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News > From the Archives > The Murray Centre

The Murray Centre

Rosemary Murray being presented with a bouquet of flowers by Clare Balding at the official opening of York House.
York House Opening
York House Opening

Dame Rosemary Murray, 1913 - 2004

She joined the Upper Third in January 1927. Two sisters were here also, Frances Crombie (Murray) and Ann Murray. Rosemary also had three brothers and the granddaughter of her brother John, Catherine Cochrane, also attended the school.

Dame Rosemary Murray served as a school governor for many years and was Chair for a time.

Rosemary was in her element at school, she enjoyed the work, the activities, she had a good circle of friends, and she enjoyed looking after others; she had been brought up in a family that believed in always giving back to the community (that sense of public duty was strong at Downe House).

Most of the girls here at that time were in the Downe House Girl Guides troop, and it is clear from reports in the magazines that Rosemary and some of her friends developed excellent leadership skills through this.

Rosemary was exceptionally able academically, particularly in the maths and sciences though she did not always gain the highest marks and did worry about her performance, both at school and at university.  She had the nickname ‘Archie’ for Archimedes while here, she was perfectly happy with that. There is little doubt that Miss Heather, who taught maths and science was a huge inspiration and support. A flu epidemic presented a hazard at the time of her final exams and she was devastated to have to go home (to avoid being stricken) and miss lessons with Miss Heather.  Miss Willis and Rosemary got on very well from the start, and it is clear that Rosemary regarded her as a role model.  Her autobiography indicates that Rosemary had a pang of guilt from time to time that she did not particularly enjoy the humanities subjects, some taught by Miss Willis.

Rosemary was in the Literary Society, the Historical, the Science Society and the Philosophical Society and she had minor parts in productions, but really liked to work backstage. Rosemary and her sister had minor parts in Androcles and the Lion by George Bernard Shaw in 1929; Rosemary was ‘a Christian’ and Frances ‘a slave’. Rosemary played two parts in a play written and put on by the Science Club in 1929 – it was called ‘Dr So Ling’.

She left the school having gained a place at lady Margaret Hall to read Chemistry. 

When she joined Lady Margaret Hall there were about 150 women in the college, a similar number were at Downe House when she left. She felt completely at home and thoroughly enjoyed her time there.  She went on to achieve further academic success and was one of the first women to receive a DPhil in science.  Her first research subject, under the supervision of Dr T W J Taylor, was isostilbene isomerism.

WWII interrupted her scientific career, though it appears she felt that she had not really found ‘her place’ at Royal Holloway College and then Sheffield University – she worked as a tutor and demonstrator at both institutions. She applied to the WRNS and the WAAF and joined the WRNS on Trafalgar Day.  

After leaving the WRNS, she returned to academia, joining Girton College and then New Hall, now Murray Edwards*.  She went on to become the first woman Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University. *Murray for Rosemary and Edwards for New Hall Alumna Dr Ros Edwards, a benefactor to the college.

She was closely involved in the creation of New Hall and her natural tendency to bring things to order meant she was an ideal candidate to lead the new college, she was chosen to be Tutor in Charge.  After consideration, the name New Hall was chosen though ‘provisional’, leaving room for a change of name should a donor come forward.  At the time of the founding of New Hall, the ratio of men to women students at the university was 11:1.

There was still an element of her being unsure of herself, even at this stage of her life when she had really found her ideal job, but many kindly members of the Cambridge University circle, both men and women, welcomed her and supported her and the new college. 

Rosemary always stayed in touch with the school and Miss Willis, returning for the Seniors’ Weekends in summer terms and attending DHSA* meetings after that was formed in 1946. *Her application form for the DHSA, in a small box for ‘Distinctions’ says, “see Who’s Who if further information required”.

She served on the Downe House Board of Governors from 1979, see notice of her retirement from it, below.

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