Before showing you this rare photo, here is a little introduction about how these ladies found their way to the University. We spoke before about the role of Princes Fatimah important role in founding the Cairo University in its current location yet we did not know how Egyptian Laila found her way to the hallways and the auditoriums of the University. There is a little piece of information many do not know that the Cairo university or Fouad University after its inauguration held lectures for high classes ladies where Madam Couvreur of France used to speak , Madam Couvrer was brought by the request of Prince Ahmed Fouad I with the help of Gaston Maspero.Those lectures were in French and by time some Middle high class ladies joined them still on a very narrow scale.There were other pioneer ladies in Press who thought that those lectures should be translated to Arabic. Lebanese Labiba Hasham in the “Girl of Orient” Newspaper “Yes there was such newspaper then” and the early activist famous Malak Hafiny Nasaf in the “Nation’s party” did that great job. Hasham even raised the bar and called for the Egyptian Ladies to lecture instead of Foreign ladies.
By time a separate women section was opened in the Fouad University but it was closed in the WWI in no time.
Those girls entered the Cairo University in 1929 breaking taboos you can’t imagine back then. The first class of young Egyptian ladies consisted of 17 girls only that Dr.Ahmed Lutfi El-Sayed ,the head of the Fouad University then along with deans of the faculties of Arts “Taha Hussein” and medicine “Dr.Ali Ibrahim” let them enter the University secretly without informing the education ministry except when those 17 girls succeeded in their study , women can study like men , there was no need to not let them complete their study.
From those 17 girls I found the photo of those fantastic 5 girls
From rigth to left Dr. Naema El-Ayauobi and Miss Fatimah Salem setting and behind them , Mrs. Zahirah Abd El Aziz,Dr. Sohair El-Qalamawy and Mrs. Fatimah Fahmy.
Also here is a short essay by Dr. Naema El-Ayauobi under the title “I was the first girl to enter the University” who was among those first Egyptian female students describing her daring experience. In summary she was describing how the girls were shy and avoided any contact with the boys and how The dean of the faculty of Arts Dr. Taha Hussein told them that if anyone annoyed them or if they needed anything , they should go immediately to his office and complain to him.
Dr.Sohair as I hinted was the student of Dr.Taha Hussein and he supervised her master and her PHD in Arabic Literature which was about One thousand and one nights aka in the West The Arabian Nights , yup the original nights and I read that PHD study when it was published in the Reading for all festival among the treasures of the Arabic literature.
TO be honest till the early 1950s not many families were ready to send their girls to universities like men , for them girls should be educated to get married, I think it was not in Egypt only but rather the whole world , if you watch the Mona Lisa smile you will know what I am speaking about.
By the way if you want to publish the picture in your website or what ever you want please do it but do not forget me , I did not put copyright on it because it is a scan and I am doing this to encourage you to speak about those fantastic ladies but I will not hate that you do not forget my effort.
Links and sources :
- Dr.Latifa Salem’s lecture in the Cairo University about the history of women in the university in Egypt.
- The Photo and the article are from the Al-Thanan weekly magazine published on 12th of March 1945.