The University of Leeds Ladies' Club


The University of Leeds Ladies' Club is celebrating its ninety-sixth  year.

The President's badge





The Early Years






The war years and the post war period


The Sixties


Diversity and the golden jubilee celebrations




The 1980's and 1990's



This elegantly written history of the University of Leeds Ladies’ Club is a very welcome publication and a most appropriate way to mark the 80th anniversary of the Club. We are all most grateful to Gillian Roche for presenting us with such an attractive account of a special part of the University’s history.   


The booklet provides a fascinating record of the Ladies’ Club, painstakingly garnered from the University Archive and based on witness from current members, some of whom have belonged for more than forty (or even fifty) years. Society and social attitudes have changed during the past eighty years and the following pages show how the Club has, sometimes slowly but always thoughtfully, responded to these changes, and that throughout that period it has played a valuable role in the life of the University. 


Although the Ladies’ Club has evolved in response to changing social mores, the heart of the Club has not changed. It provides a warm and friendly milieu in which women with University connections can meet and enjoy the company of like-minded women. It has offered a welcome and support to many a newcomer and countless friendships have been forged within it.


The Ladies’ Club has stood the test of time and is in good heart, with enrolments increasing. Membership of the Ladies’ Club is both a privilege and a delight. 



Mary Lance

President 2004/2005


March 2005



Having earlier drafted a short piece on the history of the University of Leeds Ladies’ Club I was invited to expand this into a full history of the Club, to coincide with the 80th anniversary of its founding. 


Naturally, for the early years, I have had to base my research on the material deposited in the University of Leeds Archive which, fortunately, seems to be fairly complete and extensive. As befits a group of ladies with academic connections, formal records of meetings have always been kept: the ‘minute books’ date from the very first meeting in October 1924. University ladies were clearly never short of a word or two and most of the decisions affecting the constitution and running of the Club have been suitably documented over the years.   


For the more recent history I have of course been able to talk to members, some of whose association with the Club goes back over fifty years, and I am indebted to all those who have responded to my requests for information - and indeed to others within the University. 


A small steering committee comprising Miss Jillian Rennie, Mrs Mary Forster and Mrs Gwynneth Owen was set up to guide the style and content of the history and I am grateful to them for their advice and helpful comments. I am especially grateful to Mrs Owen as she had drafted a short history herself, much of which has been incorporated into this booklet. 


My thanks are due also to Ms Hannah Westall of the University Archive for her patience in dealing with my requests for material. 


Quotations in the text are either personal anecdotes or are almost all taken from the minutes of meetings or other documentation in the Archive and have not been individually itemised, unless it seemed helpful to do so. If I have quoted extensively from the records it has been to give the ladies a chance to speak for themselves. The only other significant quotations or references come from the two histories of the University, namely:


A N Shimmin

The University of Leeds: the first half century.

Cambridge University Press, 1954


P H J H Gosden and A J Taylor, eds 

Studies in the history of a University: to commemorate the Centenary of the University of Leeds.

E J Arnold, 1975


Quotations are marked, for example, Shimmin p3. 


If there are any errors, those errors are mine alone, and I apologise in advance. Happy reading!


Gillian M Roche March 2005 

The University of Leeds Ladies’ Club: celebrating its first eighty years


The early years: an elegant bloom


The history of the University of Leeds Ladies’ Club – or the University of Leeds Ladies’ Tea Club, to give it its original title – is the history of the University itself in microcosm. Founded at a time when the University was about to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the awarding of its charter, the Club’s fortunes have fluctuated over the years, reflecting expansion and consolidation, developments in academic and social life and changes in the career and family patterns of its members. 


When the Club was founded, in October 1924, Professor James Baillie, with his wife Helena, had just arrived at the University from Aberdeen to take up the post of Vice-Chancellor. Perhaps sensing an historic moment, nine senior ladies, under the guidance of Mrs Marion Priestley, the wife of the Professor of Botany, signed a short circular letter proposing the formation of a Club which would foster contact “between the wives of members of the University Council and staff, and women members of staff”. 


An exploratory meeting was called for 29 October 1924 in the University Refectory and 102 ladies responded, a quite remarkable turnout given that the total number of academic staff at that time was only 270, according to Shimmin (p49). At the meeting Mrs Baillie was nominated as President, a position she was to hold for four years, and Mrs Priestley agreed to act as Honorary Secretary. Posts of Vice-President and Assistant Secretary/Treasurer were also created. 


Already at the second meeting on 27 November 1924, with 69 members present, decisions were taken about the title of the Club, the Tea Club, and its purpose, namely to “bring members together so as to give them more frequent opportunities for social intercourse.”  By January 1925 the Club had produced its first regulations and that inaugural year was to see several meetings held, both on and off the university site. The format was straightforward: a social gathering with refreshments, normally once or twice a term. Later the meetings would be held on a Wednesday afternoon when, in theory, the husbands were free of University duties and could look after the children, if necessary. 


If the suggestion was that the Club should be run as informally as possible the reality was a little different, at least in comparison with what is now regarded as informality. Until the late 1940s, according to Shimmin (p80), the “kindly professors preserved a remoteness from the junior staff sufficient to satisfy the best Scottish tradition.”  Their wives too followed this same pattern: Committee membership, and hence the position of President, was strictly the preserve of the wives of professorial staff, there was little momentum for change to the status quo and hats and gloves were de rigueur.            


