150 Years of Redefining Oxford

We’re excited to be celebrating the College’s 150th anniversary throughout the academic year 2018/19, in recognition of our origins as the ‘Delegacy for Unattached Students’. Although often viewed as one of the more modern colleges in Oxford, St Catherine’s traces its roots back to 1868, when the Delegacy was formed.

The Delegacy’s mission, as stated by its first Censor, George Kitchin, was to transform the University of Oxford into a place where:

“the best education [would be] placed within the reach of all, rich or poor, who show themselves worthy of it”

Before it was formed, students were unable to study at Oxford without being a member of a College, the cost of which was prohibitive for many. Founded by statute on 11 June 1868, the Delegacy’s arrival paved the way to a new conception of Oxford, opening its doors to a much wider range of students than ever before. The reform was hailed by William Gladstone, Prime Minister of the time, as one of the greatest reforms in Oxford of the 19th century, stating his view that:

“The introduction of the Non-Collegiate element…was likely to be a great gust of free and fresh air.”

Our first 19 students matriculated in October 1868, with the number rising to 59 by the end of the academic year. Working with the Oxfordshire Family History Society, our Development Assistant Colette Lewis has been researching to find out more about these very first students, and in March this year, was featured on BBC Radio Oxford talking about their findings so far. Click here to listen to the programme.

As for the Delegacy’s evolution into St Catz, there is an interesting history around its name. While the students had to make do with the clumsy terms ‘Unattached’ and ‘Non-Collegiate’ until the 20th century, the prettier name ‘St Catherine’ has been loosely associated with the Delegacy since 1874, when a social club was founded at ‘St Catharine’s Hall’ on 29 Broad Street. A rowing, debating, history and even a tennis society emerged under this name. Eventually, tired with the vagueness of the ‘Unattached’ title, these students formed the St Catherine’s Society in 1931, later to become St Catherine’s College, as we know it today, in 1962. The subtle spelling change was most likely made to differentiate it from St Catharine’s College, Cambridge.

Our motto, Nova et Vetera, defines the vision of a College committed to blending the best of the Oxford traditions and the changing society. True to our origins, we remain committed to redefining perceptions of Oxford into a University that is accessible to all. The Delegacy constituted a revolutionary challenge to the status quo of the University and we are proud to be able to trace our foundation back to such an exciting movement.

We will be marking this momentous occasion with a vibrant events programme, culminating in an Anniversary Weekend in September 2019 – keep an eye out on our events page for more details. We hope that these events will serve as a perfect opportunity for our community of alumni, students, parents and friends to join together in celebration.