Mary Williams

Mary Williams smallProfessor Mary Williams (1883-1977), from Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire, was a Professor of French at the University of Durham, having previously taught at University College Swansea, University of Durham, and King's College, London. She studied German and French at University of Wales Aberystwyth, and wrote her thesis on the French sources for Wolfram von Eschenbach's poem Parzival; she had a working knowledge on many languages, including Provençal, Italian, Latin and Welsh. From 1961 until 1963, she was the President of the Folklore Society. In 1922, she married Dr George Arbour Stephens. She researched Arthurian topics, corresponding with Jessie Laidlay Weston. She acquired some papers relating to her father, the Rev. John Williams, her mother, Mrs Jane Williams, and her sister, Jennie Williams, later Mrs R. Ruggles-Gates, and Professor Victor Julian Taylor Spiers (d. 1937), King's College, London. She was a keen supporter and benefactor of the National Library of Wales and took part in meetings of the Celtic Congress.

Prof. Mary Williams achievements were certainly very unusual for a woman of her time. Her obituary (in Welsh) also mentions that it was rare for a woman to be given the honour of becoming an Officier d’Académie and Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by the French government.

Mary Williams was the first woman to fly across the Channel, in 1910 when she was a student in Paris, which suggests, as the obituary states, that she was venturesome.

Read more about Mary Williams on the National Gallery of Wales archive, or Taylor & Francis Online.


In 2013, as part of Swansea University’s recognition of Ada Lovelace Day, the Mary Williams Group was established. The Mary Williams Group started as a network of senior women across the University and has grown to include a wider range of women in the University. The network run a series of networking opportunities each year, act as role models in their area and provide support to other colleagues with regard to career progression.

The Group has an email distribution list, which is used for promoting relevant events and sharing interesting articles. If you would like to email the group, please send your email to

Further information about the Mary Williams Group can be found here.


In 2014, Swansea University launched the Mary Williams Award, which is the first award of its kind at the University and aims to recognise individual contributions to the University’s culture and community through:

  • supporting the career development of colleagues and/or students with a particular focus on removing barriers that prevent development
  • promoting and/or providing equal opportunities for all
  • supporting the University’s equality agenda to utilise all of our talent

Further information about the award can be found here.