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Reflecting on the early history of women in the academy

by Isaac Ntabankulu, Archivist, UCT Libraries, Special Collections

The Role of Women in the South African College

From small beginnings, the representation of women in the student and staff body of the University of Cape Town (formerly the South African College) has become an integral part of the University. In August this year, women students will be celebrating 133 years at UCT.

Women graduates of the South African College, 1899 (All Things UCT Collection, Special Collections, UCT Libraries)

Early days: Council decision to admit ‘lady students’

The South African College was established in 1829, serving as the forerunner for the University of Cape Town, which was established in 1918. In 1858, a Board of Public Examiners was established in the British Cape Colony with powers to grant first, second- and third-class certificates for tertiary examinations conducted by the Board. By 1873 the University Incorporation Act was passed, and the Board of Examiners ceased to exist. Its functions were taken over by the University of the Cape of Good Hope. This made it possible for university students in the Cape Colony to write examinations to attain the Bachelor- or Master- degrees in South Africa.

During the nineteenth century there appear to have been no formal restrictions against women taking these examinations or being awarded degrees. However, women wishing to sit for examination found themselves seriously impeded because of the absence of any means of instruction in science subjects. There were simply no facilities for them to study at any institution for higher learning. Professor P.D. Hahn, who had for some years assisted the Good Hope Seminary by teaching their pupils chemistry and metallurgy, introduced the idea of teaching the female students at the South African College so that they could have the full benefit of the facilities available in his well-equipped modern laboratory.

Professor P.D. Hahn (right) conducting a lecture in his Chemistry Laboratory, South African College, Undated (All Things UCT Collection, Special Collections, UCT Libraries)

His proposal was presented to the South African College Senate meeting held on 24 February 1886. Ultimately, a recommendation was made to admit female students for a one-year trial to Professor Hahn’s classes. Senate’s recommendation was adopted by Council on 10 July 1886, with one exception: Rev. A. Steytler objected and wished to have his protest recorded.

The following month, four Good Hope Seminary students registered for Professor Hahn’s Chemistry class. Minnie Buchanan gained Honours in the Matriculation examination the following year, and another, Emilie David, came First in both Chemistry and Classics, and gained a University Exemption in 1889. Clearly, the trial period provided an opportunity to demonstrate the value of allowing women to study at the university, and by August 1887 a special meeting of the South African College Council was held “to consider an application from the professors for permission to admit lady students.” With Council’s approval of this motion the South African College became a fully co-educational institution for higher education. About nine women registered in 1887, immediately taking advantage of the opportunity offered by the South African College. Two married women were among the first group, Mrs Jessie Rose Innes and Mrs Mary Sauer. They were both registered for one year only, 1887-1888.


‘Lunch time at the Women’s Residence, Groote Schuur. Students living in boarding-houses envy these girls.’ (All Things UCT Collection, Special Collections, UCT Libraries)

At first, female students arriving from around the country to study at the South African College were compelled to reside in boarding houses. A Past Student’s Committee was eventually formed, headed by Mrs E.B. Fuller, to take measures to provide suitable residence for students close to the college. The first women’s residence was opened on 20 February 1908 in Dorman Street, Gardens, with permission from the College Council. This was a hired house with a Mrs. Henry Hall as Warden. The committee of early female College Alumni felt the need for such a residence so strongly that they had collected among themselves a guarantee fund of £150 in case there should be a deficit. In time, a larger house was found, and owing to the gradual increase in numbers, the landlord proceeded to enlarge the house on payment of an increased rent. In 1913 a second hired house was opened in Union Street, and Hope Mill House was bought. This was converted into a residence for women students at the beginning of 1914, with Mrs Brown, a past student, in charge. In the same year, Mrs Tugwell, another past student, took over Arthur’s Seat. The residences were subsequently brought under the control of the College Council, and the Past Student’s Committee, having accomplished the work is set to do, was dissolved. In 1919 Mrs Tugwell took over Hope Mill, which remained the abode of the women students until the present Women Residence [Fuller Hall] at Groote Schuur [Upper Campus] was opened in 1928, with Mrs Tugwell as the Lady Dean.

Women’s Residence House Committee, University of Cape Town, 1934 (All Things UCT Collection, Special Collections, UCT Libraries)

Student Representative Council

In 1906, the first Students’ Representative Council was formed. Its members were comprised of male representatives of the various Faculties and Clubs, with only one female representative. By 1910, with the recognition of the Ladies’ Hockey Club (formed in 1904) by the Students’ Representative Council, it was therefore entitled to be represented on the SRC. By 1920 there were so many sports clubs that each could not be represented, and so the women students, like the men, had one sports representative for all clubs.

