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date: 27 February 2024

Rogers, Annie Mary Anne Henleyfree


Rogers, Annie Mary Anne Henleyfree

  • Janet Howarth

Annie Mary Anne Henley Rogers (1856–1937)

by Lafayette, 1926

Rogers, Annie Mary Anne Henley (1856–1937), promoter of women's higher education, was born on 15 February 1856 at 4 Wellington Place, Oxford, the eldest of six children and only daughter of James Edwin Thorold Rogers (1823–1890), political economist and MP, and his second wife, Anne Susanna Charlotte, the daughter of Henry Revell Reynolds, solicitor to the Treasury. Annie grew up in a family well integrated in Oxford society—she was among the children entertained with stories and photographed by Lewis Carroll—but marked out by her radical and pugnacious father's embattled relationship with the university. Never a college fellow and not re-elected to the Drummond chair of political economy in 1867, Rogers remained to his death both a dedicated university reformer and extensionist and a devotee of Oxford's classical studies. All the children (except a son who died young) were to graduate at Oxford: Leonard James Rogers and Clement Rogers became professors (at Leeds University and King's College, London, respectively), while Annie, upon whom the degree of MA was conferred by decree in 1920, was both in the vanguard of the movement to open Oxford University to women and, in her posthumously published Degrees by Degrees (1938), its historian.

Annie was educated at home, 8–9 Beaumont Street, by governesses and tutors (her father among them), though she also attended courses at the Ruskin School of Art. A suffragist and supporter of women's right to share in educational endowments, Thorold Rogers encouraged her to take the Oxford school examinations which had been opened to girls in 1870. She passed the junior locals in 1871 and two years later drew publicity by heading the list in the senior locals, on the basis of which two colleges had advertised exhibitions. Balliol consoled her with a book prize; Worcester—as a joke, for her identity was no secret—went through the form of offering the exhibition. The university, which was now petitioned to open its undergraduate examinations and scholarships to women, responded instead in 1875 by introducing separate, degree-level examinations for 'women over 18'. Annie won first-class honours in Latin and Greek in 1877 (when she was the only candidate) and in ancient history in 1879. She was the only Oxford woman who could lay claim to a university education when the first two halls for women students, Lady Margaret Hall and Somerville, opened in 1879. At the age of twenty-three she became Oxford's first woman don and (from November 1879) a committee member of the Association for Promoting the Higher Education of Women in Oxford (AEW), which oversaw the provision of teaching for women and their relations with a highly conservative university.

Annie Rogers once listed her recreations as 'bicycling and attending committees' (Suffrage Annual, 1913), and it was as an assiduous committee-woman with a 'talent for constitution-making' (DNB) and administration that her chief contribution to the development of women's higher education was made. She held the honorary but powerful position of lady secretary to the AEW from 1894 until its dissolution in 1920 and was on the delegacy for women students throughout its existence (1910–21). She was secretary to the various committees that governed the Society of Oxford Home Students (SOHS) from 1893 to 1930 and from 1894 to 1936 (with a gap of just one year) on the council of St Hugh's Hall (later College). Meanwhile she made a comfortable living as classics tutor to the AEW, and later St Hugh's (1907–20) and the SOHS (1920–26): by 1911 she was earning £300 a year, teaching twenty hours a week in her office at the top of the Clarendon Building. 'She knew how to make us work to repair a neglected classical education', recalled one appreciative pupil (Brown Book, 39–40). Other verdicts were less flattering: 'the Vampire of the AEW, the fell tyrant of the classical students, bully of all beginners' (Griffin, 69). Under her watchful eye departures from convention or tidiness in dress and rules governing contact between the sexes were closely monitored. Yet ‘the Rodge’ had qualities of kindliness, loyalty, and humour that endeared her to many students.

Annie Rogers found her métier above all in the carefully paced campaigns that culminated in 1920 in the admission of women to membership of the university. Always insistent on the need for women to accept the leadership of Oxford University men and adapt to its ancient traditions, she was the tactician rather than the strategist of the movement, compiling exhaustive lists of friends and opponents, 'indefatigable [in] letter-writing and conversations tête-à-tête' (Rogers, xv). She acquired a lawyer-like grasp of university statutes and procedures and a shrewd political sense: 'never argue with your opponents; it only helps them to clear their minds' was one favourite maxim (ibid., 84, n.1). Her methods were most effective in the degree campaign of 1895–6 which, though unsuccessful, mobilized support and passed off, on the whole, without ill feeling. In later years, though still appreciated for her mastery of detail, she made herself unpopular by intrigue and canvassing, and, it was claimed, 'drove most people to desperation by her persistent talking in an unpleasing voice' (Evans, 78). Nor did the lady secretary's insistence on her own pre-eminence in dealings with the university authorities endear her to other women tutors. Mortified by their failure to nominate her for election to the delegacy for women students (on which she became instead a nominee of the vice-chancellor and proctors), Annie Rogers advertised her preference for working with men and 'a highly critical attitude towards her own sex' (Oxford Magazine).

