The lusty ways of St Hilda

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The Independent Online
St Hilda's College, Oxford, is the only place where I've walked into another girl's room to find a Chippendale. And not the type of furniture.

Our last all female college at Oxford University is once again under attack. Next month, the governing body will probably vote to admit male fellows. Whenever this has happened in other female colleges, male students have inevitably followed. St Hilda's undergraduates are outraged. As well they should be.

Before I went to St Hilda's the thought of spending three years in an all-female college did not appeal. But now when I hear the cries of "anachronism", "get into the real world", I say Rubbish. It's pure jealousy. Forget the It girls. Everybody wants to be a St Hilda's girl. Far from the old image of "girls in pearls", when I was there we were the bad girls, the belles of St Trinians, the Spice Girls of the university. In fact we typified Intelligent Girl Power before Geri had grown into her first trainer bra.

Somerville women had sold out allowing in men, although they were tweedy and dull to start off with (besides having the disadvantage of an old girl in Margaret Thatcher). The other former women's colleges - St Anne's, St Hugh's, Lady Margaret Hall - got swamped by the men they let in and lost their sex appeal. It is left to St Hilda's - or St Thrillda's, to use its alternative name - to stamp women's dominance on the university.

Go to a party. Half the college was there. Write for a student rag. Hildabeasts were running the show. Act, row, you couldn't escape them. In a nice normal mixed college like Lincoln, they all spent three years in the bar wrestling with knot theory and acne. In St Hilda's we'd written the book, got the doctorate and gone out clubbing.

Lonely women? Hardly. The college exerted a strange influence over the male psyche. Perhaps it was the preponderance of immature public school boys in Oxford but they couldn't cope with 300 women all in one convent- like building overlooking the river. St Hilda's events were characterised by the sheer, sad desperation of men to get invited to them.

Teams of boys in black tie punted down the river in darkness to crash the St Hilda's ball in my first year, crawling under barbed wire and emerging battered and dusty. Rumours abounded that some sad chemists had even gone as far as snorkelling to get in. Undergraduate balls have been banned since.

"I thought I had died and gone to heaven," the sociologist Rosalind Miles says, talking of her experience there in 1960s. Sisters, she is joined by a long list of feisty alumnae. Gillian Shephard, Barbara Pym, Zeinab Badawi all went on to great things. It wouldn't have been achieved with self-important whingeing Oxford men in the way.

Two years ago during May Day festivities, Jocelyn Witchard jumped naked off Magdalen Bridge into the river and then posed for The Sun. (That was when the college became known as "St Thrillda's".) Ms Witchard said she was striking a blow for feminism and equal opportunities. You can't imagine anyone from boring old Balliol doing as much for the cause.

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