That the Tea Club clearly filled a need is not in doubt: on one early occasion members reported how many people they had met who might otherwise have remained strangers to them. Acquaintance through the Tea Club also helped when members met at other, more formal, University functions.  


The financing of the Club was simple and from the outset it enjoyed the support of the University, for example in terms of typing and the auditing of the accounts, support which it still retains. In 1927 attendance at each meeting cost 9d, of which 3d was to defray the costs of postage and 6d was to cover the cost of tea and biscuits. 


With only a few meetings each year, one of which was the business meeting or Annual General Meeting (AGM), attendance would not have been a burden. But from an early enthusiastic response the number of members attending gradually began to decline and, with costs not being covered, it was proposed in October 1928 to reconstitute the Club as a club of subscribing members. Although the proposal was defeated by 27 votes to 17, subscriptions must have been introduced not long afterwards but the minute books remain silent on the actual date.    


A small Committee of management was formed from the four current officers, one ‘professorial’ representative of each of the four Faculties (Medicine, Science, Technology and the Arts), one from Council and one from Administration, making a total of ten. The new Committee first met in December 1928, when Mrs Baillie was given the position of Honorary President. This was a position she was to occupy until 1938 when her husband, who had been knighted in 1931, left the University. After Lady Baillie’s departure there were no further Honorary Presidents. The Club would instead appoint its first Patron in 1939.       


The Committee set itself the task of revising the criteria for membership. Initially any lady who had a direct connection with the University had been eligible to join. Such a liberal approach seems to have been more honoured in the breach than in the observance. By October 1929, membership was confined to lady members of staff, or of the governing body, or ladies who were married to University staff or to members of Court or Council. The term ‘staff’ included members of the library, administrative and general staff and manageresses of refectories but “not clerks or members of the working staff.” (The underlining is in the original document!)    


The terms of office for the Committee too were formalised, with both the President and Secretary being appointed for two years, but beginning office in alternate years in order to provide continuity. The role of Vice-President was discontinued, although it would be resurrected at a later date.    


Committee members were encouraged to look up wives in their husbands’ departments and invite them to meetings. A hostess scheme was introduced, whereby a few ladies would welcome participants to the meetings, especially newcomers, and introduce them to other members, a scheme which was to continue with great success for many years. Inevitably due deference was given to the senior ladies by their more junior colleagues.  


The annual subscription was first set at 1/-, a sum that was to remain in place for a long time. Then, as now, there was a reluctance to increase the subscriptions unless it was absolutely necessary to do so in order to defray costs, with the preferred option being to raise the cost of attendance at meetings and events. The watchword for the Treasurer has always been prudence.    


The format of termly social gatherings continued. To add a little diversity, meetings rotated between the University Refectory, the Medical School, Staff House and halls of residence, with occasional outside visits, such as that to Beechwood, the home of the Misses Lupton, in June 1925. When the meetings were held in the Medical School the ladies would take advantage of the venue, for example, to visit the Women’s Hospital or the Dental School or, as on one occasion, the Blood Transfusion Service. 


In 1928 the Committee decided that “entertainment would be out of place at usual meetings, with the possible exception of tennis at summer meetings”. As these latter were often held at halls of residence a leisurely game of tennis would not have been too difficult to arrange. Whilst there would be occasional events such as music recitals, it would be almost forty years before it was recognised that members might enjoy regular entertainment in the form of talks or demonstrations as well as social intercourse.    


A new venture for the Club, designed to bridge the gap between town and gown, was to invite the Lady Mayoress to tea. An initial invitation in 1930 was returned by the Lady Mayoress, Mrs Blanche Leigh, in 1936, when 108 members enjoyed the hospitality of the Civic Hall. Infrequent reciprocal invitations were eventually succeeded by alternate visits to the University and to the Civic Hall, a format which still continues. Although these invitations have had their critics over the years, they seem to find favour still with the membership as a “symbolic encounter”. 


And so the patterns of activity and governance were laid down in the Club’s formative years: occasional social events designed by the Committee to encourage cross-faculty friendship and to provide support to newcomers to the University, but set within a highly regulated framework as befitted the period and the institutional life of the time.



The idea of having a Patron first arose in 1939, that of a Vice-Patron not until nearly a decade later. After the 10th Duke of Devonshire was installed as Chancellor in 1938 it was proposed that the Duchess might be invited to become Patron. The Duchess readily consented and she was to continue as Patron - as the Dowager Duchess, after the death of the Duke in 1951 – until her own death in 1988, a quite remarkable span of nearly fifty years. On 29 May 1941 the Duchess was invited to coffee, following lunch on the occasion of the Honorary Degree ceremony, when some 73 members and nine guests were present. 


In 1951 Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal succeeded the Duke of Devonshire as Chancellor and in the following year she accepted the position of Patron. Until her death in 1965 therefore both she and the Dowager Duchess acted as Patrons, the latter less active in later years. 


Upon Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent assuming the Chancellorship in 1966 she too was invited to become Patron, but declined. At this point it was suggested in Committee that “the office of Patron was purely nominal and perhaps unnecessary but the majority Committee opinion was in favour of retaining it.” Eventually in 1989 the Duchess was again invited and this time accepted.


At the time of the retirement of the Duchess from the Chancellorship in 1999 there was further debate as to the value to the Club of having a Patron. Finally it was agreed, and enshrined in the new Constitution, that “The Club may have a Patron and one or two Vice-Patrons, if members so wish.”  The Duchess remained as Patron until August 2004. At the AGM in June 2004 the decision was taken to maintain the tradition: the new Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire, Dr Ingrid Roscoe, herself a Leeds graduate and former member of staff, was invited to become Patron and accepted.



