Founded in 1853, Cheltenham Ladies’ College was initially regarded as an educational novelty with only a middling reputation for academic attainment. By the time that this photograph was taken in 1885, however, it had become one of the most famous and well-regarded schools of any type in Britain.
A fee-paying boarding school modelled on the likes of Eton or Harrow (which admitted only boys), Cheltenham Ladies’ College aimed to give a broad and comprehensive education to young women. The school’s reputation was transformed by its second principal Dorothea Beale (1831-1906), a reforming teacher who placed as much emphasis on the process of learning – and thereby conscious self-improvement – as on the attainment of particular skills and qualifications. For the first time in Britain, effectively, women were being trained in their own independence. Fittingly, Beale would go on to found the London Society for Women’s Suffrage – a campaigning organisation dedicated to winning the vote for women.
Cheltenham’s ethos inspired many similar schools across Britain and the world, but access to education for women in Britain was not universal. Even at the end of the 19th century, most girls – particularly those from working class backgrounds – finished formal schooling at 11. All of which left young women with few opportunities outside of factory labour, domestic service or marriage. Even at the top end of the socioeconomic spectrum, the formal education of women was not considered a priority compared to the ambition of marrying favourably.
- Article by:
- Kathryn Hughes
- Gender and sexuality
From marriage and sexuality to education and rights, Professor Kathryn Hughes looks at attitudes towards gender in 19th-century Britain.
- Article by:
- Liza Picard
In an increasingly complicated world, the chances for an illiterate boy or girl were slim. In light of this, a number of day schools were established. These included the Ragged Schools, Parish Schools and Church Schools.