Olive Banks

As part of International Women's Day 2015 we're celebrating Olive Banks, the first female professor at the University of Leicester.

Olive Banks
Image: Leicester Mercury Archive at the University of Leicester

Who was Olive Banks?

Olive Banks (1923-2006) was the first female professor at the University of Leicester and is fitting of this year’s theme for International Women’s Day: ‘Breaking Through’. Olive was awarded a personal Chair in 1973 in the field of Sociology of Education and remained at Leicester until 1982. On her retirement in 1982 she remained the only female professor at Leicester. As Dunning (2006) comments in his obituary to her: ‘It is a mark of what gender relations were like in Britain and British universities at that time that, in writing to inform Olive of her promotion, Harold Martin, the then Registrar, offered her special congratulations because, he informed her, 'you will be the first lady to have been made a Professor at this University'. I remember her saying at the time that she was proud, delighted and, grateful to the University of Leicester for her promotion. However, she did not like being called a 'lady' in this sense. It ran counter to her feminist sentiments!’.

How does Olive's legacy link to our current research?

Professor Banks was known for her research into education, a field which our current academics are continuing to research. Dr Patrick White has conducted research in areas such as student decision-making in compulsory schooling; teacher recruitment, retention and morale; educational markets and segregation; determinants of lifelong learning; patterns of internet use; and participation in higher education. Professor Henrietta O’Connor also explores topics associated with education such as young people's transition from school to work and is currently working on the Young Worker Project along with Professor John Goodwin, focusing on the transition from school to work in Leicester from the 1950s up until 2015.

The Department of Sociology will be hosting a symposium on the work of Olive Banks on the 14th January 2016 to explore the lasting legacy of her work.

In an article from 1972, Olive Banks talks to the Leicester Mercury about the difficulties faced by women in the professional world.

You can read more about Olive Banks in an article by June Purvis from the Women's History Review.

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