In 1948 Mrs Mary Morris, the wife of the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Charles Morris (later Lord Morris), was invited to become Vice-Patron. She took a lively interest in the Club and remained as Vice-Patron until 1963, when her husband retired. 


She was followed in 1963 by Lady Stevens, the wife of the new Vice-Chancellor, Sir Roger Stevens. Lady Stevens was to be very active on the Club’s behalf. On her departure from Leeds in 1970 Mrs Kitson, the wife of the Pro-Chancellor, Colonel G H Kitson, was invited to fill the position but she declined. There was then a gap of some five years before Lady Morris returned to Leeds and resumed the role until her death in 1988. 


In 1983 Sir Edward Parkes was appointed Vice-Chancellor and it was suggested that Lady Parkes should become Vice-Patron but she expressed a wish to be an ordinary member, whilst continuing the tradition of presiding at the annual tea party at the Vice-Chancellor’s Lodge. In 1985 Lady Graham, the widow of Sir Richard Graham, a former Pro-Chancellor, was invited to become Vice-Patron. She took a keen interest in the Club, inviting members to her home, Norton Conyers, until her death in 1992.  


In 1990 Mrs Margaret Roberts, the wife of the Pro-Chancellor Colonel Alan Roberts, was approached to become a Vice-Patron and, two years later, an invitation was extended to Mrs Jill Dilks, a former Secretary and President and wife of Professor David Dilks, then Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hull. Both ladies serve in this capacity today.


Blossoming: the war years and the post war period   


Although the Second World War receives very little mention in the Club’s archival material, rationing, petrol shortages and evacuation obviously affected the Club’s activities. The Committee’s decision in late 1939 to hold meetings “as usual during the war” had met with a reassuring response and 75 members attended the November meeting in Devonshire Hall. The idea of forming a working party to knit and sew for the troops was not pursued but a call for a three-penny bit collection, to buy cigarettes and Christmas cards for students who had been called up, raised 18/6d.


Despite the rationing, and perhaps in the true spirit of friendship at this difficult time,  the Club continued to extend invitations to ladies outside the immediate University environs and to those newcomers whose husbands had been called to Leeds for the war effort. The wives of local newspaper editors, vicars, and principals of local colleges, as well as headmistresses of girls’ schools and hospital matrons, were all invited to the termly meetings and regularly attended, demonstrating the strength of the town and gown relationship. It is interesting to note that there was one representative from ‘The Forces’ on the Committee for a couple of years during the war. The Club was able to claim another successful year in 1943 “in spite of the difficulties of transport, the lack of household help and the claims of war work” and £5 was sent to the Red Cross Prisoner of War Packing Centre.           


The pattern of three afternoon meetings was to continue, although in June 1944 the President, Dr Clara Stewart, invited members as an experiment to her home in the evening and 65 members enjoyed her hospitality. (One is led to wonder how many coupons she had to use to entertain such a large number of ladies!)


On 10 November 1944 the Club celebrated its 21st anniversary. Given that it can only  formally date its founding to October 1924 such a celebration would appear to have been premature. (There is one mention in the records of a first meeting on 9 October 1923 but this would seem to be inaccurate and subsequent celebrations have always taken the 1924 date as their starting point.) The party was held in the Great Hall, with a record attendance of 80 members and guests, and the Vice-Chancellor, Sir Bernard Mouat Jones, honoured the occasion with his presence and was invited to cut the “magnificent birthday cake”.    


With membership standing at about 170, members endorsed a proposal at the AGM in June 1946 to recognise expansion in the University by extending Committee membership to include the Faculty of Economics, Commerce and Law. The wives of senior administrative staff, or the women staff themselves, were also to be offered Club membership, although given that such staff had appeared in the 1929 rules it is difficult to see why such a move was deemed necessary, unless again they had received scant notice in the interim. 


The formality was to remain however: three hostesses at each meeting were to be drawn from the wives of professorial staff and three from the lecturing staff. It should be recalled that membership of the Club was still, and was to continue to be, considered an honour. The senior wives would invite the more junior wives to become members and take them to meetings. Given that the University was developing and that many young wives were arriving in the northern, industrial city of Leeds as complete strangers, the Club was to provide an initial contact point for them with other wives and women members of staff. Name cards identifying departments were worn, a practice which was to continue until much later. With such warm encouragement numbers increased. Membership in 1948/49 stood at 250, with members paying an annual subscription of 3/6d. The average attendance at meetings was 120 and a post of Assistant Secretary was created “owing to the growth of the Club.”


It was at this time that the President, Mrs Dorothy Spaul, suggested that badges of office might be created for all Committee members. The idea was not initially taken up for lack of funds but, by the AGM of 1955, money seems to have been found as brooches were presented not only to the current President and her Committee but all past Presidents as well. There is no record of the design of these brooches. In 1967 it was reported that Lady Tunbridge had offered to renew the stock of Committee brooches “gifted by her some years before” and so perhaps she was the source of the original brooches. In 1981 eighteen past Presidents or their daughters contributed to a fund for a new President’s badge “to perpetuate memories of the Club”. Based on a design inspired by the University crest, the badge was worn for the first time by the President, Mrs Sybille Cole, on the occasion of the visit to the Civic Hall in 1982. In 1991 Lady Tunbridge presented a gold brooch with a gryphon insignia, to be worn by the immediate Past President. Both remain in use.         


