St. Hilda’s Hall, Oxford.
My dear Mother,
Ever so many thanks for your letter and the enclosures, and also for your parcel. The cakes are most delicious. I have been round borrowing tins to keep them in. Imagine Bronwen and me pitching into them tomorrow at tea time after the Bach Choir concert. We shall need sustaining! If people are not engaged I want to have a 1st year cocoa on Monday – just the people I particularly like. Unfortunately entertaining is confined by etiquette to your own year during your first term. It really is a relief. Next term will be the time!
I can’t give you any particulars yet about coming home, as we haven’t considered the matter in detail as yet – Kathleen is busy swatting Divvers1, so I have not bothered her about it. She is working up to the most unearthly hours, but still manages to perfectly sweet and aimable [sic] to everyone. At present about half the Hall swatting either for Divvers or for Smalls (Responsions) 2 – and you have no idea how everyone else pets them. They hold cocoas in which they revise their work, the hostess asking questions all round. Then they are asked out to tea nearly every day in the week. Joyce Woodward is doing Smalls, and Muriel and Kathleen are quite determined to pull her through between them. They are always hearing her verbs, coaching her in prose, or some such thing.
I having been learning how to punt this week3. It is a most fascinating job, and I didn’t prove so stupid at it as I thought I should. You can get beautifully wet at the job. The river here is most fascinating, and winds and divides into so many different branches that it is altogether most excellent practice. You can punt and canoe from the garden of the Hall. Sculling takes place on a different part of the river, near L.M.H. about half an hour’s walk away, so I have not yet had time to go there. If I have a long afternoon I want to walk with Bronwen, (which by the way is only Joan Fisher’s real name). Yesterday she and I went an awfully nice walk to Wheatly, which is a most intriguing place with some charming old cottages and farmhouses, about six miles away. We had tea there, and returned. Today I went for a walk with Muriel and Kathleen and a girl at L.M.H. who was most awfully decent to me while I was up there in March, Miss Brookes-Smith. It was a gorgeous day, and we kept catching Oxford at different points of view, first above us, all the towers touched up and made rosy by the sunlight, and then lower down and dark grey against a pale sky, a more familiar aspect.
Next week is going to be a particularly full one. On Monday evening, Canon Streeter4 is coming to hold a final discussion on “Job”. On Tuesday, there will possibly be Wids, and the bursar is giving a cocoa to all the Bach Choir people. On Wednesday – General Meeting, during which officers will be re-elected for next term, when we have to begin to do our share of the dirty work of the Hall. On Thursday there is nothing – as yet – On Friday sharp practice debate5 – everyone to speak for 10 minutes! On Saturday the musical Society is having a “bust” – a short informal concert, followed by a rowdy cocoa in the Senior Students’ room. In the last item I believe a “comb” competition is included. On Sunday we are singing carols, in the afternoon at Cowley Hospital for the Feebleminded (case of the blind amusing the blind!) and in the evening in Hall. Add to this two hockey matches, and you can perceive that the Hall will be kept going.
I must now go and see that various people are in bed. This is a reversal of the usual process, but Muriel is very tired tonight, so she is going to bed first. My dearest love to Daddie and Maxted.
Your loving daughter,
1Divvers – Divvers was a compulsory examination in Holy Scripture, which was not abolished until 1931. It included knowledge of two Gospels in Greek or (if there were religious objections) the original text of a Greek philosopher.
2Responsions (often known as ‘Smalls’) was the University’s entrance qualification. In 1914 it covered several subjects, including Latin and Greek grammar, Latin prose composition and unseen translation in Latin and Greek, although women were permitted to substitute modern for classical languages. School certificates were introduced in 1917 and the holders were exempt from Responsions. From 1920 the same examination regulations applied to both sexes, although compulsory Greek in Responsions was abolished just months before the first women were admitted to degrees.
3Learning to punt in December must have been a chilly business. In novice hands the pole sheds water up the punter’s arms as it is lifted and dropped. Margot is very energetic with her walking, punting, hockey and later cycling, rowing and tennis.
4Canon Streeter, of Queen’s College, had advanced ideas on New Testament source criticism that were very new for his times, for instance the priority of St Mark’s gospel and the existence of ’Q’. He was also a keen supporter of S.C.M.
5Sharp Practice debates, concerts, and drama are among the many activities that take place within the college until the social custom of chaperonage and the university exclusion of women ease up and increasingly the women students join in the general life of the university. A sharp practice debate is designed to keep people on their toes, ready to be called on to speak at any moment.
Next letter will be posted on 5 December 1917