The Chancellor of the University, The Most Hon The Marquess of Crewe, inspecting members of the Officers’ Training Corps on 29 June 1918.

1918:
A pivotal
year

The Chancellor of the University, The Most Hon The Marquess of Crewe, inspecting members of the Officers’ Training Corps on 29 June 1918.

“… for four years, with a depleted staff and a much diminished student body, the University carried on, adding special war duties to its normal academic work… preparing for the day when the war suddenly clanged to a stop and, within a few weeks, the students came thronging back.”


1918

Installation of the Marquess of Crewe as the Chancellor of the University.

First women’s hall of residence set up at Oakholme Lodge.

Establishment of PhD degree.

1,332

deaths from influenza in Sheffield (October–November).

240,000

people in Sheffield were eligible to take part in the 1918 General Election (40% were women): only 48% cast a vote (Peter Warr, Sheffield’s Great War and Beyond).

The University of Sheffield war memorial, Firth Court

The University of Sheffield war memorial, Firth Court

 

So wrote Arthur Chapman, the author of a history of the University’s first half-century. He joined the staff as a demonstrator in the Department of Chemistry in 1920, and was well-placed to reflect on the aftermath of World War I and its profound effect on the University. The announcement of the Armistice on 11 November 1918 was greeted by students with a hastily organised dance; members of the University’s Officers’ Training Corps were engaged in putting up fencing round a camp for captured German officers.

An editorial in Floreamus! (the University magazine) of March 1919 enthused: “Men are pouring back into the place full of ideas, ideals and knowledge… In 1914 half our men students had already left us to join the army, and as the weeks passed by the remnant grew gradually less till at last only a handful remained. This term has seen a reverse of the picture. We welcome back, not all, alas, who then left us – too many lie in French earth – but still a noble company of old acquaintances, each with a thrilling tale to tell. And with them we welcome another large body of gallant men who come to us for the first time.”

Changing roles for women
What a change for the students and staff who had endeavoured to “carry on as efficiently as possible in our own respective spheres, and make the most of a restricted scheme of things”. The war years saw an increase in the number of women studying and lecturing. Floreamus! viewed this change with some disdain: “Many student activities have reluctantly closed down their doors ‘for the duration’ and those which bravely remain open might be better supported. The preponderance of women – with the inevitable rider, a tendency to form cliques – is not good for the social life of the place.” However, by June 1919 this sniping had disappeared: “Without the efforts of the women in these years it would have been doubly difficult to have revived the life and activities of the place in the speedy and gratifying manner which has been so noticeable since the Armistice.”

From its beginnings, the University had actively encouraged the participation of male and female students alike, and was also unusual in its support of female staff. Dr Helen Mathers (BA History and Politics 1974, PhD History 1980), author of the University’s centenary history Steel City Scholars, has researched the status of female staff: “Women in science education in Sheffield go back to the 1880s, and they were taught in mixed classes by men. During the war, they took on a lot of teaching and pastoral care. Life at the University was overcrowded and stressful, and the previous respect for rules and authority was challenged by the returning soldiers. However, it must also have been a maturing experience, to mix with the older students who were so keen to learn and complete their degrees.”

With the departure of many male lecturers to the services, Professor Wynne in Chemistry appointed his top women graduates to teaching posts – Emily Turner and Dorothy Bennett continued as members of staff for several decades. The department’s war-time research on the anaesthetic beta-eucaine was entirely carried out by women. Science graduate Violet Dimbleby became an indispensable member of staff for Professor Turner in the Department of Glass Technology.

Post-war political reconstruction
Before the end of June 1919 there were nearly 400 full-time students, about twice as many as in the preceding year and more than in 1914. As Chapman noted: “the next few years had an atmosphere all their own… One notable feature was a prolonged epidemic of dancing… unofficial dances were held, indeed broke out, at odd times and places, especially in the lunch hour.”

Following hard on the heels of the Armistice was the first General Election that allowed women (those aged over 30 who met a property qualification) to vote. The 1918 Representation of the People Act also abolished property and other restrictions for men, and extended the vote to all men over the age of 21. Additionally, men in the armed forces could vote from the age of 19. What impact would this have on the University?

One notable feature was a prolonged epidemic of dancing.”

There must have been discussions and meetings involving students and staff on the theme of women’s suffrage during the preceding decades. It was a highly political time; however, little evidence remains in the University’s archives. Sheffield was the first known place in the country to form a women’s suffrage society run by women for women – the Sheffield Women’s Political Association (launched in 1851). Lettice Fisher, the wife of Vice-Chancellor HAL Fisher, chaired and spoke at meetings of the Women Workers’ Organising and Interests Association and was President of the Sheffield branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and of the local Federation of University Women.

There are only two references to the General Election in Floreamus! One correspondent notes, “Now many will have votes in the coming election, none of the women, but we can’t leave our preparation to the last minute… when every detail of our national life should be reconstructed on a firmer and more lasting basis, should we not evolve some plan of reconstruction of student life and outlook?” A second letter encourages eligible students and graduates to register so they can vote for the new constituency of the Combined English Universities (Durham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham and Bristol), another result of the 1918 Act. HAL Fisher was one of the two MPs elected.

Remembering those we lost
Celebrations of the Armistice, and subsequently the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919, took place across the city – formal thanksgiving services, flags and bunting and parties. A Peace Parade on 19 July 1919 saw many thousands of people flock to the city centre. Dozens of memorials to the dead were set up. The University was no exception. The roll of honour housed in Firth Court in 1926 lists 196 names, a permanent reminder of all those who were lost.

Visit www.sheffieldsoldierww1.co.uk/Memorial to view the roll of honour, listed under ‘Sheffield University’.

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