By 1952/53 when the full time academic staff of the University numbered over 500 (Shimmin pp78 and 213) the Tea Club counted 252 members, a not insignificant achievement. Whether the increase in membership was the stimulus to the expansion of the Club’s activities is difficult to ascertain but what is clear is that slowly the emphasis on purely social gatherings changed. From 1950 at least one meeting was not held on a Wednesday afternoon; the AGM in 1953 moved to Temple Newsam with a talk, a tour and tea and, in the University’s Jubilee Year of 1954, 150 members were guests of Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal, as Patron, at Harewood House. On a morning visit on 22 June they were treated to a tour of the State Rooms, followed by coffee and a walk round the gardens (and this at a time when there was only limited access by the general public to Harewood House).                  


After thirty years of the Tea Club’s existence the idea of honorary life membership was first mooted in 1954 but was rejected a year later as being “economically unsound”. Only in 1973 was honorary life membership created, and limited at that time to founder members of the Club, of whom there were four. Further honorary memberships were awarded during the 1970s and 1980s, and today the number is five.  


Throughout the 1950s, with an ever increasing membership (312 in 1957, although only 214 had paid their subscriptions) the Club’s programme of activities gained momentum. A summer outing (for example to Rudding Park), with coaches laid on, was introduced, although petrol rationing in 1957 caused that year’s outing to be postponed. And a dinner dance was first held in the Senior Common Room in February 1958. With live music to dance to, 200 members, husbands and guests enjoyed a splendid evening. As the Secretary reported at the AGM: “In this year which has witnessed remarkable launchings into outer space the Tea Club put up its own small satellite in the form of a dance… the idea was popular and we hope it will remain permanently in orbit.” If not exactly permanent then the annual dance was to be a highlight of the Club’s programme for very many years. True, the format changed and developed: the live band was succeeded in 1977 by a disco, catering became the province of the Committee members themselves, and the venue changed but by 1980 it had been cancelled as numbers dwindled.  


With these alterations in the frequency and variety of events, and a certain ‘democratisation’ of the Club’s membership through growth, it was not surprising that there were suggestions for a change in name. Curiously it was the term ‘lady’ rather than ‘Tea Club’ which first came under scrutiny. In 1957 Committee members held a short discussion on whether to rename themselves the University Women’s Tea Club, but it was decided that “the question should be raised with the general membership at some future date.” This ‘future date’ was not to be until 1966.


Gradually the Club was recognising, although not without some hesitation, that its constituency was changing. Membership was still predominantly drawn from the wives of academic staff, who tended to be at home raising families rather than working, and so were free during the day. A few women academic and senior administrative staff were joining, but when Mrs Lilias Byrn (then Miss Brebner of the Department of German) joined in 1956, she was, and remained for some time, one of the very few academic staff members. 


Although there was now some relaxation in the formality of the gatherings, even as late as the early 1960s attendance at meetings meant being suitably attired. Younger members of the Club were invited to act as hostesses and, in response to their requests, evening coffee parties began to be organised. The first of these in February 1958 attracted 45 members, with an attendance of 65 in the following year. A newspaper report of the time however refers to the ladies settling down to “a good chin wag and gossip over a cup of tea” with “pretty hats and welcome smiles”, whilst admitting that new members present were extremely appreciative of the chance to meet other wives.   


One significant development - for the membership at large – occurred in 1959. A

former member, whose husband no longer held a University appointment, was invited to rejoin: ‘once a member, always a member’ became a policy which still holds good today.           


Burgeoning: the sixties 


The 1960s were to see significant developments for the Club, reflecting both the changes in society and the expansion within the University itself at that time: a new name, the formation of small, special interest groups, a more challenging programme and a broader clientèle from which to draw members, but equally an acceptance that the Tea Club might seem an anachronism to some. 


By 1961/62 the Club was hosting ten events a year and membership stood at 362, of whom only 199 had paid their annual subscription, by then 7/6d. One new venture was a wine and cheese evening in December, to which husbands were invited. Although the first such occasion made a loss, this event was to continue for many years, becoming increasingly more sophisticated, as new wines and cheeses were introduced, and contributing greatly to the Club’s finances. It eventually metamorphosed, by way of a Valentine’s supper in 1986, into the annual spring buffet in 1987. This continues to attract an excellent response.   


In 1961 an invitation to the spring tea party was extended to the wife of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield and the Committee members of its Tea Club. (A similar invitation in the autumn of 1949 appears not to have been followed up.) This was to be the beginning of an informal and irregular exchange programme with other clubs. Over the years, ladies from the universities of Newcastle, York, Birmingham, Nottingham and Bradford visited Leeds and they reciprocated, the last such series of visits being with Hull, in May 1992, when Mrs Jill Dilks was the wife of the Vice-Chancellor. (Of these clubs the only one known still to be functioning is the Staff Women’s Club of the University of Hull and that will disband in the summer of 2005 after fifty years’ existence.) An attempt was made to add an international dimension in 1990 with a link arrangement with the Netherlands-English Society in Enschede but it foundered for lack of interest.    


Younger women, however, would still not appear either to be availing themselves of the opportunity to join or, once members, to take on responsibilities within the Club. Members were therefore again encouraged to look out for newcomers to the University and invite them to join. It was even suggested, at the 1963 AGM at Bodington Hall, that the Club might sponsor talks of a cultural nature in order to attract a younger audience but the response was that “it was generally felt that there was ample provision of this kind in the University already and that we should devote ourselves to social activities, which was after all our original subject (sic)”. 


