Inspiring Women

In search of women's history on campus

Who were our early women and how are they remembered today? Can we find women’s history on campus?

The advantages of the School will be open to all who are able to profit by them, whether men or women.

LSE prospectus, 1895

A group of suffragettes being arrested from an office in Clement's Inn
Flora Drummond, Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst being arrested from Clement's Inn in 1908. Credit: LSE Archive

Renaming the Towers buildings in honour of the women's suffrage campaign

On Friday 23 November 2018, HRH the Countess of Wessex visited LSE with Helen Pankhurst and Caroline Criado-Perez to officially rename the three LSE Towers – on Clement’s Inn overlooking the Royal Courts of Justice – were renamed Pankhurst House, Pethick-Lawrence House and Fawcett House in honour of some of the leaders of the UK women’s suffrage movement with links to LSE. 

Watch the video to find out more:

Renaming the LSE Tower Buildings to commemorate the women's suffrage movement Renaming the LSE Tower Buildings to commemorate the women's suffrage movement
In the centenary year of the first votes for women in the UK, LSE's Towers buildings on Clement's Inn are being renamed after three leading campaigners from the women's suffrage movement. Find out more with LSE Director Minouche Shafik. LSE Film & Audio

Watch the video on YouTube 

2018 - a landmark year

2018 has marked both local and national events in women’s history: the centenary of the first votes for women in the UK and the 150th anniversary of the first female students at the University of London. Since its launch on International Women’s Day in March, the #LSEWomen project has been sharing profiles of some of the inspiring women students, staff and alumni at LSE.

Women at LSE in the early years - facts and figures

LSE has admitted female students and staff since it opened in 1895. In exploring the experiences of LSE’s early women students and staff, a conference in March 2018 found that between 1895 and 1932 women made up 20 per cent of the total regular teaching staff, and of those 50 per cent were based in the Department of Social Science and Administration. Sixty-two per cent of women students were also part of this department, which provided welfare work training and was where students often undertook part-time study for one-year courses towards the Social Science Certificate, Diploma in Sociology and Mental Health Certificate rather than degrees. However, over a third of these women already held degrees. Nineteen women were awarded PhDs, including the first three ever awarded to LSE students in the early 1900s.

Home of the suffragettes

LSE and the suffragettes were early neighbours. Tea shops were known as safe spaces for suffragettes to meet, and Alice Mary Hansell’s Tea Cup Inn was extremely well-placed to serve. When it opened in 1910 on the ground floor and basement of 20 Kingsway, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) general office was nearby at 4 Clement’s Inn, and had been since 1906. Emmeline Pankhurst had founded the WSPU in 1903, and she, Christabel Pankhurst and Flora Drummond were famously pictured (opposite) being arrested from Clement’s Inn in 1908.

Two other prominent WSPU members, Frederick and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, owned and edited the WSPU newspaper Votes for Women, which was printed at the St Clement’s Press on Clare Market. Frederick Pethick-Lawrence had taught statistics at the School in 1897/98. The Tea Cup Inn advertised in Votes for Women, and was of course extremely close to the offices at Clement’s Inn. The WSPU moved to Lincoln’s Inn House on Kingsway in 1912. Today, St Clement’s Press is the St Clement’s Building and Waterstones Economists’ bookshop on Clare Market; Clement’s Inn is home to  LSE buildings that, along with 20 Kingsway, contain LSE office, research and teaching spaces. 

Being born and brought up in Ethiopia and my Pankhurst surname have defined my personal interests and a career entwined with international feminism. On the centenary of some women getting the parliamentary vote in the UK, I published 'Deeds Not Words: the story of women’s rights, then and now'. Being affiliated to LSE has been really useful. Of particular help has been access to the Women’s Library which has a wonderful collection of suffragette memorabilia and more recent material on women’s rights.

Dr Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and Visiting Fellow at LSE 2017/18


Charlotte Shaw, Adelphi Terrace and the Shaw Library

Without Charlotte Shaw’s financial assistance, LSE would not have had its first home in Adelphi Terrace, or the Shaw Library. When Sidney Webb was looking for a home for the School, Charlotte was persuaded to sub-let the top two floors of the premises at 10 Adelphi Terrace, leaving the rest of the building for the School and its Library – and most importantly making the project affordable. Charlotte was also an LSE Governor and a member of the Library committee.

In 1939, LSE Director Alexander Carr-Saunders explained his idea for a general reading library and Charlotte agreed to give £1,000 towards the project. Charlotte was famously self-effacing and, despite her close involvement with the project (down to a lengthy dispute over bookplates she declared to be “philistine, unimaginative”), wanted to be anonymous.

