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Gardner, Alicefree

  • Gillian Sutherland

Gardner, Alice (1854–1927), historian, was born on 26 April 1854 at Hackney, London, one of the six children of Thomas Gardner, stockbroker, and his wife, Ann, née Pearse. Educated privately at first, she went to Hannah Pipe's celebrated school at Laleham in 1869. Then in 1876, at twenty-two, she went up to Newnham College, Cambridge, where she read for the history tripos. In 1879 she and her fellow student Sarah Marshall, later Mrs Harry Toynbee, were both placed in the first class, well ahead of the male competition.

Alice went immediately into teaching, then the only respectable occupation for a middle-class woman who had to earn her own living. She taught at Plymouth high school (1880–82) and then at Bedford College, London (1883–4). In 1884 she returned to Newnham, where she taught and directed studies in history until she retired in 1914. Following the outbreak of the First World War she did a short stint in the historical department of the Foreign Office, then in 1915 came decisively out of retirement to take charge of the history department at Bristol University while the professor and lecturer were both on war service. Bristol was able to recognize her contribution more generously than the Cambridge of the day, awarding her an honorary degree of MA in 1918 and appointing her as reader in Byzantine studies in 1920.

It is not clear when and how Alice acquired the formidable linguistic skills she brought to bear in this field or how her interest was first triggered. It was sustained and supported by travels in Asia Minor and Bulgaria and she appreciated the encouragement to research and write provided by Newnham's first principal, Anne Jemima Clough. In her contacts and fieldwork she helped and was helped by two of her brothers, Percy Gardner (1846–1937) and Ernest Arthur Gardner (1862–1939), both distinguished classical archaeologists. Besides two history books for children and many articles in learned journals, she published Synesius of Cyrene: Philosopher and Bishop in 1885, Julian: Emperor and Philosopher in 1895, Studies in John the Scot in 1900, Theodore of Studium: his Life and Times in 1905, and The Lascarids of Nicaea in 1912. Her translations remain in use. She was a vice-president of the Historical Association, a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and a member of its council.

The range and importance of Alice Gardner's intellectual contribution, making the period from the fall of Rome through to Byzantium in the lands of the eastern Mediterranean significantly more accessible to an English-speaking audience, are the more striking as much of her Cambridge teaching had to be of English medieval history. Its scope and distinction must also at first have seemed at odds with her personal style. She was a small, shy, reticent woman, with a poor lecture delivery and was renowned at Newnham for her dowdiness. The frail Winnie Seebohm, briefly her student in 1885, never penetrated the shyness and found her uninspiring. But others, including the future novelist Flora Macdonald Mayor, saw further, and appreciated the quiet energy and determination, the intellectual clarity, the endless taking of pains, and the unobtrusive but perceptive kindness. Alice herself, recalling an occasion when she had gone back to consult her old headmistress about a dilemma, recorded with approval the advice, 'Don't do anything heroic' (Stoddart, 221). Yet while entirely sharing the distaste felt for denominational conflict by both Hannah Pipe and A. J. Clough, she was clear about her own standards and values: she was a regular contributor to Newnham's Sunday Society and published two collections of her papers to them, The Conflict of Duties (1903) and Within our Limits (1913). Her Bristol students warmly appreciated her quiet insistence that 'a young university must not fall below the standards set by the older ones' (Newnham College Roll Letter, 36).

Alice settled in Clifton when she began to teach at Bristol, although retaining many links with Cambridge. In 1921 she contributed A Short History of Newnham College, Cambridge, to the college's fiftieth birthday celebrations, scrupulously precise and non-triumphalist to the point of understatement. Then, shortly before her death, as her memory began to fail, she moved to Oxford, where her brother Percy and his wife lived, and where she died, at the Warneford Hospital, on 11 November 1927.


  • [A. B. White and others], eds., Newnham College register, 1871–1971, 2nd edn, 1 (1979)
  • Newnham College Roll Letter (1928), 35–40
  • V. Glendinning, A suppressed cry: life and death of a Quaker daughter (1969)
  • A. M. Stoddart, Life and letters of Hannah K. Pipe (1908)
  • Alice Gardner to B. A. Clough, 8 Sept 1896, BL, Clough–Shore Smith papers, Add. MS 72824A, fols. 128–37
  • tripos letters, Newnham College, Cambridge, archive
  • d. cert.


  • BL, Clough–Shore Smith MSS
  • CUL, letters to Lord Acton
  • Newnham College, Cambridge, archives


  • pencil drawing, 1913, Newnham College, Cambridge

Wealth at Death

£4002 0s. 11d.: probate, 29 Dec 1927, CGPLA Eng. & Wales