Student Representative Council, 1906. Miss Tucker, middle row, fourth from the left, represents the ‘Girls Room’. (All Things UCT Collection, Special Collections, UCT Libraries)


In 1898 the South African College entered a mixed team in the Western Province Tennis Competition. Despite the existence of Tennis, Netball, Swimming, and even Golf Clubs, Hockey remained the game centrally represented by the female students.

South African College Intervarsity Ladies Hockey Team, 1919

In 1904 a Ladies Hockey Club was formed, although membership was not restricted to students until 1915. This degree of integration of women students and their acceptance in what had been an all-male preserve until 1886, was a great breakthrough.


The South African College does not appear to have shown the same liberality towards women when it came to employment opportunities. The first woman to have been employed as a lecturer at the College seems to have been Miss Leila A. Wright. In 1911 Dr Harry Bolus died and left his Herbarium to the South African College and in his will appointed Miss H.M.L. Kensit (later Mrs Frank Bolus) as curator. From 1912 Miss Ruth Glover became an assistant in the Herbarium and a year later her sister Dr Glover also join the staff. In 1912 Miss E.L. Stephens was appointed as a leave replacement for Mr Saxton, lecturer in Botany Department and in 1914 Miss E.M.M. Hume was appointed to a second post of lecturer in the Botany Department. In 1915 Miss Hume was granted leave to return to England to undertake war work and Miss J.E Smith was appointed as her substitute.

Staff of the Bolus Herbarium. From left to right, Mr Pawson, Mr Kensit, Prof. H.H.W. Pearson, Miss Ruth Glover, Mrs Bolus and Miss Dolly Glover (All Things UCT Collection, Special Collections, UCT Libraries)

In November 1916 Professor H.H.W. Pearson died, and Miss E. Stephens was appointed as Acting Professor. The Science Committee’s recommendation came only after considerable discussion, with the supercilious warning “that the interests of the department may be endangered if the period be unduly prolonged in which the Department is entirely staffed by women.” At this stage, the Botany Department was the only teaching department at the S.A. College which was entirely staffed by women. It was a temporary situation necessitated by the participation of South Africa in the First World War, and came to an end in 1919 with the appointment of Professor D. Thoday.

Curating and commemorating the history of women of UCT

Commemorating what has been achieved by women students at UCT, the Special Collections Department has put up a display, sharing material on women students at UCT covering themes ranging from the admission of women students, women at residences, women in students’ affairs, women in sports, women in employment and crime against women.

National Women’s Day is a South African public holiday celebrated annually on 9 August. It commemorates the events that took place on this day in 1956 when more than 20,000 South African women of all races staged a march on the Union Buildings in Pretoria [Tshwane]. They aimed to petition against the country’s pass laws that required South Africans defined as ‘black’ under the Population Registration Act to carry an internal passport; also known as a pass [dompas], this document served to maintain population segregation, control urbanisation, manage migrant labour and monitor the movement of Africans.

Sources used:

Phillips, H. 1993. The University of Cape Town 1918-1948: the formative years. Cape Town: Creda Press.

Ritchie, W. 1918. The history of the South African College 1829-1918. Cape Town: T. Maskew Miller.

SC UCT: BUZV Collection, “Women at UCT: The centenary of women (1986 and 1987)”, Women at UCT by Etaine Eberhard.

African Studies Collection

by Busi Khangala.

The African Studies Collection is an internationally-renowned collection of research resources pertaining to Africa, particularly, but not limited to, Africa, South of the Sahara. It includes Africana, with extensive collections of monographs, periodicals, ephemera, pamphlets, videos, sound recordings, maps, conference papers, and newspapers. Housed in the JW Jagger Building (the south wing of the Chancellor Oppenheimer Library), the collections are made available to researchers and students, in a magnificent historic reading room now restored to its original condition.