Nevertheless some movement towards attracting younger women was apparent: a 

thrift shop was formed and the idea was mooted of having a Young Wives’ Club where members could meet for coffee in different Leeds districts, taking their children with them. Although this scheme did not take off at the time it was to be successfully developed later as the Neighbourhood Scheme.      


In 1963 Lady Morris retired as Vice-Patron. She, like Lady Baillie before her, was held in high esteem by the Club, which valued her long service as the Club’s first Vice-Patron, a position she had held since 1948. Not only was she presented with a leather-bound autograph book of signatures of Club members but also a cheque for over £100, with which she bought a sapphire and diamond ring and a brooch.


Lady Stevens succeeded Lady Morris as Vice-Patron. Aware of the need to encourage membership from amongst the many new arrivals at the University she instigated a new members’ evening at the Vice-Chancellor’s Lodge. The first occasion attracted some 35 potential new members and nine Committee members but attendance subsequently was disappointing. She therefore, four years later, offered to host a summer tea party for the retired members. This remained a feature of the programme for about thirty years, as succeeding lady occupants of the Vice-Chancellor’s Lodge continued the tradition. When Lord Boyle was Vice-Chancellor his sister, Mrs Ann Gold, was happy to do the honours. By the mid-1990s the large number of retired members meant that only a proportion could be invited to the Lodge and, by 1997, the event had been phased out. In its place the President, Mrs Jayne Buckler, invited all members to a summer afternoon tea, catered for by the Committee, and this very pleasant event continues as the President’s garden party.


In order to help to widen the Club’s appeal it was suggested early in 1964 that young women with children might be co-opted onto the Committee. Although this idea was dropped at the AGM, on the rather spurious grounds that “it could give the appearance of a closed shop”, a year later the proposal was endorsed, for a trial period of two years. The new Committee, however, had other thoughts and did not implement the proposal, reflecting that it “represented fairly well the various age ranges and periods of association with the University.” 


The mid-1960s saw the beginnings of the development of the relationship between the Senior Common Room (SCR) and the Club. Initially an approach to the SCR Committee asking if the wives of SCR members could become SCR Associate members had been rejected. Undeterred, especially when the ladies learnt that their counterparts in Newcastle had their own room in the SCR there, they tried again and, at the 1965 AGM, it was noted that members could now join the SCR as Associate members. It would be seventeen years before the Club was to have its own room. 


What begins to emerge from the documentation from this time is a tension between those older members who wanted to maintain the status quo and those who favoured an easing of the rather tight regulations and time-honoured customs still prevalent. Suggestions for variations to the programme, for example the introduction of talks or special arrangements for retired members, were met with opposition, not because they were intrinsically unsound in themselves but because they represented a shift of emphasis.                                


But change proved inevitable. At the 1966 AGM members expressed “their appreciation of the greater informality which [had] gradually been introduced into the meetings” and the President, Mrs Heather Stoner, was to say that “it must be remembered that not all new University ladies wish to join a Club of this kind, and many young wives find it difficult to do so. Moreover, with the changing pattern of living it may be expected that a smaller proportion of possible new members will join us.”


Only now did a debate about the name of the Club ensue, with the first significant discussions taking place during 1966/67. There had been reports that intending members were put off by the Club’s name, which was sometimes ridiculed as suggesting a “stiffness and formality which fails to convey a true picture of the purpose of the Club.” Lady Stevens, perhaps trying to act as a catalyst, proposed “a more up-to-date and appropriate name”, the University of Leeds Women’s Club. The Committee agreed to look carefully at the suggestion, setting up special meetings to consider the options on what it called “this very controversial topic.” After much careful deliberation, when titles such as The 24 Club (after the date of its founding), The Brotherton Club, The Senior Common Room Women’s Club and The University of Leeds Ladies’ Club were proposed, it was agreed to put to the membership for a postal vote the original name suggested by Lady Stevens. The draft letter of invitation however caused much more debate, and the letter was reworded so as to give no indication of which form of a new name the Committee might favour but might “allow each member to express her own opinion on a possible name change, comment on the suitability or otherwise of the new title suggested (in fact this was The University of Leeds Women’s Association) or submit an alternative to this suggestion”, which was nothing if not democratic. 


By March 1967 137 replies had been received to the 339 circulars sent out: 62% thought a change of name should be considered but only 35% endorsed the suggested name, especially since it was thought that the name would be confused with that of the Leeds Association of the British Federation of University Women. The University of Leeds Ladies’ Club was the title which emerged as the most appropriate and acceptable alternative and a further postal ballot was held: the result, as they say, is history. The new name was introduced from the start of the new session in 1967 and it was not until 1999 that the name was to be formally challenged again.                    


In addition to working on the Club’s name the Committee also devoted considerable time to a revision of the constitution and the Committee structure. Election to the Committee was still according to faculty (a member’s own or her husband’s) and, given the preponderance of certain faculties in the make up of membership, it followed that some members would have little chance of being elected. This was particularly true of the Faculty of Medicine, where the professorial wives were very active in Club affairs. (Of the 260 members in November 1966, 76 or 29% represented the Faculty of Medicine, 52 Arts, 47 Applied Science, 41 Science, 29 Administration, Court, Council and Library, 8 Economics and 7 Halls of Residence. There were also 77 non-faculty members.) The solution reached was to group faculties into Boards of Faculties - Arts, Science and Medicine – with two representatives from each Board and one each from Administration and from non-faculty (which included retired members, research fellows and other categories of staff, none of which were listed under a faculty in the University calendar.)  


