Hertford has announced it will exhibit 21 portraits of famous female alumnae in hall.
The women, nominated by students, will see their photographic portraits hung in the hall for the 2014-15 academic year in the places of male alumni. The move is part of a celebration of 40 years of co-education at the College.
A college spokesperson said the current range of portraits recognised only a “narrow” range of achievement.
“Our current portraits recognise achievement across a rather narrow sphere: we are keen that the women represented offer a more rounded picture of achievement for current Hertford women and men,” she said.
Emma Smith, a tutor at Hertford who is co-ordinating the event, explained that the college wanted “to recognise achievement that’s both publicly acclaimed and less recognised – so this won’t just be our most famous women”.
“We think showing different models of personal success will be inspiring for women and men – and perhaps easier to relate to than the distant figures of academics, principals and clerics we currently have in Hall,” she said.
The decision will see currently celebrated male alumni coming off the walls. Male faces, such as John Donne and William Tyndale, will be removed to storage for the duration of the exhibition. According to The Daily Telegraph, this is causing upset, with one response to the email revealing a cagey attitude: “Are any of these women, in any sense of the phrase, up there with Donne and Tyndale? I wonder.”
“The other thing that worries me is that some of the portraits — there must be 20 of them — are pretty ancient and not in a great state, and moving them to some place of storage isn’t going to do them any good at all.”
Students in Hertford displayed a more open attitude, suggesting that change is something they are embracing. Student Richard Foord has discussed the exhibition with Emma Smith. He said: “I think it’s a great idea. It really reflects the progressive atmosphere that is a big part of the Hertford community, as well as a slight irreverence for tradition.”
He also pointed out that College halls are often filled with paintings that mean very little to the current students: “Several of the portraits in hall at the moment are of anonymous centuries-old Barons which isn’t particularly inspiring.”
“It’s not just about the contribution of female alumni but a celebration of the achievements of recent alumni in the modern world.”