, and a strong supporter of degrees for women. He encouraged Anne Leigh Brown, an educationalist and suffragist, to open College Hall, the first Hall of Residence for women in 1882.

In 1885 aged 51 Emily was appointed Lady Principal to the new Hall of Residence for women at Aberystwyth University. She was clearly a force to be reckoned with. The local paper quotes a query:
“‘Can we fill so stupendous a pile with women students?’ ‘Yes!’ Said Miss Carpenter. And they did.”

The newspaper attributed the success of Aberystwyth as a centre of higher education for women to four causes:
The close union between hall and college
The reasonable fees of £45 being the average fee for board residence and tuition
The healthy environment
Women students attending the same classes as men and taking their full share in the social life of the college.

The article concludes that ‘women’s education at Aberystwyth and in general owes a great debt of gratitude to Miss Carpenter whose energy, tact, organising power and versatility have been so many towers of strength to the Aberystwythians and far beyond the principality ‘

Emily ruled the Hall with a firm hand, and in 1898 Alexandra Hall made news all over Britain when the Daily Mail published a sensational report that became known as the Romeo and Juliet story. One of the female students whistled down from an upper window to a male student below.

Then they started a conversation. This was completely against the rules and they were both expelled.

In addition both parties had form: the girl had sung a very risqué song at a college concert and the boy had been caught kissing a girl on the back stairs. They were both later readmitted under strict conditions. Miss Carpenter annoyed the Daily Mail by refusing to give an interview.

Between the years 1901 and 1911 Emily retired and moved from Aberystwyth to Tunbridge Wells. In the 1911 and 1921 census she is living in a boarding house at 82 Mount Ephraim with a number of other single elderly female residents.

She died aged 98 at the same residence, now called Lilian House 82 London Road. Probate records showed she left £5405.9s.1d to Edgar Thomas Carpenter, manufacturing agent.

She is buried in Section B15 consecrated 105.

Women’s Archive Wales
Aberystwyth university
The world of UCL
The Victorian Web - Henry Morley

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