Wadham College became the focus of scientific interest within Europe when John Wilkins was a Warden – the head of the college - in the 1640s-50s. Wilkins was a philosopher interested in the study of nature. Many experimenters - astronomers, anatomists and chemists – had their meeting place at the College. In 1660, John Wilkins united many of these scientists to create the now renowned Royal Society. Their views were based on the belief that scientific learning should be open and accessible to everyone, not just the elite, and they wanted to promote knowledge through observation and experiment.
The college was founded in 1610 by Nicholas and Dorothy Wadham. Nicholas Wadham came from a wealthy Somerset family and donated his fortune towards the creation of a new college in Oxford when he died in 1609.
His widow Dorothy, a ‘formidable woman’ aged 75, fought hard to make his dream a reality. She lobbied at court, negotiated the purchase of a site and drew up the college laws. She was the one that appointed the first Warden, the Fellows and Scholars, as well as the college cook. In fact, she worked so hard that the college was ready for opening within four years of Nicholas's death. Dorothy commanded tight control of Wadham until her death in 1618, although she never actually visited Oxford from her home in Devon.
Wadham College was founded for men only and it was not until 1974 that the laws were changed to allow the admission of women as full members at all levels. Wadham was one of the first Oxford Colleges to make this change. The college now consists of some 55 Fellows, about 130-150 graduate students, and about 450 undergraduates.
In 1931, Wadham College was the birthplace of The British Pharmacological Society after a meeting of 19 pharmacologists. The Society aims to promote and advance pharmacology, including clinical pharmacology.