In 1898, Cardiff University offered an opportunity to a young woman that had a huge impact not only on her, but on the women in her family who followed in her footsteps. On this International Women’s Day, we talk to Cassie’s granddaughters about the importance of education for female empowerment.
It was in 1898 that Catherine (Cassie) Jenkins (Education 1900) passed a public Queen’s Scholarship examination and was awarded an annual scholarship of £20 to study at the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire in Cardiff. Cassie joined a pioneering group of female students to study under the first female Professor in Wales, Millicent MacKenzie.
Cassie went on to work as a teacher in Pontypridd until she married. She sadly passed away in 1960 at the age of 82, but her legacy continued in the form of her children and grandchildren. All three of Cassie’s daughters went into higher education, with two of them following her to Cardiff to graduate from University College Cardiff in the 1930s. One of Cassie’s granddaughters graduated in medicine in 1977, being the third generation to study in this vibrant city.
Meet Cassie’s granddaughters
At 84, Ann is Cassie’s eldest granddaughter. Ann is a mother of four, a qualified dentist, an arbitrator and past Master of the Worshipful Company of Arbitrators. Ann lived with Cassie Jenkins in Pontypridd when she was an evacuee during the Second World War. Ann’s own mother, Mary Davies (BSc 1931) followed Cassie on to University College Cardiff where she enrolled for her BSc in Zoology in 1928. Mary was awarded a Glamorgan Scholarship that allowed her to continue for a fourth year.
What can you tell us about your grandmother?
Ann: My Grandmother was modest, caring but firm. I would not have referred to her as Cassie. She was not from an elite background and she went to university at a time when many people thought that a woman’s place was in the home. It was a real challenge! I first went to school in Pontypridd and I remember my Grandmother would sit down with me at the table and ask me what I had learnt at school that day. There was a glass fronted bookcase with the complete works of Dickens and Shakespeare and many volumes of an Encyclopaedia which we would look at from time to time. So I think she instilled in me the benefits of education from an early age.
What influence did your mother, Mary, have on your life?
Ann: My mother had been lucky enough to attend university and she expected her daughter to do the same. I was brought up with the family ethos that you should support yourself and do well. So, I went on to study dental surgery, and later I became a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and was an arbitrator in many dental disputes. I was also a magistrate in the Greater London Borough of Brent for 24 years.
Jayne is 74 and is Cassie’s second oldest granddaughter. Jayne’s mother, Eileen Davies, trained as a teacher at Swansea Training College and then followed in Cassie’s footsteps to become a teacher. Jayne followed in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother and became a special needs teacher in and around Cardiff.
What memories do you have of Cassie?
Jayne: Cassie was a very strong lady: very strict and firm. Her husband died at the age of 47 and she had to bring up five children on a limited income. She not only brought them up, but she did so in a way that allowed them wide educational opportunities.
What did your grandmother go on to accomplish?
Jayne: After graduating from University College Cardiff, Cassie taught at the Higher Standards School at Mill Street, Pontypridd. Cassie had to give up teaching when she married, but she found an outlet for her teacher training in the home as she sought to give her children the same opportunities in higher education that she’d benefited from. All three of her daughters went into higher education and that was still quite unusual at the time.
Cassie and my mother gave me a lifelong love of learning.
What lasting impact did your mother’s education have on her life?
Jayne: My mother‘s career made all the difference to us when my father died because she was able to earn a living to support us. My mother worked as a teacher for 40 years in total and she was strong role model for me, and I followed in her footsteps and became a teacher.
Rosamund Davies is Cassie’s third granddaughter. Her father was Cassie’s youngest child, Trevor Davies (PhD 1944). Trevor studied medicine at the Welsh National School of Medicine and was awarded a Kitchener Scholarship in his final year.
Rosamund trained with the Rambert School of Ballet before going to Tehran to dance with the Iranian National Ballet. After Iran, Rosamund worked at the Cork National Ballet before training as a nurse and midwife. She became an honorary lecturer in nursing at Thames Valley University and Chair of the Royal College of Midwifery North Thames Region.
Dr Ghislaine Davies FRCP
Ghislaine is Rosamund’s younger sister and daughter to Trevor. Like her father, Ghislaine trained as a doctor, and she specialised in gastroenterology. Ghislaine became the founding chair of the Non-Consultant career grade committee.
What influence did Cassie have on you and your father?
Ghislaine: Cassie Jenkins encouraged and supported my father through the Welsh National School of Medicine. I know that she was a great believer in education.
My sister, Rosamund (above) and I were very young when Cassie Jenkins died, but we do remember her all in black on her way to Chapel in Pontypridd. She was very strict and made my father sign the pledge to renounce alcohol when he was 12 years old! I think he renounced that pledge as a medical student at Cardiff!
Do you think having educated role models encouraged you to go down the path that you chose?
I certainly think that having successful female role models encourages young women. In my generation there were a lot of female medical students but there was still a lot of talk about whether it was right for women with families to work. My mother always told me that anything was possible if you wanted to do it.
Dr Eryl Hicks (MBBch 1977) FRCR MBE
Cassie’s fifth granddaughter, Eryl, studied at the Welsh National School of Medicine, becoming the third generation of women in her family to study at Cardiff University. Mother of two sons, Eryl became a consultant radiologist at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital and covered the area of Pontypridd, back to her mother’s and grandmother’s roots.
Eryl’s mother Katherine Davies (BSc 1937) studied for Zoology at University College Cardiff. She was awarded a Glamorgan Scholarship to upgrade her BSc to an honours degree, and to train as a teacher in 1938.
Elizabeth Howe OBE
Elizabeth is Eryl’s sister and mother of two. She graduated in Law from Exeter University in 1977 and became a solicitor. She became a prosecutor and served as the Chief Crown Prosecutor of Kent until 2007 when she began to develop an international legal career. Elizabeth served eight years as General Counsel of the International Association of Prosecutors until 2015.
Do you think that having successful female role models encouraged you to go down the path you chose?
Elizabeth: Our mother, Katherine, possessed an ‘enquiring mind’ and pursued many interests and academic studies. She has passed those interests and thirst for knowledge onto us both, although we could never match her appetite!
Our mother was proud of us but had some difficulty in reconciling herself to the challenges of working full time and bringing up children. Childcare remains a big challenge for working women today even though we are supposed to live in a world of gender equality and equal opportunity.
Cassie’s choices and opportunities reinforce the importance of education and the ripple effect this can have for those who come after, as the saying goes:
‘If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.’Dr. James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey
If Cassie’s story has sparked an interest in you then find out more about supporting students and discover a range of ways to help the next generation of people accomplish their goals.