(Home)town and Gown: Mapping the Origins of Female Historian Undergrads

Manon Williams
Saturday 24 July 2021

Whilst investigating the St Andrews women historian contingent, our main aim was to not only identify their presence, but also their backgrounds. This opportunity came in the form of hometown records listed in University Calendars, giving us the chance to explore where these women came from, and subsequently a flavour of their regional identities. In this article, we seek to visually present our findings in the form of interactive maps, and explore the historical significance behind it.  


The Significance of a Hometown 

The geographical origins of a student in the twentieth century provides key historical insight into where students came from, how far they travelled for higher education, and the regional diversities that may have existed within a single institution.  

Students relaxing in a student’s room, McIntosh Hall, ca. 1976.

In twentieth century St Andrews, female undergraduates would have either lived in Halls of Residence (University Hall being the first Hall to accept women in 1896), commute if they lived locally, or up until the 1930s, even study remotely! If students lived in Halls, they typically would have come from outside of St Andrews and Dundee, and have the financial capacity to justify accommodation fees. Students from the local area would have the option to commute to University, thus reducing living costs and the  extent to which they would travel for their education. Until the end of the 1930s, physical attendance at St Andrews was not even compulsory, made possible through the Lady Literate in Arts (LLA) Programme. This enabled female students to gain a university qualification through studying remotely before attending approved examination centres, allowing women to study at the University from all around the world.  

Given the variety of ways in which students could undertake their degree at St Andrews, hometowns can indicate the levels of wealth, social class and mobility that existed among female historian undergraduates.   

Data Collection 

Our primary source was the St Andrews University Calendars, which published records of the  hometown of student graduates. Using these records, we were able to collect data from the following years: 1906, 1914, 1923, 1935, 1945, 1955, 1965, and 1975.  

 This information was no longer recorded in the Calendars by the 1980s, most likely due to a growth in University size and student population.  

Once the data had been collected, we used Python (for those that are interested, specifically with the help of the Folium library for mapping, and Selenium and a chrome driver to make the gifs), to map out where the women were from.  

To get a comparison across the years, gifs were used to animate trends.

Maps – national and regional trends 

The following gif illustrates the hometown of all female historian undergraduates mentioned in the calendars across the UK: 

Distribution of the hometowns of female history graduates from 1906-1975, across the UK .


  • The majority of graduates came from Scotland, many coming from St Andrews, smaller towns in Fife and Dundee.  
  • English undergraduates came from towns in and around big cities, primarily in the South and South East of England, such as London, Essex, and Kent. The English cohort was present throughout the decades, and even outnumbered the Scottish students by 1975. 
  • Outside of England and Scotland, we identified a student from the Isle of Man, and a student from Wales, both in 1975.  
  • Most undergraduates graduated with second class degrees. In the data we collected, 46 of the 62 undergraduates left with a second class degree.  

 To allow for a more detailed view, the following map illustrates the location of the graduates across Scotland:   

Distribution of hometowns of female history graduates in the 20th century, covering the whole of Scotland.


  • Clustered around the central belt of Scotland 
  • In order to get a closer view, Orkney has been cut off and there was one graduate from Orkney in 1945, but the vast majority of the students came from the mainland.  
  • There were students that studied in St Andrews who also lived in St Andrews – it would be interesting to know if they stayed in halls or lived with their family during their studies.  

Key takeaways 

  • Many female historian graduates came from Scotland, primarily the central belt. This is not unsurprising due to the location of the university, Scottish students make up 28% of the student population today. Students who came from St Andrews, Fife and Dundee may have commuted rather than living in Halls of Residence. 
  • A significant proportion of students came from England, particularly the South. These students would have had the financial capacity to afford Halls of Residence, either through family support, or scholarships and bursaries.  
  • No international female historian undergrads appeared in the timespan we collated data from.  


Scope for further exploration 

Future investigations could explore: 

  • The geographic location of non-graduates – our investigation was limited to the published list of female undergraduates found within University Calendars. Students with ordinary degrees could be investigated, or those students who studied at St Andrews but did not graduate.  
  • Timespan – tracing records of hometowns before 1906, and after 1975.  
  • International students – investigating where the first female historian international students came from, and how these trends evolved over time. The 1985-6 University Calendar reveals detailed fee information for overseas students, indicating a wider uptake of international students by the 1980s.  
  • LLA programme – exploring how many female historians studied through the LLA programme, and where they came from. 

Using maps provides a visual stimulus to easily see trends in student movement and travel across different decades. The University Calendars provided a plentiful source of data, and the existing analysis could be extended to compare across other university subjects and gender ratio. Combining this with greater access to University graduation records would be an ideal next step to gaining a deeper sense of where these undergraduate students came from. 


Suggested Reading

We’ve compiled a list of interesting articles and resources that relate to the blog post and allow a further exploration of its contents:  

  • This blog post discusses tracing international students, specifically the first women to study abroad from India. Although we didn’t seem to have any traces of international students in History from our data, there were still students travelling from all round the world to come to this tiny corner of Fife!  
  • The following blog posts give more information on the Lady Literature of Arts, the scheme allowed women to gain a formal education at St Andrews from 1872:  Examination for Lady Literate in Arts and History of Lady Literature in Arts.
  • Day in the Life Series: As part of our STEP work, we have been developing blog posts about what a typical day in the life of a history student was like. This provides reading that will contextualise information regarding Halls of Residence, living costs, and other aspects of student life!  See the post here: 1930s, 1960s, 1980s, and today.


This blog post was written by May Lutyens-Humfrey, who is going into her third year studying International Relations and Modern History at the University of St Andrews, and Megan Briers, who is going into her fourth year studying Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of St. Andrews.  

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