When LSE returned to London after the war, the Library was moved to its present home in the Founders’ Room on the sixth floor of the Old Building. Charlotte’s desire for anonymity has meant that many believe the Library to be named after her husband, George Bernard Shaw. Today a photograph of Charlotte Shaw hangs in the Founders’ Room. 

Our first woman professor and Lilian Knowles House

Lilian Knowles House is a hall of residence for graduate LSE students in Spitalfields. The person behind the name is one of 24 women who taught at LSE in 1918. In 1921 she went on to become the first ever female Professor of Economic History in the UK as well as the first ever woman professor at LSE.

After studying at Girton College, Cambridge, Lilian Knowles was among the first recipients of an LSE Shaw Research Studentship in 1896. Lilian was an advocate of equal pay and employment rights and waged a long campaign with the LSE administration about her own pay and conditions. She was also the first woman to become a Dean of the University of London – in her case the Dean of the Faculty of Economics – in 1920. 

Alice Clark: a suffragist, a student and the First World War

Alice Clark came from a family of active suffragists in Somerset, and was involved with the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). She carried the Street Women’s Suffrage banner in the NUWSS pilgrimage to Hyde Park in 1913 and applied to join LSE at the end of the same year. Alice attended LSE at a time when many women were active in the field of economic history. She applied for and received the Shaw Research Studentship, founded by Charlotte Shaw, to study the working life of women in the seventeenth century under the supervision of Lilian Knowles. 

On the outbreak of war, the NUWSS suspended its suffrage campaign and backed the war effort. Being a Quaker, Alice was not comfortable with this decision. Her studies were interrupted by the need, in October 1914, to return to the family business to set up workrooms for unemployed women and her scholarship was left open. Later, Charlotte Shaw wrote to Mrs Christian MacTaggart, the School Secretary, asking “What has happened to Miss Clark?” Alice sent a progress report of her work in November 1915 which pleased the committee. She finished her studies and published her book Working Women in the Seventeenth-Century in 1919.

Vera Anstey and the evacuation to Cambridge

Vera Anstey (née Powell) completed a Diploma in Public Health at Bedford College before studying for the BSc (Econ), specialising in Economic History at LSE “with the intention of becoming a factory inspector”. While at the School she also met her husband Percy Louise Anstey, who had been President of the Students’ Union. Vera combined her studies with sport – she was a founder member of the LSE hockey club – and, as a staff member, formed a successful mixed doubles badminton partnership with William Beveridge. Vera was appointed Assistant Lecturer in Economic History in 1921 and joined the regular staff in 1922, teaching on Indian trade and production. Her career focused on teaching and supporting students, particularly those from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Her skills were particularly valued during the Second World War when LSE was evacuated to Peterhouse, Cambridge. She took on the role of Accommodation Officer, cycling around Cambridge persuading local landlords to take in LSE students – securing accommodation was not always an easy task for the School’s many overseas students. LSE at Cambridge was quite a different School then – by 1943-44 women made up 68 per cent of the student body. Vera finally obtained a major readership in 1948, though never became a professor. She is remembered today in the Vera Anstey Suite in the Old Building where her portrait still hangs. 

Prime Minister Eugenia Charles and post-war London

Before becoming Dominica’s first female prime minister, Eugenia Charles studied law at LSE. She arrived in London in 1946, a time of austerity as well as a time of new beginnings. London was hosting a number of events that had been postponed for years due to the war: the Ideal Home Exhibition was back and so were the Olympic Games. London was also celebrating the Royal Wedding. Eugenia made the most of it and attended all of these and many other events that came her way, as her account of a 1948 New Year’s party recalls.

Back in Dominica, Eugenia eventually entered politics, leading her Dominica Freedom Party into parliament in 1980 on the strength of her arguments around Dominica’s independence. She served as Prime Minister for 15 years. After retiring from politics, Dame Charles continued to work around the world promoting human rights and democracy. She was a co-founder of the Council of Women Leaders.

Anne Bohm, unofficial Dean of the graduate school

A constant presence at the School for the second half of the 20th century, Anne Bohm came from a German Jewish family who moved to London in the 1930s. While living in Cambridge in 1941, she came to work at LSE who had evacuated to Peterhouse for the duration of the war. She remembered the time fondly, saying “I always say we had a very happy war.”  

Anne retained her post after the war and moved back to London with the School, where she effectively ran the graduate programme, without ever receiving the title Dean, for 20 years. She was loved by students and also revered externally. During the 1960s, she was invited to join the US Foreign Leader Programme, and later work with the Social Science Research Council in setting up the first National Conference on Postgraduate Work. Upon retirement she became a roving ambassador for the School and received an OBE in 1991. A portrait of Anne Bohm hangs in the Shaw Library.