“She co-edited The Higher Education of Women by Emily Davies (1866) of whom she was a close friend.”
-Star of the Sea, 103
Sarah Emily Davies, the fourth of five children born to an Evangelical minister, was born in Southampton, England in 1830. As a female, she received no formal education, though her mother and older sister helped her to learn Latin. Although two of Davies’s brothers were educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and the third employed as a lawyer, Davies herself was expected to stay with her parents in Gateshead, England, where she “busied herself with parish work” (Rosen 101-102).
While abroad visiting her brother in Algiers, Davies met outspoken feminist Barbara Bodichon, who inspired Davies to form the Northumberland and Durham Branch of the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women in 1861. After her father’s death in 1862, Davies and her mother moved to London, where Davies, along with others, began to petition first the University of London, then Oxford and Cambridge, to allow women to take the university exams (Rosen 102-105).
In 1864, Cambridge University agreed to open the Local Examinations to women, although they were still barred from taking Cambridge’s degree examinations. During this time, Davies and others founded the Kensington Society, which “provided an opportunity for articulate women, barred from university education, to present considered opinions on topics of mutual interest” (Rosen 107). This group led to the founding of the Extension of the Suffrage to Women Society in 1866; Davies acted as the society’s secretary (Rosen 113-116).
1866 was an important year for Davies; in addition to her role in founding London’s first permanent society advocating for women’s suffrage, she published her first book, The Higher Education of Women, which “explores the contemporary differences between male and female education and advocates women’s entry into higher education” (“Higher Education”). The education of women quickly became her primary focus, and Davies, along with friends, opened a women’s college in 1869, which became Girton College, a school of Cambridge University, in 1873. Davies served as mistress of Girton College, which was “Britain’s first residential college for women offering an education at degree level” (“Girton’s Past”) until 1875, and continued to write and advocate on behalf of women until her death on July 13, 1921 (“Emily Davies”).
The brief reference to Emily Davies which occurs in Star of the Sea serves a few different purposes. First of all, by linking David Merridith’s sister Natasha with such an important advocate of women’s rights, we learn that Natasha, at least, is quite revolutionary in her beliefs regarding women’s rights and access to education; it also hints that the other siblings, David and Emily, may be similarly progressive, given the siblings’ close relationships. Second of all, O’Connor’s reference to Emily Davies, along with a few other historical English people involved in social movements, such as Angela Burdett-Coutts and Charles Dickens, helps to keep the novel from portraying all English as cruel and contemptuous.
"Emily Davies.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.Encyclopædia
Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 24 Feb. 2016
"Girton's Past." Girton College. Girton College, 2016. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.
"The Higher Education of Women." Cambridge University Press. Cambridge University Press,
2016. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.
O’Connor, Joseph. Star of the Sea. Orlando: Harcourt, 2002. Print.
Rosen, Andrew. “Emily Davies and the Women's Movement, 1862-1867.”Journal of British
Studies 19.1 (1979): 101–121. JSTOR. Web. 24 February, 2016.
Researcher/Writer: Audrey Gunn
Technical Designers: Lindsey Atchison and Sarah Liebig
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