The restoredReading Room of the JW Jagger Building showing desks, shelves, computers, etc.
The restored Reading Room of the JW Jagger Building

Established in 1953, the African Studies Library (as it was then known) largely owed its origin to the efforts of Mr R F M Immelman, University Librarian from 1940 to 1970, for whom the collection of African and Southern African material was a particular focus.  He acquired (often by donation) many valuable materials, including manuscript materials such as the C. Louis Leipoldt Collection and the Bleek & Lloyd Collection of Bushman Materials.  It was due to Mr Immelman’s indefatigable collection-building that Harry Oppenheimer recognized the worth of the Africana material at UCT and generously donated funds for the establishment of the University’s Centre for African Studies, and for the development of the African Studies Library’s collections.

The cover of Contrast Literary Magazine, 1960.
The cover of Contrast Literary Magazine, 1960.
DVD cover of Congo in Four Acts, which is available in the African Studies Film Collection.

The African Studies Collection also holds what has often been acknowledged to be one of the finest collections of films on Africa in the world and works in close conjunction with Visual Archives in Special Collections in maintaining and adding to its film holdings. One of the collection’s other strengths is its impressive pamphlet collection. This grey literature is used extensively by undergraduates (not necessarily because they are referred to it but rather because they find it while searching the catalogue).

Together with materials in Government Publications, the African Studies Collection has enhanced and supported both teaching and research at the University. Of course, many Africanists, both local and international, are drawn to UCT not only because of its status as a leading tertiary educational institution world-wide, but also because of the breadth of its Africanist holdings housed in Special Collections.

Key map of the Union of South Africa, 1916.
Key map of the Union of South Africa, 1916.

The primary function of the African Studies Collection is to support the research and teaching needs of the University in the study of Africa. The University’s mission statement states that ‘UCT aspires to become a premier academic meeting point between South Africa, the rest of Africa and the world’.  The foundation statement underpinning the mission statement declares, inter alia, that ‘in advancing UCT as an Afropolitan university we will expand our expertise on Africa and offer it to the world’ and ‘engage critically with Africa’s intellectuals and world views in teaching and research’.


By André Landman

As a long-time Joseph Heller fan, I have read most of what he has written. I have read all of his novels several times, always delighting in his dark humour and satirical style. But the novel I revisit most often is his anti-war cult classic, Catch-22.

Recently, Catch-22 visited me. Not the novel, or the film, but in the form of a photograph album. I know that sounds rather strange, so allow me to explain.

I recently processed a small collection known as the Julian Ozinsky Papers. Roughly half the papers had to do with Ozinsky’s involvement in Jewish cultural organisations. The other half had to do with his exploits in the Second World War. He served as an aerial photographer with the South African Air Force, first in North Africa, and then in Italy.

So what does this have to do with Catch-22?

Let me begin by removing the italics. Catch-22. The title of Heller’s novel has entered our lexicon, with a variety of meanings centred on the idea of a paradoxical or illogical situation. One such sense, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a situation presenting two equally undesirable alternatives”. It was in this sense that the Julian Ozinsky papers presented me with an “archival Catch-22”, in the form of a photograph album.

As I indicated before, half of the collection documents Ozinsky’s war experiences. The photograph album falls into this category. As I opened it, I experienced two conflicting emotions ­– wonder and dismay. Wonder because the photographs were a rich pictorial record of the aerial war and the role of 3 (SA) Wing in North Africa and Italy; dismay because the photographs had been stuck into the album with adhesive tape!

“Do not dismantle photograph albums and scrapbooks,” Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler writes. “They possess their greatest historical significance and artefactual value as whole original objects; the photographs should be seen in the sequence and context that was imposed by the creator” (Photographs: Archival Care and Management, 2008, p. 248). Indeed; but what about that adhesive tape, and the threat of damage to the emulsion onto which it was stuck?

With painstaking caution, I worked my way through the album, trying not to dislodge any photographs. It was apparent that the album itself did not date from the war years; it was actually more like a simple scrap-book than an album. It was also apparent that the photographs were not in any sequence. In fact, many had come loose over time and had been relegated to the back pages of the album, sans tape. In consultation with the donor, it was decided that the album was of no sentimental or historical value. That, and the fact that the photographs were not in any sequence that had meaning but had simply been pasted into the album in a haphazard manner, made it easier to resolve this Catch-22.

I decided to remove the photographs.

Working as carefully as possible, photograph by photograph, I loosened the adhesive from the black paper page of the album. To my relief, I found that the adhesive had become so dry that minimal pressure or force was needed to remove it, and the adhesive tape lifted off the print equally effortlessly. No damage was detectable. A very light clean with an appropriate cloth was applied to remove any traces of residual adhesive.

And so the photographs were removed, and the album discarded.

