A Brief History
New Hall was founded in 1954 as the "third foundation" for women students at Cambridge University at a time when Cambridge had the lowest proportion of women undergraduates of any university in the UK. Up to that time there were only two colleges that could accept women, Girton and Newnham, both founded in the late nineteenth century. Hughes Hall (although not a college of the University) was also allowed to admit up to 70 women students in all.
The first 16 students admitted to New Hall in 1954 were housed in the College's first, temporary, home in Silver Street where Darwin College now stands. The growth in student numbers was slow, limited for the first ten years by the accommodation available, but the College was from the beginning seeking further endowments and gifts to enable it to become permanently established on its own site with its own buildings. By 1962, thanks to the generosity of members of the Darwin family who gave their family home, the Orchard, the College had its site. The architects, Chamberlin, Powell and Bon had been chosen and funds were being collected. Building began in 1964 and the new college was completed, as far as funding and land would allow, in 1965. It could house up to 300 students and with others living in houses off the site the College total rose to about 215 undergraduates and 25 graduate students at the beginning of 1970.
The College's position was now sufficiently stable to seek a Charter from the Privy Council in 1972 to allow a transition of governance from an Association, the Company of New Hall, (effectively a non-profit company structure for its first 18 or so years) to that of a college, 'The President and Fellows of New Hall in the University of Cambridge'.
In 1981 the first President Dame Rosemary Murray retired, after a tenure that included two years (1975-77) as the first woman Vice-Chancellor in either Oxford or Cambridge, and was succeeded by Dr Valerie Pearl. Under Dr Pearl's presidency major building works were undertaken with the help of the Kaetsu Educational Foundation, Tokyo, to complete the original architectural plan of the College and to add 112 student rooms, a lecture hall and conference facilities. In addition living quarters for the Kaetsu Educational and Cultural Centre, an independent body with no association with the University of Cambridge, were built on land leased from the College for 60 years.
In 1995 Dr Pearl retired and was succeeded first by Dr Zara Steiner as Acting President from October 1995 to January 1996, and then by Mrs Anne Lonsdale, third President of New Hall. During Mrs Lonsdale's Presidency Foundation Fellowships were established to honour major donors, the first being Mr Yasuto Kaetsu, admitted in 2001, followed by Canning and Eliza Fok, who helped to fund the graduate building named after them. Both Ros Smith (NH 1981) and her husband Steve became Foundation Fellows after donating the largest gift in the College's history. Its importance was reflected in the renaming of New Hall as Murray Edwards College in 2008. This coincided with the retirement of Mrs Lonsdale and the election of her successor, Dr Jennifer Barnes, as fourth President.
Dame Barbara Stocking, who is one of the College's most distinguished alumnae, was elected as President in March 2013. Prior to this, she was the Chief Executive of Oxfam GB, leading the charity for almost twelve years before stepping down in February 2013. Speaking at the time of her election, Dame Barbara said:
‘It is a huge privilege to take up the Presidency of a College that not only offers the excellence of a Cambridge education, but that also puts a genuine emphasis on seeing women grow and develop to achieve their full potential and exceed even their own expectations.
'This College gave me the confidence and self-belief to make a contribution on the global stage and I am immensely grateful for that. I want to help today's talented young women play their part shaping our future as tomorrow's thinkers and leaders.'