130th Gaudy Highlights

9th September 2023

St Hilda's College celebrates its 130th Gaudy weekend. Here are some highlights from the Saturday

Saturday kicked off with a tour of the beautiful college gardens, which are currently in full bloom. Head Gardener Deborah Bowden spoke about her philosophy of gardening, which is all about creating abundance and joy.

Punts were available for hire, so that people could enjoy the river and the sunshine.

The Principal, Bursar, Senior Tutor, and Development Director capped off the morning with a presentation on the state of the College. They highlighted the many successes of the past year, including the awarding of four undergraduate University Prizes to St Hilda's students, and the election of two St Hilda's professors to the British Academy.

With many different reunions taking place, there were a wealth of anecdotes. Two Alumnae were generous enough to share stories of their time at St Hilda’s College.

Jan Archer, English 1966, shared an incredible story of the importance of small colleges and mental health support.

'I can tell you many good things about the college. I suppose the first one is, in my first summer long vacation, I was an au pair girl in the states and I was on a 32ft boat with the family I was with, and there was a major fire in which the father was very badly burned, and I was the one that was in the cabin with him. He was lucky not to die; It was a hugely traumatic experience. I carried on. I had 3 children to care for and then I travelled with my friend around the states. When I came back to college I undoubtedly suffered from what they would now call post-traumatic stress disorder, although no one knew of that then, because I would sort of almost black out and I would scream and relive it and not know that I'd done it and so on, and I found it very difficult that first term afterwards to concentrate and to work, and college were incredibly supportive, and really helped me through that, and I genuinely think that if I had been in a university which didn't have small units like this I think I would have sunk and ended up a sort of drop out...'

Elizabeth Jacobs, Physiology 1951 recalls a setback to the newly emerging woman's boat club...

'Practicing one time on here on the Isis, when it had been....the river was running quite quickly, there had been a lot of rain, there were quite a lot of boats out and we were waiting to turn around in front of Iffley lock, and as we were waiting we were drifting nearer and nearer to the posts, so that by the time it was our turn we didn't have much space left, or enough strength to do more than be swept broadside on onto the lock posts. Hold the boat, it sank! I presume we had to swim ashore? But because the boat wasn't ours, it wasn't insured, the boat club closed. And I've quite a lot of appeal letters, I think still at home, saying "please, please, you were once a member of the boat club, how about offering us some money so that we can get going again" and I'm not sure how long it took before there was a women's University boat again.... '


Professor Julia Yeomans, FRS, Fellow and Tutor in Physics, gave a presentation on her work on active matter (matter composed of large numbers of active "agents", each of which consume energy in order to move) and Dr Matthew Parrott, Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy, gave a lecture on delusional thinking. Or did he…? The presentations were well-received by the audience, who were interested in learning more about the cutting-edge research being done at St Hilda's.

Later in the day the Principal Sarah Springman interviewed bestselling author Victoria Hislop about her time at St Hilda's College, Oxford. Hislop, who was a student at St Hilda's from 1978 to 1981, spoke about her experiences as a student and her memories of the college.

In heat of the evening, drinks, jazz and a Gala dinner were enjoyed out on the lawn. A perfect end to an incredible day.

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