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That's no way to treat a lady, even if she is a threat to the Fellows

"IF A FEMALE had once passed the gate . . . it would be practically impossible to watch what buildings or what chambers she might enter, or how long she might remain there."

This was how, in 1895, the Board of Trinity College Dublin wrote of the grave dangers which the venerable institution would face if women students were admitted.

The then Provost, Rev George Salmon, went one step further. "Over my dead body will women enter the college," he said.

Provost Salmon was to die in 1904, the very year the university would open its doors to women, and yesterday Trinity celebrated 100 years of educating women, with 25 current students acting out the milestones along the way to full equality.

The university's first woman student was Marion Weir Johnston, who was to fulfil all of academia's fears and marry a Fellow of the university without completing her degree.

Others, however, were more academically successful. But they were bound by strict rules, including the following:

* Women could not cross Front Square without a chaperon.

* Women had to be dressed "sub fusc" (meaning in dark clothes) and wear a cap and gown at all times.

* Women could not enter male chambers alone, had to receive tutorials in their own apartments and could not dine with the rest of the university. (And women academic staff, who first entered in 1909, were not allowed in the common room to dine with their male counterparts or to become fellows.)

Susan Parkes, editor of 'A Danger to the Men? A History of Women in TCD 1904-2004', said the rules were created to protect the "propriety and modesty of young ladies", who tended to be highly intelligent, middle-class Protestants.

It was not until the 1960s that women were admitted to the dining hall for the first time, and it was only in 2001 that the first woman vice-provost, Jane Grimson, was appointed.

Prof Grimson, a computer scientist, said yesterday: "We owe a debt of gratitude to the pioneering women of the 19th and 20th century for leading the way in women's education in Ireland.

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"The centenary gives us the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of past and present women graduates and to look to the next hundred years."

Current first-year Drama and Theatre Studies student Nathalie Cullen took part in yesterday's centenary launch. The 20-year-old from Dublin said: "The thing that really got to me was women not being allowed to eat with the men until the '60s. It's bizarre. I can't believe it's all so recent."

President Mary McAleese officially launched the centenary last night.

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