Back in December 2019, the open access team here at the library received a very special request from Jeremy Durward, a Psychology student from Deakin University in Australia. He was researching his great great aunt, (Clara) Enid Robertson, as he had discovered they had a shared interest in Psychology. We helped Jeremy locate Dr Robertson’s thesis, “The psychology of musical appreciation: an analysis of the bases and nature of the experience of listening to music” – which you can also read in our etheses repository.
Dr Robertson was awarded her degree on the 30th June 1936. Her recall of the graduation was “there was quite an elaborate little ceremony over the conferring of the degrees, and one felt that the past traditions of the great University were very impressive and very alive” (University of Adelaide Archives and Special Collections).
It turns out, that Clara was a remarkable woman! On this International Women’s Day, we would like to take you back in time to 1936. At this time, only a quarter of Durham students were female – the first female to be granted a degree at Durham was Ella Bryant in 1895 (Oxford University didn’t allow women to take degrees until 1920!). The aforementioned PhD is particularly special as it was the first doctorate degree to be awarded to a woman in Durham. She was also the first woman in Australia to make a career as a music critic [Ed. – you can read many of her reviews in The Advertiser, for which there is a substantial digital archive freely available via the National Library of Australia’s Trove service – and you can read more about our digital newspaper archives here], and at the time ‘South Australia’s youngest Doctor of Philosophy’.
We have records of Clara in our own archives, and Dr Michael Stansfield from Palace Green Library kindly found out information regarding her ceremony.
We hope Clara would be overjoyed to learn that the study of Psychology in Music is very much alive and well here at Durham University’s Music Department; in fact it is one of the department’s areas of expertise with exceptional female academics leading in their field (Dr Kelly Jakubowski, Dr Lilia Taruffi & Dr Laura Leante). Tuomas Eerola, Professor of Music Cognition commented that Clara’s research was “pioneering” and applauded her “innovation and bravery” at the time. Research in the psychology of music, such as Kate Hevner’s empirical research on music and emotions in the 1930s, did not see huge amounts of attention over the following 60 years, but more recently has seen a significant increase in research funding and publication in the area – an indication of just how ahead of her time Clara was! One of the many publications we now have in DRO that we think Clara would have enjoyed is called ‘Music-evoked autobiographical memories in everyday life’, published in 2019 by Kelly Jakubowski and Anita Ghosh.
It has been so lovely learning more about Clara and her family are delighted to know that her work has resurfaced and recognised for how wonderful it is. We’d also like to thank them for drawing Clara to our attentions and making sure her achievements are remembered and celebrated on this International Women’s Day.