Joyce Reynolds: A short introduction

The following article was researched and written by Naomi Bloxham, PhD student in History and one of our 2 Classics JobSOC interns for 2019–20.

An exceptional teacher during testing moments

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Dr. Susanna Phillippo and I were set to interview Joyce Reynolds in March to gain an insight on her experience as one of the few female academics at Newcastle in the 1950s. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, this visit was cancelled. Whilst we are in these uncertain times, this is a short introduction to an exceptional woman.

Born a hundred and two years ago in 1918, Joyce Reynolds is one of the world’s leading ancient historians.  Joyce attests her mother (Nellie Reynolds) to be the reason she became so invested in learning and was so well educated as a child. Nellie, a primary school teacher, was committed to teaching her two children a challenging and creative educational programme. Joyce remembers fondly being 8 and conjugating German verbs with the only German speaker in Highams Park.[i]

Joyce did not go straight into academia, surprisingly. When the Second World War began, Joyce, aged 31, joined the Civil Service. After the war she planned to continue there – only to fail the entrance exam. “It was depressing,” she recalled. “I took my time over each question, but in fact you have to go like the clappers. Nobody told me this, so I was giving each answer due consideration and I ran out of time.”

Unsure of her next step, Joyce took up a research scholarship and headed to post-war Rome, to find that a French researcher had just published an important article on the very subject that she had planned to work on. Fortunately for her, her supervisor needed help with some inscriptions from his excavations. Joyce suddenly found them fascinating and found her specialism.[ii]

Joyce was appointed as an assistant lecturer in the Classics department at King’s College, Newcastle in 1949. Joyce remembered that “you couldn’t bank on them (her students) having read the key texts. Sometimes you couldn’t bank on them knowing anything. Things I reckoned I knew when I was ten, they didn’t.” Joyce was not dismayed by this though. Instead she strove harder to make up for this, especially in the case of her female students. She stated that “sometimes for the first time they (her female students) were being taken seriously and their reactions were indeed exciting.”[iii]

Three years later, she became a Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge. Joyce then became a University Lecturer in Classics from 1957-1983 and Reader in the Epigraphy of the Roman World at Cambridge from 1983-1984. She has received the Kenyon Medal for her outstanding achievement in Classical Studies and Archaeology.[iv] Reynolds is now Reader Emerita at the University of Cambridge and an Honorary Fellow of Newnham. She is an Honorary Fellow of Somerville, the Oxford College where she took her undergraduate degree. At one hundred and two, she can still be found in the library at work on the major publications.[v]

Our hope is to interview Joyce and ask her questions about the development of academia over the last 60 years. She is the source of an incredible wealth of information and a truly inspirational woman.

[i] This and subsequent quotation from Tessa Dunlop’s The Century Girls: The Final Word from the Women Who’ve Lived the Past Hundred Years of British History (Simon & Schuster, 2018), 11, 179–180.

[ii] Quoted from Newham College’s Celebration of Joyce’s 100 Birthday in 2018.

[iii] Quoted from Tessa Dunlop’s The Century Girls, 236.

[iv] Quoted from Newham College’s Celebration of Joyce’s 100 Birthday in 2018.

[v] Quoted from Newham College’s Celebration of Joyce’s 100 Birthday in 2018.

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