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History of Birkbeck: 1900s

YearEvent
1904 Birkbeck’s first official Students’ Union is formed. Sidney Webb describes Birkbeck as delivering ‘the kind of evening instruction for the intelligent workman that is unique in the world. No other city has anything to equal it’.
1907 The Institution changes its name to Birkbeck College.
1913 Lord Haldane recommends that Birkbeck be made a constituent college of the University of London.
1914-1919 During the Great War lectures are introduced on military subjects. One in four of the staff and students who enlist are killed during the conflict.

Birkbeck offers free education to Belgian refugees. Increasingly women students seek training in medical, dental and pharmaceutical subjects.

1915 TS Eliot teaches English at Birkbeck.
1917 Birkbeck’s first woman professor, Helen Gwynne-Vaughan, is appointed Chief Controller of the British Army’s Women’s Auxiliary Corps. Lieutenant Commander Milner-Barry, a lecturer in German, works on detecting spy plots, illegal immigrants and contraband.
1918 Principal Dr George Senter guides Birkbeck successfully into its new role in the University of London, continuing his leadership until 1939.
1920 Birkbeck becomes a School of the University of London dedicated to the teaching of evening and part-time students. Both past and present students are represented on the governing body.
1922 Helen Gwynne-Vaughan is made a Dame of the British Empire.
1925 Daytime classes phased out.
1926 The College receives the Royal Charter.
1930 Cyril (CEM) Joad becomes Head of Philosophy. Through the BBC’s ‘Brains Trust’ radio broadcasts he successfully brings philosophy to the general public.
1937 JD Bernal joins Birkbeck as Professor of Physics. The 1950 founding father of Birkbeck’s Crystallography department, Bernal would become known as the ‘world’s wisest man’ during the Second World War. His intellectual force resonated beyond the world of science through his works for peace as President of the World Peace Council (1958– 1965).
1939 King's College Academic Council decides that intercollegiate evening courses in general psychology and experimental psychology should be provided at Birkbeck, by King's College staff, for students registered there and remaining in London.
1940 The Battle of Britain delays the start of term by two weeks.
1941 Birkbeck is the only university in London to stay open during the Blitz. Despite ferocious bombings and a direct hit on the library, classes continue.

With the death of Professor Aveling in 1941, the University of London decides to transfer the teaching of Psychology from King's and establish a Chair in Psychology at Birkbeck.

1942 Nikolaus Pevsner becomes one of the College firefighters. A German émigré, he travelled the length and breadth of England creating a unique record of the country’s most significant buildings and monuments. He published his classic, Outline of European Architecture, in 1942. Pevsner became Birkbeck’s first Professor of History of Art in 1959.
1944 The Psychology building in Greystoke Place was severely damaged by a V1 'flying bomb', and the Psychology Department moved to temporary accommodation in nearby Field House.
1945 The first Birkbeck PhD is awarded to Rev G Stephen Spinks for his thesis entitled 'Archetypes and Apocalyptic Literature' along with the MA awarded to Phyllis Freeston for her work on 'Children's conceptions of adult life'.
1947 Eric Hobsbawm CH, joins the College as a lecturer in 1947. He has been Emeritus Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of London since 1982.

Alec Rodger is appointed as lecturer in the psychology department, in a move that is to emerge as important for later developments, thus providing continuity to existing interests in occupational psychology.

1950 Britain’s third computer is developed at Birkbeck by Professor Donald Booth, who later founds the College’s computer science department, to help research in Bernal’s Crystallography lab.

Pablo Picasso attends a party in Bernal’s flat above the lab. The meeting results in the only mural drawn by Picasso in the UK. The Bernal Picasso is now on public view in the Clore Management Centre.

1952 Birkbeck moves to Malet Street, which is officially opened by the late Queen Mother.
1953 Rosalind Franklin – widely thought to have been deprived of the Nobel Prize for the solution of the most potent problem of the twentieth century, the structure of DNA – works on virus structures at Birkbeck alongside Aaron Klug.
1958 The Birkbeck Vocational Guidance Centre opens at Dartford in the 1958/9 session and 1959 sees the introduction of a Master's course in Occupational Psychology.
1961 The Department of Occupational Psychology (now the Department of Organizational Psychology) is established as the first of its kind in the United Kingdom, with Alec Rodger moving from the Department of Psychology to his appointment as Professor and Head.
1963 The first Elaine Gladston prize for the best performance by an undergraduate student in the final-year examinations is awarded.
1964 Bernal’s biomolecular research laboratory is granted departmental status.
1966 Sir Eric (later Lord) Ashby recommends that Birkbeck continues to provide education for mature students in full-time mployment.

The Ashby Report also recommends the teaching of social sciences and greater provision for postgraduate students. Today, over half of all Birkbeck students are postgraduate.

The first Henrietta Mary Whitehead Exhibition is awarded to give financial assistance for women psychology students. This was established in memory of Henrietta Mary Whitehead who had been a student at King’s College.

1969-70 Important changes are made to the degree regulations, the most fundamental being the transfer of responsibility for setting and marking of examinations from the University to individual Colleges, and the introduction of course units in 1970.

Up to that point students sat all their University examinations in their final year under the regulation that, if candidates failed, or were absent from any paper, they had to take all the papers again.

1971 JD Bernal dies.

Birkbeck obtains buildings on Gresse Street to accommodate Geography, Geology and the new Social Sciences departments.

The Department of Economics is established in response to the Ashby Report.

1972 The Departments of Applied Linguistics and Politics and Sociology are formed.
1979 Professor George Overend appointed Master of Birkbeck
1987 The Hayhoe Report recommends major restructuring. Birkbeck acts upon the recommendation, and departments are grouped into seven resource centres (later reduced to five) allowing more effective use of resources.
1988

The University of London’s Department of Extra-Mural Studies joins Birkbeck, becoming the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies and later the Faculty of Continuing Education.

1991 The Master, Baroness Tessa Blackstone, launches the Birkbeck Appeal to supplement funding and provide for the expansion of College activities. The Birkbeck Appeal raises over £8 million from companies, trusts and foundations and contributes to the formation of the Departments of Law, and Management and Business Studies.
1993 The new Charter provides Birkbeck with up-to-date powers but remains true to its original purpose ‘to provide for persons who are engaged in earning their livelihood during the daytime’.
1997 The Secretary of State for Education and Employment opens the new Clore Management Centre. Funded by a grant from the Clore Foundation, it provides purpose built teaching and research facilities for the School of Management and Organizational Psychology.
1998 The ‘Bernal Picasso’ returns to Birkbeck for the 175th anniversary celebrations thanks to the generosity of the Institute of Contemporary Arts.

Birkbeck appoints five new Anniversary Chairs.

Spanish student Bear Grylls becomes the youngest Briton to conquer Everest.

Birkbeck and the Institute of Education establish the first-ever research centre funded by the DfEE examining the wider benefits of learning.

1999 The resource centres are replaced with four faculties – Arts, Science, Social Science and Continuing Education.

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