Being among the first cohort of women students to arrive at Pembroke didn’t faze Caroline Holmes (née Buckley, 1984). ‘It just felt normal and very welcoming,’ she says. ‘I had been to a sixth form with only six girls out of two hundred students. At Pembroke there were about 40 of us, so it felt to me like there were girls everywhere.’
She quickly set about making friends with her peer group across the undergraduate community: ‘I just enjoyed meeting new people and I think we had a really good cohort. As a year group we were completely equal. We mixed a lot with the years above and below and I am still friends with some of those people too.’
She has particularly fond memories of a fellow geographer that she met very early on: ‘He was sitting on the wall outside in the gardens waiting to going inside to see the Senior Tutor. He’s still a good friend now.’ She also recalls another male friend who had an unfortunate habit of running up to her when she was standing outside the Porters’ Lodge and biting her rather hard on the bottom. ‘He was very naughty,’ she laughs.
When choosing a college to apply to, Caroline hadn’t even been aware that she would be among the first intake of women at Pembroke: ‘I just came for a walk around the colleges with my mother and liked Pembroke. The deciding factor was that I loved the gardens.’
Once here, she divided her time between working in the library and playing sports. She says: ‘I really enjoyed the rowing and the success we had on the river. We started pretty low down the ranking. There was only one way to go – and when we started going up that was great fun.’
Being among the first women meant that there were no sports teams to join, but that didn’t stop Caroline: ‘I have always been very sporty, and so with a friend I set up the Martlets (Pembroke’s women’s sporting society). We played every sport we could because we wanted to have a women’s team for everything for Pembroke!’
It was her sporting successes – along with memories of scaling down lamp posts and scrambling over the bike shed roof – which Caroline recalled in a speech at a recent reunion. ‘We have good reunions,’ she says. ‘We can just click back into it like we’ve never left each other. I’m still in contact with a lot of people from Pembroke. It gets more difficult when you’re working, but I still have lots of close friends that I made here at Cambridge.’
Aside from finding that girls were often given rooms close to each other, Caroline was barely aware of the changes that the College has undergone to admit women. She concludes: ‘It must have been very strange for the fellows and the people running college that women appeared in 1984, but they never showed it. I think they had an excellent admissions process and all the people here were interesting and welcoming. I never felt disadvantaged by my gender and just had a great time.’
Mary Karavaggelis (2011)
For more interviews with some of Pembroke’s first women students, see the PemWomen@30 webpages.