Which brings me back to Catch-22, italicised, i.e., the novel.

Processing the prints that I had retrieved from the album involved elements of traditional processing and digital processing. Apart from taking care to rehouse the physical objects in a manner that would ensure their longevity, I also wanted to digitize them, for access as well as preservation. As I worked through the prints, capturing metadata for the digital objects, cleaning and re-housing the originals, it struck me that many of the images could well have come directly from the pages of Heller’s Catch-22.

Heller, you might recall, was himself a bomber pilot in the Mediterranean theatre. He flew more than 60 missions. Ozinsky was attached to a bomber squadron, and the missions he flew would have been very much the same as those flown by Heller and described in Catch-22.

And so it was that as I arranged and described and metadata-ed and scanned and cleaned and re-housed and boxed and did all the other things an archivist does, I was lost in the parallel worlds of the real Ozinsky and the fictional Yossarian as they flew their missions over the war-torn landscapes of Italy and beyond.

Indulge me for just a while and I will try to illustrate what I mean.

Heller’s novel is set on the island of Pianosa. The men live in tents. Yossarian shares a tent with Orr, who was always trying to make the tent more liveable, much to Yossarian’s chagrin. Worse, “The dead man in Yossarian’s tent was a pest, and Yossarian didn’t like him, even though he had never seen him.” I doubt Ozinsky had the same problems, or tent mates, but these images reminded me of the many hilarious tent scenes in the novel.

Like Yossarian, Ozinsky was attached to a bomber wing. The planes they flew in may have been different, but the missions were much the same.

Milo Minderbinder was the powerful mess officer who created a “syndicate” (M&M Enterprises) in which everyone had a share. In this image (pay day in the real war), I imagine Milo trying to explain to Yossarian how he was able to buy eggs in Malta for seven cents apiece and sell them at a profit in Pianosa for five cents. 

One of my favourite supporting characters in the novel is Doc Daneeka, the squadron’s physician. But Doc Daneeka leaves the doctoring to his two orderlies, Wes and Gus, while he indulges his hypochondria and does all he can to avoid dying. In this image, I imagine Wes and Gus giving Doc Daneeka an injection …

In Catch-22, Yossarian and his friends often frolic on the beach. It seems from  images such as this that Ozinsky and friends did the same.

A key moment in the novel is the death of Snowden. He was manning a gun turret much like the one below when he was shot. He died in Yossarian’s arms. “Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?” is another Catch-22 phrase that has entered the popular culture.

At one point, Yossarian is terrified because his squadron has been “volunteered” to bomb Bologna, which they know will be heavily defended. In a desperate bid to save his own life, he sneaks into the ops room and moves the bomb line past Bologna. As I looked at the first of the two photographs below, I could just imagine the perplexed officers saying, “Look! The bomb line is past Bologna! The city has been captured. We don’t have to bomb it after all.” The other image shows an official notice that the bombing in North Africa was over, since the German and Italian armies had surrendered. What Yossarian wouldn’t have given to see one of those with Italy on it in place of Africa.

“’Now, men, we are going to synchronise our watches,’ Colonel Korn began …”

I could go on and on, but I think you can see why a Joseph Heller fan like me would draw the obvious similarities between Yossarian’s fictional experiences as portrayed on the printed page and the real-life experiences of  Julian Ozinsky as captured by these photographs.

My aim with this post is twofold.

The first aim is to draw attention to an on-going (and potentially never-ending) project to arrange and describe all photographs housed in legacy collections in an overarching “photograph collection”. Many of the collections taken in at UCT Libraries Special Collections over the decades have significant photographic components. These photographs have untapped documentary, historical, and social value. Unfortunately, in most cases they are either not described at all, or described in a rudimentary fashion, thus limiting accessibility. Many are also in danger of degradation, making physical and digital preservation a necessity.

The second aim is to shine a spotlight on the photographs in the Julian Ozinsky collection. Once they have all been digitized, they will represent a significant record of the South African Air Force’s role in the war, and should be of interest to military and aviation historians.

They will also be of interest to historians of Jewish South Africans. An as yet unresolved issue relating to Catch-22 concerns Yossarian’s nationality. Many have speculated that he was Jewish. Based on this album, I’ say he was.

The Julian Ozinsky Papers are described here.

A sample of the photographs from the album can be viewed here.

In time, they will all be accessible online. And there won’t be a catch, not even Catch-22 …