Not all early women students experienced dizzying success.
St Hilda's Students 1916
Gwendoline Bruce was accepted into St Hilda’s in 1911, inspired by a fascination with jurisprudence, and hoping to use the law to further her work in animal welfare. Her mother’s ill-health, however, forced her to defer until 1912. Then, over the 1912 Christmas break, a bicycle accident caused shock and concussion, preventing her from writing Prelim exams. Although she continued to study from her own notes, she could not return to residence and instead remained at her aunt’s Weston-super-Mare hotel, only returning to St Hilda’s in Trinity Term 1913.
While living in Weston-super-Mare, she was witness to anti-suffragist violence by male university students in Bristol.
Her health troubles continued. By September 2013, Gwendoline’s doctor informed her that her nerves were ‘all wrong’ and that there was ‘an insufficient supply of blood nourishing the brain.’ Nevertheless, she passed the Law Prelims in December 1914 and prepared to sit Finals in June 2016. Exhaustion, however intervened. Too unwell to live in College, Gwendoline remained in Weston-super-Mare, travelling up to Oxford for coaching with her tutor JCV Behan.
She attempted to assist the war effort by driving buses, but the dust caused eye infections preventing her from studying. She grew vegetables in the hotel’s dug-up tennis lawn, and nursed her mother. A further accident in 2018 added to Gwendoline’s sense that the fates were conspiring against her success in Law, and her Final examinations were a failure.
Gwendoline was awarded an aegrotat, graduating on 14 October 1920, the day after officially being admitted to Oxford as a matriculated student. From there, she fades from sight.