The programme too was finally to diversify. At the 1969 AGM there were suggestions that occasional informal talks (most definitely not lectures!) during coffee evenings would be welcomed and it was agreed to introduce them. Members themselves would be invited to give presentations and the first such talk was given by Mrs Edith Clark, an inveterate traveller, in October 1969 when her subject was her recent visit to India and Ceylon, illustrated by lantern slides. Later that year Miss Brenda Carey, the Warden of Weetwood Hall, spoke about her work as a magistrate. The practice of inviting members to give informal talks continued for several years, demonstrating a very broad range of interests and hobbies, including jewellery, the prison system, archaeology and life in Tanzania. On one occasion Dr Joan MacKinnon spoke about growing up in 10 Downing Street as the daughter of the former Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald. However, outside speakers were soon invited, and a small token of appreciation, usually in the form of a book token, was offered. 


Full bloom: diversity and the Golden Jubilee celebrations   


By the 1970s the Club had been in existence for fifty years and, although the programme, the Committee structure and the basis for membership had changed to a certain degree, it retained the ethos of its early years. The University itself, however, was changing. The expansion in the 1960s was followed by a period of retrenchment. “In the centenary year [1974] the University faced for the first time in twenty years the prospect of contracting student numbers and of serious uncertainty about the provision of buildings and finance” (Gosden and Taylor p41).


The Club was to face this change in the fortunes of the University by expanding the range of its activities, in the expectation that a diversity of offerings would maintain the interest of its increasingly ageing membership, whilst creating an environment which would encourage younger women, including those with families, to join. The decade would see the formation of smaller groups, a more varied programme of activities and the celebration of the Club’s Golden Jubilee.   



Whilst the Club generally focused its efforts on constructing an annual programme suitable for all its members, attempts were made over the years to encourage and develop special interest groups. A Theatre Group and a Bridge Group came and went, a Swimming Group never even made it to the pool, and a Flower and Floral Decoration Group died in the bud, but the Book Club, started by Mrs Joy Thody in 1966, continues to thrive, meeting on a monthly basis. During that time over 300 books have been studied and enjoyed in the company of like minded members and their guests. This group was joined in 1985 by the Gardening Group (now the Garden Group), thanks initially to the work of Mrs Margaret Ward, where members who were keen gardeners and lovers of garden history could exchange cuttings and ideas.


By the early 1970s the age profile of members was changing, not least because membership continued to be offered to ladies whose husbands had retired or who were widows or retired members of staff. From 1967 Lady Stevens had invited the retired members to an annual tea party at the Vice-Chancellor’s Lodge and, in 1971, thanks to the efforts of Mrs Kitty Spiers, a Retired Members’ Group was formed. With the help of the Committee, including some financial support, the Group organised a series of meetings once a term with a speaker, to which other Club members and husbands were cordially invited, the latter presumably to help with chauffeuring! The Group was finally wound down in 1997, as the membership profile aged even further and the Club programme took on a more varied format to accommodate the interests of all its members.


Local groups, as they currently exist, arose out of the Jubilee Project in the Golden Jubilee year of 1974/75. (There had been occasional individual attempts to do something in various neighbourhoods in order to encourage the recruitment of new, younger members with families, who would have found it difficult to get to the University during the day.) Under the Jubilee Project there were early expressions of interest from members living in Adel, Pool, Alwoodley, Bramhope, Headingley and Roundhay.


By 1976 the Adel Group was flourishing, the Bramhope Group was meeting periodically and members in Alwoodley and Roundhay were still attempting to get together. At the 1976 AGM it was reported that there were now groups in Adel and West Park and, by 1984, the Roundhay Group had been established, with the set up costs being met by the Club. Inevitably there was some concern expressed that local groups might detract from the business of recruitment to the Club itself and in 1987 representatives of the local groups and Committee members met to discuss the possible dangers of the groups competing with the Club for support. However over the years this has not proved to be the case and the three groups continue to attract a regular clientèle, meeting about ten times a year in members’ homes for coffee, tea and friendly discourse.             


The existing Neighbourhood Scheme, under which members would invite their new neighbours for tea as a welcome to Leeds and as an introduction to the Club, was expanded and coffee mornings and evenings, where members could bring their children, began to be held much more frequently. A box of toys was always available for the amusement of the younger children and two Committee members were usually deputed to be in charge of the ‘crèche’, whilst their mothers enjoyed a little relaxation with their fellow Club members. On 20 May 1971, the first time that the Club had played host to a Chancellor, the Duchess of Kent was invited to see the crèche for herself during a short visit, when 106 members were present, and one meeting in 1972 could boast 47 members and 20 children.        


Given that husbands were now permitted, indeed encouraged, to attend meetings of the Retired Members’ Group, it was inevitable that there would be requests for such openness to prevail at the regular evening meetings. After a little hesitation the Committee eventually agreed in 1974 that, as members could bring guests, and “since their [guests’] sex was not specified, husbands may certainly be invited.”  And yet even twenty years later – and on several occasions in between – concern was still being expressed regarding the presence of husbands at meetings.  


