We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Procter, Evelyn Emma Stefanos (1897–1980), historian and college head, was born on 6 June 1897 in Hunton Bridge, Hertfordshire, the younger daughter of Harold Procter, master miller, and his wife, Ada Louisa, née Constable. She attended Corran School for Girls, Watford, and Cheltenham Ladies' College. When she went to Somerville College, Oxford, as a commoner in 1915 her tutors were Margaret Hayes Robinson and Florence O'Loughlin. She followed the advice of H. A. L. Fisher and others that her best war work would be to complete her academic course. This she did by taking a good first in modern history in 1918. She also won a blue for lacrosse. After two years' teaching at St Felix School, Southwold, for which she always retained a keen regard, she was elected Mary Somerville research fellow by her college in 1921.

Procter's first intention had been to work on Italian history. But when she consulted Edward Armstrong, fellow of the Queen's College and an expert on the Italian Renaissance, he recommended her to work instead on the medieval history of Spain. She spent the first year of her fellowship in Paris at the École des Chartes and the École Pratique des Hautes Études. In 1922 she visited the archives in Madrid, Barcelona, Pamplona (for Navarre), and Lisbon (where the material was disappointing). She caught tuberculosis and had to spend time recovering in a sanatorium in Switzerland. Her fellowship was renewed in 1924.

Procter's initial research was undertaken with a view to writing a book on the relations between Castile, Aragon, and Navarre in the reign of Alfonso X. This was pioneering work. In 1924 some of the source material in Madrid, including that at the Archivo Histórico Nacional, had not long become available. There, and at the Biblioteca Nacional, she was the first woman scholar to be admitted, after repeated attempts. Though she did not write the book she initially intended, she brought to her work a precise and analytical mind that was shown at its best in the article she later wrote for the English Historical Review, ‘The pesquisa in León and Castile, 1157–1369’ (1970). She made the centre of her work the reign of Alfonso X of Castile and demonstrated her versatility when she extended her range from legal and constitutional considerations to the literary aspects of his reign. She was helped to do this when she was invited to give the Norman MacColl lectures at Cambridge in 1948–9. These resulted in an outstanding book, Alfonso X of Castile, Patron of Literature and Learning (1951). She was able to demonstrate how important was the work of Italian and Jewish scholars at the king's court, quite apart from his own responsibilities.

Procter had been appointed a tutor at St Hugh's in 1925 and a university lecturer in medieval European history in 1933. In her college she demonstrated her administrative skills and encouraged over many years the steady academic advancement of St Hugh's. A keen gardener, she was delighted to look after its beautiful garden for ten years. Unable to revisit Spain because of the Spanish Civil War, she was fully occupied by the Second World War for five years after that. St Hugh's was taken over as a hospital and its undergraduates distributed between a variety of homes. At the end of such a difficult dispersal she found herself elected principal in 1946.

During the time she was principal of St Hugh's (1946–62) Miss Procter, as she was always known, presided over a number of key developments. St Hugh's became completely self-governing (1951), the limitation on the numbers of undergraduates in women's colleges was abolished (1957), and women's colleges became full members of the university (1960). She was an austere scholar and when Rachel Trickett, the English tutor at St Hugh's, published a novel and the libretto of Joubert's opera Antigone she commented, ‘Let us have no more, Miss Trickett, in these lower forms’ (The Independent, 30 June 1999), advice that was not followed. The years of her principalship were arduous, especially with the continuation of food-rationing. But she was sustained by ‘application to herself of the same rigorous standards she expected of others’ (Trickett, memorial address). As a result of the college making available a site for the Maison Française she became a chevalier of the Légion d'honneur. She was also a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. When she came out of her final meeting of the governing body she observed, ‘That's the last time, now I can put my mind to my work’ (private information). That meant the history of St Hugh's and a return to the Spanish middle ages.

After her retirement Procter completed four carefully annotated chapters for a history of St Hugh's and an outline of two more. The anniversary of the college was to fall in 1986. She did not live to see that celebration but some of her work was incorporated in a chapter on the early history of the college by Betty Kemp in a volume edited by Penny Griffin, St Hugh's: One Hundred Years of Women's Education in Oxford (1986). In the years of her retirement she greatly enjoyed attending the annual meetings in different British universities of the historians of medieval Spain. She was by now their doyenne. Her presence was invaluable and her rare interventions in debate decisive. She was also a successful supervisor of Oxford graduate students, including Derek Lomax, later a notable professor of Spanish at Birmingham University, and Richard Fletcher, later a professor of history at the University of York. She herself returned to her beginnings and completed an outstanding account, Curia and Cortes in León and Castile, 1072–1295 (1980), the final proofs of which were with her when she died.

Procter was a gifted watercolourist. St Hugh's has six examples of her work. There is in the college a full-length portrait of her by Frederick Deane (1959). She was also portrayed in a joint study of Barbara Gwyer (her predecessor as principal) and three of her fellows by Henry Lamb. She died of a heart attack at her home, 39 Newland Street, Eynsham, Oxfordshire, probably on 22 March 1980; her body was found on 23 March. She never married.

J. R. L. Highfield

Sources  

The Times (26 March 1980) · P. Griffin, ed., St Hugh's: one hundred years of women's education in Oxford (1986) · K. Eccles, ‘Women students at the University of Oxford: image, identity and experience’, DPhil diss., U. Oxf., 2007 · Somerville Association reports, 1921, 1923, 1924, Somerville College, Oxford · R. Trickett, memorial address, 7 June 1980, St Hugh's College, Oxford, archives · WWW · personal knowledge (2010) · private information (2010) · b. cert. · d. cert.

Archives  

Borth. Inst., notebooks, lectures and papers, university library MS 11


Likenesses  

H. Lamb, group portrait, 1936, St Hugh's College, Oxford · F. Deane, portrait, 1959, St Hugh's College, Oxford · photographs, St Hugh's College, Oxford · photographs, repro. in Griffin, St Hugh's

Wealth at death  

£73,348: probate, 8 Aug 1980, CGPLA Eng. & Wales