A grass-roots beginning
Astrea was founded by two professional services women who wanted the opportunity to meet with and learn from their peers. Alice Chilver and Emma Todd, at that time both working in The Bartlett faculty office, invited a small group of 8 other women from across UCL to be part of a conversation: 'do we need a network?, how would it benefit women?. What would it do'. The outcome of the discussion was clear and the first network event took place a few weeks later. The women who contributed to the first discussion formed the first steering committee. Sara Collins, UCL Engineering's faculty manager was invited to be in inaugural Chair.
The origin of our name
As told by Co-Founder, Emma Todd
" " We were looking for a name for the network. Something inspirational. Something representative of our values and mission. It wasn't long before we stumbled across Aphra Behn, a 17th century British writer. She seemed to tick all the boxes and the more we read about her the more we admired her. Aphra (1640 - 1689) was the first English professional female literary writer at a time when the professions (teacher, doctor, lawyer) were closed to women. Most were housewives, or held jobs as tailoresses, milliners or midwives. She also worked as a playwright, translator and intriguingly a spy for King Charles II. She was unusual for her independence as a professional writer and her concern for equality between the sexes. Her career broke ground for the women who came after, which prompted Virginia Woolf's now-famous lines: "All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, ...for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds."
Her concern for equality seemingly went beyond gender equality with her short novel Oroonoko, being the first English work in print to express sympathy for slaves. She also showed great personal resourcefulness and determination throughout her life. At one point, she found herself in debtors' prison, and sold her writing to escape. And despite the envious attacks that her growing success attracted, as a woman in a traditionally male profession, nothing would deter her from writing. Aphra personifies many of the values that are our important to our network. So why Astrea and not Aphra?. Well, interestingly 'Astrea' was the code name used by Aphra while working as a spy for the King. The name originates in Greek mythology where Astrea, the daughter of Zeus and Themis is the personification of justice. The combination of the two elements of Aphra's life perfectly encapsulates what we're about.