Elizabeth Phillips Hughes was born in King
Street, Carmarthen in 1850 before moving to Spilman Street with her parents
Anne and John. Elizabeth’s mother was a Jewish refugee who arrived in
Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire in the late 18th Century. Her father
was a doctor.
Elizabeth was educated at Hope House, Taunton,
Somerset before going on to Cheltenham Ladies College where she also taught. In
1881, aged 30, she attended Newnham College Cambridge where she became the
first woman to achieve a First Class Honours degree at a time when women were
not permitted to receive the award, regardless of their abilities.
By 1885, Elizabeth was principal of Cambridge
Training College for Women and campaigned tirelessly for the right to education
for all. She was so passionate about the issue that she made her lecture rooms
available for working people on Sundays.
In retirement she travelled extensively and
while in Japan, influenced the education system to include physical education
for girls, and worked as a visiting Professor of English in Tokyo. Furthermore,
Elizabeth investigated prison reform procedures in America with the aim of
improving the British system.
Upon her return, Elizabeth became the only
woman on the committee that drew up the charter for the University of Wales
and, during the First World War (while in her 60s), ran a Red Cross Hospital.
In 1917, she was also awarded the MBE.
Elizabeth Phillips Hughes died in 1925. Her
published works included The Education of
Welsh Women (1887) and The Education
of a Nation (1919). Her legacy is commemorated at Cambridge where Hughes
Hall is the only college named after a woman at the university.