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Former President Margaret Wileman passes away at 106

Miss Margaret Wileman, Hughes Hall President 1953-1973

We are sad to announce the death of our former President Margaret Wileman on Tuesday 12th August.

Miss Margaret Wileman was the President of Hughes Hall from 1953-73 and had been an honorary fellow for the last thirty years. Living close by, off Hills Road, she maintained her interest in the College until her final days and had attended the Summer Garden party in July.

Miss Wileman, academically distinguished and with a wide range of talents, as artist, musician and poet, was chosen from a list of thirty applicants to lead Hughes Hall. Leaving Oxford with a First in Modern Languages in 1930, she trained as a teacher in the Oxford Department of Education. During the war she lectured at St. Katharine’s College Warrington, now part of Liverpool Hope University, and then for 10 years was a resident warden at Bedford College in London. During vacations both during and after the war she worked in refugee camps and girls’ borstals.

When she arrived at Hughes Hall in October 1953 at the age of 45 she became the seventh Principal since the foundation of the College in 1885. It was an all-female College, and, with a maximum of 70 students, by far the smallest in the University. The College fabric was essentially Victorian, with an ambience of genteel poverty.

Pat Story, who came to Hughes Hall as a student in 1953, and is now a Life Fellow of the College, arrived to find that her room had no carpet, just a white-painted chest of drawers and a small food locker which contained 1 pot of orange marmalade, 1 pot of blackcurrant jam, 1lb of sugar and 2oz of butter.

At the relatively impoverished College, Miss Wileman found herself discharging three jobs: Principal, University Lecturer in Education and Director of Women Students. She had no secretary until 1960 when she appointed a graduate of the Guildhall School of Music who, she noted, ‘could type at incredible speed, as though playing a particularly sparkling Scarlatti sonata’.

The 1960s were a critical period in her leadership of Hughes Hall. The Bridges Report led to the creation of several new graduate colleges – Darwin, Wolfson, Clare Hall and Lucy Cavendish – and the admission of an increased number of women students to a wider range of Colleges.  Miss Wileman seized the opportunities offered by this era of change by enlarging the scope of the College and increasing numbers: first, women graduates were admitted to subjects allied to education, then mature undergraduates studying for the B.Ed and a small number of affiliated students (graduates of other universities who wished to study for the Cambridge BA). In her final year, 1973, men were admitted to the College. Today , thanks to these foundations laid, Hughes Hall is a full college of the University with 600 students, both men and women, studying for the whole range of Cambridge degrees.

In her long retirement Miss Wileman, a devout Roman Catholic, retained her strong links with the College and along with Sister Gregory Kirkus ran education programmes for Catholic Sisters teaching from Canada to Korea, Ascot to Africa. An accomplished musician, she regularly attended events of the College Music Society which now bears her name. In 2000 the French government appointed  her Officier de l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques in recognition of her services to French literature.

Current Hughes Hall President Sarah Squire said:  ‘Margaret played an extraordinary role in the life of this college for over 60 years, and it was wonderful the way that she continued her lively and intelligent interest in our doings right up until the end of her long life. We shall all miss her cheerful smile.’

Her memory will endure at Hughes Hall through the original 1895 College building which bears her name.


Photo Courtesy of Ken Turner

Photo Courtesy of Ken Turner