Degrees by Degrees (the title was added by her brother Clement), though meticulously researched, has misled some later writers into overrating Annie Rogers's personal role in opening Oxford University to women and into overlooking her interests in broader political issues (DNB; Banks, 2.171–3; Levine, 147). Her sympathies with early feminism (though she never identified with the term) are on record. In 1896 she gave a paper to the Wolstenholme Elmys' Women's Emancipation Union: it attracted the interest of the suffragist Clara Evelyn Mordan, who became a major benefactor of St Hugh's. Rogers's contributions to local newspapers document her own participation in the suffrage agitation, including an uncharacteristically emotional account of the great coronation march in London and a more typically acid comment on the 'small stone which fell—not very heavily—upon me' when a procession of Oxford's constitutional suffrage societies was attacked by a mob in St Giles' (Oxford Chronicle, 23 June 1911, 17 Jan 1913). A devoted Anglican, like her mother (to whom she was close), and a staunch Liberal in politics, she belonged to both the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies and the Church League for Women's Suffrage.

Oxford was, however, Annie Rogers's world. She lived near the city centre—moving in 1891 to 35 St Giles' with her widowed mother and, when she died in 1899, to 39 Museum Road—and became a familiar Oxford character, riding a bicycle well into her seventies. A sturdy, vigorous figure with opaque brown eyes, strong features, and fine bones, she was not indifferent to fashion in her youth but latterly dressed always in a long skirt, stiff shirt, heavy woollen stockings, boots, and a variety of old-fashioned hats. Academic politics remained a preoccupation. Dedicated to the advancement of women's status in the university but never noted for tact, she sometimes embarrassed the movement's supporters, whether by her critical views on the social mixing of men and women undergraduates in inter-war Oxford or by her efforts to promote women's influence in university government: her canvassing for their interests in hebdomadal council elections became a pretext for the quota imposed by the university on women students in 1927. In the St Hugh's Row of 1923–4, when a tutor, Cecilia Ady, was summarily dismissed, Annie Rogers stood up for collegiality and the rights of women dons—but so extreme was her partisanship against the principal, Eleanor Jourdain, that she was voted off the St Hugh's council. Soon reinstated, she helped to draft the new charter and statutes adopted by the college in 1928. In 1936 St Hugh's made her an honorary fellow.

A new role in later life was ‘custos hortulorum’ at St Hugh's, where she created a garden stocked with choice plants, often grown from cuttings. The porters at St John's had instructions that Miss Rogers must not be left alone if she was carrying an umbrella. In gardening she showed the aesthetic sense—surprising to those who knew her as a thick-skinned campaigner—of a woman who spent holidays in Italy and filled her house with beautiful objects.

Annie Rogers died on 28 October 1937, knocked down by a lorry in St Giles' on her way to an evening lecture. She was buried in Wolvercote cemetery, Oxford, on 1 November and commemorated by a garden laid out to the north of the university church, St Mary's. Stories of her 'robust eccentricities' abounded (The Ship). Later generations can find in both her life story, and her own account of it, much insight into the fortunes of women at an ancient university.


  • A. M. A. H. Rogers, Degrees by degrees (1938) [with introductory memoir by B. E. Gwyer]
  • P. Griffin, ed., St Hugh's: one hundred years of women's education in Oxford (1986)
  • B. H. Harrison, History of Oxford University, 8 (1994)
  • J. Evans, Prelude and fugue (1964)
  • Oxford Chronicle and Berks and Bucks Gazette (23 June 1911)
  • Oxford Chronicle and Berks and Bucks Gazette (10 Jan 1913)
  • Oxford Chronicle and Berks and Bucks Gazette (17 Jan 1913)
  • Oxford Magazine (18 Nov 1937)
  • B. A., ‘Annie Mary Anne Henley Rogers’, Brown Book (1937), 39–40
  • The Ship [St Anne's College] (1937)
  • A. J. R., ed., The suffrage annual and women's who's who (1913)
  • O. Banks, The biographical dictionary of British feminists, 2 (1990)
  • P. Levine, Feminist lives in Victorian England: private roles and public commitment (1990)
  • M. Batey, Oxford gardens (1982)
  • Oxford Times (5 Nov 1937)
  • R. Gilbert, ‘Annie M. A. H. Rogers and the admission of women to the University of Oxford: a study of family, society and reform in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries’, PhD diss., University of Kent, 1998


  • St Anne's College, Oxford
  • St Hugh's College, Oxford
  • Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Sir J. L. Myres
  • Somerville College, Oxford, Penrose MSS
  • St Anne's College, Oxford, Bertha Johnson MSS


  • L. Carroll, photograph, 1863, St Anne's College, Oxford
  • photograph, 1921, St Anne's College, Oxford
  • Lafayette, photograph, 1926, NPG [see illus.]
  • L. Brookes, drawing, 1930, St Hugh's College, Oxford
  • L. Brookes, drawing, 1931, St Anne's College, Oxford

Wealth at Death

£14,087 18s. 8d.: resworn probate, 1937, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

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National Portrait Gallery, London
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Bodleian Library, Oxford
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, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)
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T. H. Aston, ed., , 7: , ed. M. G. Brock & M. C. Curthoys (2000), pt 2