Disability History Month:  Barbara Canham Turner

Posted 25 November 2020
Evie discusses University of Hull alumnus Barbara Canham Turner
Evie discusses University of Hull alumnus Barbara Canham Turner

President of Inclusivity and Diversity, Evie discusses Barbara Canham Turner.

You’ve probably heard about the Canham Turner building. If you’ve been a student here for a few years, you’ve probably walked passed the building hundreds or thousands of times. You might have regularly eaten lunch at the cafeteria or Wilde’s cafĂ©. Or maybe you associate it with the dread of exams, which were held in the conference rooms.

But do you know who Canham Turner was, and why she is relevant to Disability History Month?

Barbara Canham Tuner was born in Hull, and had cerebral palsy, a condition which impacted her motor movement. For more info on cerebral palsy click here.

She was incredibly intelligent, and considered to have a good chance of being offered a place at the University of Oxford, However, students were made to stand for writing their answers to the entrance exam, and they didn’t make an allowance or exception for Barbara’s disability. Therefore, she didn’t have the opportunity to demonstrate how intelligent and capable she was.

On the 23rd August 1939, Barbara received confirmation that she had not been offered a place at Oxford and so she enrolled to study English Literature at the University of Hull instead.

Barbara was described as being very involved with the social activities on campus.

By the time of her final exams, Barbara had a stenographer, who could record what she said to them in the exams, rather than needing to write it. This enabled her to have a better opportunity to fully express herself in exams.

Barbara left Hull with a first-class degree in 1942. She finally achieved her dream at studying at Oxford when she enrolled at St Hilda’s college to undertake a post-graduate degree. After the war ended in 1945, she moved to West London, where she worked for the British Council.

Throughout her life, Barbara was remembered as being incredibly grateful and appreciative of her time at the University of Hull.

Sadly, Barbara passed away in 2015, and gave the University a very generous gift in her will. In 2017, the University recognised her legacy and her experience by naming a building on campus after her, now known as the Canham Turner building.

Barbara’s donation funded refurbishment to the Canham Turner building and improvements to the support available through student services to better help disabled students. This building is hopefully seen as a fitting memorial to her, and of the legacy that she left.

This story is not an end to the discrimination of disabled students, nor indeed disabled people in general. But a reminder of the amazing things disabled students have achieved at Hull, past and present, despite the additional challenges and discrimination they often still face through society’s lack of awareness, consideration and inclusivity.

We are not all on campus in the same way as usual. But when things are more normal, and you are next on campus, and pass the Canham Turner building, or enjoy a coffee in the building, perhaps spare a thought for Barbara, her experiences and her ongoing legacy of helping current and future disabled students to achieve their degrees at Hull.


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