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Tuke, Dame Margaret Jansonfree

  • Sophie Badham

Dame Margaret Janson Tuke (1862–1947)

by unknown photographer

© National Portrait Gallery, London / Oxford University Press

Tuke, Dame Margaret Janson (1862–1947), educationist and college head, was born in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, on 13 March 1862, the youngest of five children of James Hack Tuke (1819–1896), banker and philanthropist, and his first wife, Elizabeth Janson (d. 1869). In unpublished autobiographical notes written in 1942, she recorded that her Quaker upbringing gave her a lifelong dislike of 'any ill feeling, clique or schism', but while she dutifully attended Bible meetings 'it was in a cold, unreceptive spirit', and she joined the Church of England in 1946. Her childhood was marred by the death of her mother and two of her sisters.

Margaret was educated at home until the age of fifteen mainly by a succession of, she believed, woefully inadequate governesses. She spent the next two years at St John's School in Withdean, Brighton, where she was similarly unimpressed by the standard of teaching. At seventeen she returned to Hitchin from where she travelled to Bedford College, London, one day a week during the Michaelmas term of 1879. She explained in her autobiographical notes that she entered Newnham College, Cambridge, in 1885 not as 'an enthusiast or firm believer in the new Women's Movement, but as an enquirer'; none the less she quickly became 'a devotee of the Higher Education of Women'. In 1888 she gained a first in the medieval and modern languages tripos. Her BA and MA were conferred upon her by Trinity College, Dublin, in 1905.

Margaret Tuke went on to hold a number of positions at Newnham including secretary to Helen Gladstone, the vice-principal, and staff lecturer in modern languages. Her association with Newnham continued long after she had left the college: she served on the governing body, on the college council, and she was an associate fellow. It was her love of change, but also her commitment to spreading the Newnham ethos, which led her to accept the post of tutor to women students at Bristol University College in 1905. She enjoyed this short period in her life, and viewed it as an oasis between the more demanding times at Newnham and Bedford. She took up her appointment as principal of Bedford College, London, in 1907, and in the next twenty-two years the college was so completely transformed that she came to be regarded as its second founder. The college moved to purpose-built premises in Regent's Park, student numbers nearly doubled, and academic standards were raised. She served on the senate of London University from 1911 to 1929. As principal of Bedford College, she aimed to attract staff who were highly regarded in their field, regarding it as particularly important for a women's college to develop a high academic reputation. She promoted the move to establish London University professorships and readerships at the college, and was also keen that there should be a balance in the numbers of women and men holding these titles.

Margaret Tuke retired in 1929 and subsequently received a number of honours in recognition of her work in education. She became fellow of Bedford College in 1930; the following year the college paid tribute to her when the Tuke Building was opened in Regent's Park, and the college commissioned Francis Dodd to paint her portrait. She was appointed DBE in 1932, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Reading University in 1937. During her retirement, as well as indulging her love of travel she served on the governing body of Hitchin Girls' Grammar School; she was a member of the international fellowship committee of the British Federation of University Women (she had previously been vice-president and president of the federation, and was also involved in the International Federation of University Women). She was asked to write a history of Bedford College, and her History of Bedford College for Women, 1849–1937 is characteristically modest in that it makes scant reference to her role in shaping developments in the college.

Politics interested Margaret Tuke throughout her life. She was the leader of the Conservatives in the Political Society at Newnham. She belonged to the Women's Local Government Society and later became an active member of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. She was one of the original members of the Conservative and Unionist Women's Franchise Association. Her most passionate concern was, however, for women's education. She was a member of the Association of University Women Teachers and was, for a time, its president. She regretted the fact that few women seemed to see a university education as an end in itself, and wanted more women of the leisured classes to study for degrees (see her article 'Women students in the universities', Contemporary Review, 1928, 71–7). She also wanted women to be able to enter a greater variety of professions. She showed great concern for women who needed to earn their living, and for women who, like herself, never married. In 1928 she was appointed by the senate of London University to join the committee investigating the ban on women medical students at various London teaching hospitals.

Nora Cooke-Hurle described in the Newnham College Roll how Margaret Tuke's 'small and slight body and wonderful eyes … struck one at first sight' (Cooke-Hurle, 1948). She impressed colleagues, friends, and family with her impartiality, her quiet determination to achieve her goals, and her deep humanity. Margaret Tuke died at her home, Rectory Manor, Pirton, near Hitchin, Hertfordshire, on 21 February 1947.


  • M. Tuke, ‘Autobiographical notes’, 1942, Newnham College Library, Cambridge [second copy in Royal Holloway College Library]
  • G. Jebb, The Fawcett lecture, 1952–1953, on the life of Dame Margaret Tuke (1952)
  • N. Cooke-Hurle, ‘Dame Margaret Janson Tuke’, Newnham College Roll Letter (1948)
  • G. Jebb, ‘Margaret Tuke as principal of Bedford College, 1907–1929’, Newnham College Roll Letter (1948)
  • M. J. Tuke, A history of Bedford College for Women, 1849–1937 (1939)
  • C. Dyhouse, No distinction of sex? women in British universities, 1870–1939 (1995)
  • [A. B. White and others], eds., Newnham College register, 1871–1971, 2nd edn, 1 (1979)


  • Newnham College, Cambridge, Newnham College papers
  • Royal Holloway College, London, Bedford College papers, personal file; autobiographical notes, corresp., and papers for her history of Bedford College, AR 150/D 203; RF 130


  • F. Dodd, oils, 1934, Royal Holloway College, Egham, Surrey, Founder's Building
  • eleven photographs, U. Lond., Royal Holloway archives
  • photograph, repro. in Tuke, A history of Bedford College [see illus.]
  • two portraits, Royal Holloway College, Egham, Surrey, Founder's Building

Wealth at Death

£24,861 5s. 7d.: probate, 16 June 1947, CGPLA Eng. & Wales