If Club membership was seen to be on the decline it was only at the start of the downward slope in the early 1970s. Changes to the constitution in 1970 and 1971 allowed visiting members of staff, or the wives of male staff, and Open University staff, or their wives, to join the Club. The wives of overseas visiting staff were particularly grateful for the opportunity to join the Club: in 1977 an American lady wrote to say how much she had appreciated the friendship and hospitality offered by the Club during her year’s stay in Leeds. But this clearly was not enough to stem the decrease. In 1975, according to Gosden and Taylor (p41), there were over 1400 academic staff. In that year the Club could still muster 235 members, although this figure had dropped to 191 by 1978/79, of whom only 155 had paid their annual dues. As President, Mrs Mary Whewell’s remark that “although our membership is relatively small compared with a large potential membership, the Club clearly gives a good deal of pleasure to many of us and is therefore well worth while” is indicative of the 1970s spirit.   


By the middle of the decade, when equal opportunities legislation first hit the statute books, there arose the question of whether the Ladies’ Club would be allowed to function as a single sex club. The University Law Department’s advice was sought and the Club’s officers were advised that the Club was unlikely to be affected as events were privately organised for members and it had not been set up for profit.     


After fifty years the Club had naturally assembled its own small archive. In order to be able to “keep safe all the odd letters and documents relating to the history of the Club” the outgoing President, Mrs Lillian Agar, presented a briefcase to her successor, Mrs Ida Cork. This is still being handed from one Secretary to the next but, fortunately, the Club documents were deposited with the University Archive, through the kind assistance of Mrs Mary Forster, in 1979. Ten years later a further significant donation of papers, programmes and correspondence was made to the Archive.          


On 23 October 1974 the Club celebrated its Golden Jubilee in true Ladies’ Club fashion, with a splendid tea party in the Senior Common Room, attended by 92 members and guests, including several ladies who were founder members. That year the Club arranged some fifteen events and saw the formation of a Welcome Scheme, as a Jubilee Project under the aegis of Mrs Jill Dilks, funded from the profits made on the wine and cheese evenings, which was “an attempt to deal with the problems of attracting members to the Club and of providing a service to [women] coming to the University”. A small sub-committee was charged with contacting University departments, aided by Miss Jillian Rennie in the University’s Administration, to obtain the addresses of the wives of new members of staff. A network of Club members ensured that there was somebody available locally who could visit them and offer personal invitations to meetings. The Scheme was eventually abandoned in the late 1980s, as the University increased in size and it became more difficult to obtain information, but one outcome of the Project was the creation of the local groups.  


The enhanced programme of activities found favour. As the President, Mrs Kate Lythgoe, reported at the AGM in 1976: “It would appear that afternoon and evening meetings which have included some specific item of interest have been much more to the taste of the membership”, a far cry indeed from the days in the 1920s when “tea, conversation and business” was the order of the day.


Maturity: the 1980s and 1990s 


In the last two decades of the 20th century the Club was obliged to acknowledge, perhaps rather painfully, that society, and University society in particular, was becoming ever more complex and that its activities held fewer attractions for women juggling careers and domestic responsibilities and having available many different kinds of leisure opportunities. 


If the Club was to survive, and not fade away, and pursue its aims of giving members the chance to meet socially and of offering a welcome to newcomers to the University, yet again there would need to be changes in the Committee structure, programming and membership categories. The Club continued to make strenuous efforts to bring in new blood. But this was not entirely altruistic, as it needed to attract new, and hopefully younger, members, from whose ranks Committee membership could be replenished. Most of the older members (and they formed 41% of a membership of 153 in 1981) had, after all, already served in this capacity and had no wish to serve again.      


By 1980 the Club could boast that “it normally holds a morning, afternoon and evening meeting each term, and activities include a wine and cheese party, a summer outing and meetings with talks on a variety of subjects. There is a thriving Book Club and an enthusiastic Retired Members’ Group. Young children are welcomed at appropriate meetings, where they are cared for by Committee members.” 


Although a proposal made by Lady Graham in 1977 to form a Young Wives’ Group had been rejected on the grounds that it would be a retrograde step, the Club was nevertheless keen to facilitate younger women both joining and remaining in membership. In 1981 it was reported that the Adel and West Park Groups continued to flourish, being made up chiefly of young mothers living within pram pushing distance of each others’ homes. 


Opportunities were greatly enhanced when the Club acquired its own room in the Senior Common Room in 1982. The University had offered the Club the Staff Rest Room in the SCR exclusively for its own use and the offer had been gratefully accepted. It should be borne in mind that, at that time, the SCR enjoyed considerable standing in the University and therefore such a location added to the Club’s prestige. The Club Room allowed the Club to be much more flexible in its programming, since it was large enough to accommodate Committee meetings, talks and, especially, the weekly coffee mornings which it introduced during term time. A roster of Committee members ensured that there were always two people on hand to make tea and coffee and look after any youngsters. 


The Club Room became a focus for Club activities and considerable time and effort and funds were expended on attractive curtains, cushions, crockery and decorations. The fact that the University changed the actual room three times did not lessen the Committee’s enthusiasm: each time they set about, with renewed vigour, ensuring that it would be both comfortable and convenient, appreciative of the free accommodation where they could do their own basic catering. The Room was reported as having great merit in the way that it brought “a more relaxed air to the meetings, making friendships easier to achieve.”


The programme however was not confined to use of the Club Room: there were outings, visits to University departments and talks - usually well attended - on such subjects as volcanoes (with cinder toffee provided by the President) and mediaeval women. And the mid-1980s saw the start of the Gardening Group and the Roundhay Group.


