Rosemary Murray

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Rosemary Murray

Rosemary Murray.jpg
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge
In office
ChancellorPrince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
Preceded byJohn Wilfrid Linnett
Succeeded byAlan Cottrell
Personal details
Born(1913-07-28)28 July 1913
Havant, Hampshire, England
Died7 October 2004(2004-10-07) (aged 91)
John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, England

Dame Alice Rosemary Murray, DBE, DL (28 July 1913 – 7 October 2004)[1][2] was an English chemist and educator. She was instrumental in establishing New Hall, Cambridge, now Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, and was the first woman to hold the post of Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge.[1][3][4]

Background Information[edit]

Rosemary Murray was born in Havant, Hampshire the eldest of six children born to Admiral Arthur John Layard Murray and Ellen Maxwell Spooner.[5] After attending Downe House, Newbury, she studied as an undergraduate chemist and doctoral student at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.[6] She completed a B.Sc. in 1936, and received a D.Phil in 1938[5] for her research on various aspects of isomerism.[7]

Teaching career[edit]

Rosemary Murray went on to hold teaching positions at the Royal Holloway College, the University of Sheffield and Cambridge.[3][4] She served in an impressive array of positions throughout her career:[1]

World War II[edit]

While at the University of Sheffield (1941–1942) Murray did research on organic chemistry as part of a team working for the Ministry of Supply.[7] In 1942, she joined the WRNS, rising to the rank of chief officer.[5] She worked at Chatham barracks as chief officer directing demobilisation.[8]

A 2013 BBC report [9] describes a secret major control bunker, later buried beneath the lawns of Magee College, Derry, Northern Ireland. From 1941 this bunker, part of Base One Europe, together with similar bunkers in Derby House, Liverpool,[10] and Whitehall was used to control one million Allied personnel and fight the Nazi U-boat threat. Murray was stationed at Base One Europe as WRNS Chief Officer and responsible for the welfare of 5,600 Wrens stationed at Londonderry.

New Hall, Cambridge[edit]

New Hall porters' lodge with dining hall dome in background

In 1946, the mistress of Girton College invited Murray to apply for a job at Cambridge.[5] There, Murray played a major role in establishing New Hall, to address the needs of women students.[2] She served as the first president of New Hall from its founding in 1954 until 1981.[1][2][4]

In 1975 she became Cambridge University's first female vice-chancellor for a two-year term during which time she introduced student representation on university committees, founded the Cambridge Society, and inaugurated the clinical medical school, the new music school, and West Road concert hall.

In 1980, Murray published the booklet New Hall, 1954–1972: the Making of a College.[11]

In 2008, it was announced that New Hall would be renamed Murray Edwards College, in honour of the vision of its first President, Rosemary Murray, and the generosity of the Edwards family.[12]

Town and gown[edit]

Murray served as a magistrate in Cambridge for thirty years, from 1953 to 1983, and became the first female deputy lieutenant of Cambridgeshire in 1982. She was president of the National Association of Adult Education from 1977 to 1980. She served as a member of the Committee on Higher Education in Northern Ireland chaired by Sir John Lockwood (1963–65), which recommended the closure of Magee College as well as the location of Northern Ireland's 2nd University being Coleraine (February, 1965) and led to the controversial creation of the New University of Ulster, from which she was later awarded a Doctor of Science (DSc) Honorary Degree (1972). She was a member of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body (1971–81). She was a director of Midland Bank Ltd (1978–84), and an independent director of The Observer (1981–93).[1]


Dame Rosemary Murray was the first woman to serve as the following:

Honours and awards[edit]

  • She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1977.[1][7]
  • She received honorary degrees from universities in several countries:[13]
    • Doctor of Science (DSc), The New University of Ulster, 1972
    • Doctor of Science (DSc), University of Leeds, 1975
    • Doctor of Science (DSc), University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1975
    • Doctor of Civil Law (DCL), Oxford University, 1976
    • Doctor of Law (DL), University of Southern California, 1976
    • Doctor of Science (DSc), Wellesley, 1976
    • Doctor of Laws (LLD), University of Sheffield, 1977
    • Doctor of Science(DSc), The Royal Australian Institute of Colleges, 1981
    • Doctor of Law (DL), Cambridge University, 1988
  • In 2004, a new rose was named in her honour at the Chelsea Flower Show.[14]
  • In 2008, New Hall, Cambridge was renamed Murray Edwards College, in her honour.[12]
  • In 2008, New Hall's Transit of Venus garden was rebuilt as the Dame Rosemary Murray Garden[15]


She died at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford on 7 October 2004, aged 91.[1][2] She had an operation to replace a heart valve, which was a dangerous procedure for a woman of 91 years. She was warned there was only a 50% chance of her survival but she went through with it anyway. After the operation, she appeared fine with cards and flowers surrounding her hospital bed and the vicar said, "I had one of those wonderful afternoons when a visit to a sick parishioner in hospital cheers you up so much, that you come home feeling a hundred time better than when you left." However two days later she seemed to become distant and the day after that, she was totally unresponsive.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Dame Rosemary Murray, First woman to be Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University (Obituary)". The Independent. London, England. 18 October 2004.
  2. ^ a b c d "Dame Rosemary Murray 1913 - 2004". Cambridge, England: Cambridge University. 8 October 2004.
  3. ^ a b c d "Dame Rosemary Murray (Obituary)". The Times. London, England. 12 October 2004.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Dame Rosemary Murray (Obituary)". The Telegraph. London, England. 14 October 2004.
  5. ^ a b c d Rayner-Canham, Marelene F.; Rayner-Canham, Geoffrey (2008). Chemistry Was Their Life: Pioneering British Women Chemists, 1880-1949. London: Imperial College Press. ISBN 9781860949869.
  6. ^ a b Wilson, Alison (11 June 2014). Changing Women's Lives: A Biography of Dame Rosemary Murray. Andrews UK Limited. ISBN 9781910065341.
  7. ^ a b c Haines, Catharine M.C.; Stevens, Helen M. (2001). International women in science : a biographical dictionary to 1950. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1576070905.
  8. ^ "Dame Rosemary Murray". 13 October 2004. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
  9. ^ "College's secret bunker". 3 June 2013 – via
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 25 June 2008. Retrieved 3 January 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ Murray, Rosemary (1980). New Hall, 1954-1972: the making of a college. [Cambridge]: New Hall Cambridge. p. 67. ISBN 0950710806.
  12. ^ a b "The Edwards Endowment". Murray Edwards College. 2009. Archived from the original on 16 May 2013.
  13. ^ "New Hall Archives : Personal papers of Dame Rosemary Murray". Murray Edwards College.
  14. ^ "Launch of 'Rosemary Murray' rose at Chelsea Flower Show". Murray Edwards College. 27 May 2004. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016.
  15. ^ "Dame Rosemary Murray Garden Opened". Murray Edwards College. 12 September 2008. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
None: new position
President of New Hall, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Valerie Pearl
Preceded by
John Wilfrid Linnett
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge
Succeeded by
Alan Cottrell