Nevertheless the Club still retained an aura of stuffiness, not helped by the fact that the ladies were still known - in written documents at least - by their husbands’ initials. This was countered by the President, Mrs Jill Dilks, at the 1984 AGM. “I think that we should refute as a lie accusations, which we have all heard from time to time, that the Club is cold and stuffy. It is simply not true. Our strength has been adaptability. The Club is here to serve the needs of its members and the University by weaving friendships across hierarchies and faculties.”


If the Club retained a hard exterior, it was definitely soft-centred and for those who managed or were encouraged to penetrate the outer layer the rewards were significant: an attractive programme, the fellowship of like-minded and convivial women and membership of an organisation with a keen interest in the University as a broad-based, interdependent community. 


The 60th birthday party on 31 October 1984 was attended by 77 members but it was perhaps eclipsed by the 65th anniversary celebrations on 10 October 1989. On this occasion nine members, all with over fifty years’ membership to their credit, were given honorary membership and presented with posies of gold flowers. Amongst their number was Dr Leslie Henson, the only man ever to have been granted membership of the Club, in recognition of the loyal support which he had provided to his wife Betty since 1939 and her sterling service to the Club as Secretary, President and Secretary of the Retired Members’ Group. (She had died in 1984.) A tape recording was made of the ladies’ reminiscences at the party. 


Whilst it might be regarded as invidious to single out any one lady over the past eighty years for special mention, Mrs Dorothy, later Lady, Tunbridge, perhaps deserves such an honour. Lady Tunbridge, herself a graduate of the University and wife of the Professor of Medicine, Sir Ronald Tunbridge, was to be an inspiration to many within the University as Life-President of the Old Students’ Association, Chairman of the Standing Committee of Convocation and, especially, as Secretary, President and, dare one say, in later years the éminence grise of the Ladies’ Club. Within the Medical Faculty she had encouraged many younger women to join the Club, had presented badges of office which are still in use and had supported the Club through all its vicissitudes and triumphs. She died in 1999, having been a member for more than sixty years.       


Membership continued to remain static (at about 150) and consequently Office and Committee positions became increasingly difficult to fill. In 1991 it was recorded that academics were “facing bleak times with low salaries and uncertainty about future conditions in the universities.” Perhaps in the light of this it was suggested that an honorarium of £50 or £100 should be offered in an attempt to encourage younger women to take up the post of Secretary. Put to the vote at the AGM the motion was defeated by 22 votes to 15, with 3 abstentions. The positions of Secretary, and that of Treasurer, remain honorary positions. 


Secretaries, even Presidents and Treasurers, did eventually come forward and the easing of the rule, from the 1992/93 session, whereby Committee members had to represent their ‘faculty’ helped considerably in encouraging applications from those who might have hesitated earlier.  


By 1995 the Club’s relationship with the SCR needed to be put on a more formal basis. The Club was fully aware that the significant expansion within the University of both student and staff numbers meant that space would be at a premium. With the SCR expected at that time to move to University House, the Committee sought to ensure that it might retain some dedicated facilities there. By choosing formal affiliation to the SCR from 1996, the Club gained enhanced recognition from the University authorities and was able to participate in the planning of the proposed move. The move did not take place but affiliation has enabled the Club to remain a partner in, and a firm supporter of, the SCR Club. The Club Room however eventually became part of the Department of Earth Sciences and the curtains and crockery were sold at the Christmas coffee morning in 1997, raising £71.30 for Club funds.  


A rare event for the Club, a charity fashion show, took place in March 1999 after the President, Mrs Gwynneth Owen, had been asked by the Pro-Chancellor, Colonel Alan Roberts, for support for the Cookridge Cancer Appeal Fund, of which he was Chairman. The Club’s position had always been that it was a social organisation and that, as the Committee confirmed in 1967, it was “against the [Club’s] policy to become involved in assisting any specific charity.” Naturally over the years there had been the occasional donation - from surplus funds - to charities or good causes which the Committee deemed worthy of support and the Club regularly gave, and still does, to the Lord Mayor’s Charity Appeal. The positive response to the Pro-Chancellor’s request for assistance was in no small part due to his constant supportive stance on behalf of the Club and the Cancer Appeal Fund benefited with a cheque for over £1000.        

 After seventy-five years of existence there was a gradual realisation that the constitution, last revised in 1980 and 1983, inadequately reflected both the ethos and the aims of the organisation. Under the guidance of Miss Maureen Ross, as President, a working party was established in 1999 to make recommendations for a revision of the constitution, paying particular attention to the Club’s name and membership categories. The deliberations were thorough and democratic and provoked lively debate at the AGM and at the Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) of 7 October 1999, when the new constitution was finally ratified. 


The name had served the Club well for thirty-two years but, with the term ‘lady’ becoming increasingly outmoded, there were suggestions for a change in nomenclature. As in 1967, the more egalitarian term ‘women’ figured strongly in the suggestions made, with titles such as The University of Leeds Women’s Social Club and the University of Leeds Club for Women being proposed. At the EGM members finally voted to retain the existing name, but only by the slimmest of margins: 16 for, 14 against and 4 abstentions. Other clauses were modified in the light of existing practice but the most far-reaching changes were in respect of membership. Agreement was reached to enlarge the base to be totally representative of all women staff, serving or retired, women postgraduates, women members of Court and Council, and the wives, partners and widows of all staff and members of the governing bodies, serving or retired.