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Some Account 
Of a Proposed New College for Women

1868 — National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, Birmingham, England


In inviting the attention of the public to any new undertaking, it is necessary to show, First, that there exists a real want; Secondly, that the new thing proposed is calculated to meet that want; Thirdly, that there is a fair prospect of being carried into effect.

1. That there is no provision made for the systematic carrying on of a girl’s education after she leaves school, analogous to that afforded for men by the Universities, is a fact which all admit; but it is one thing to show that a thing is absent, another to show that it ought to be present. There are those who maintain that superior education is provided by private and domestic tuition: and others, who admit that some improvements are needed in the existing system of girls’ education, believe that the object in view might be attained by means of higher examinations, by the improvement of girls’ schools, the extension of the school period, and by courses of lectures.

In regard to the first remark, we shod remember the difficulty of pursing studies at home, — the homes being very often in the country, beyond the reach of masters; while the universal admission that “something is wanted for governesses,” and that there is no existing provision for the formation of such a class among them as would in any way answer to the masters in public schools, proves the existence of a want; for if there is no adequate provision for the superior instruction of governesses, manifestly there is none for women in general.

With regard to examinations, it must be remembered that they are a means of testing what has been taught, not of teaching — of stamping the sovereign, not getting the gold; the test or stamp cannot serve as a substitute for the thing to be tested or stamped.

The proposal of a longer course of training in schools is best answered by reference to a memorial presented to the Educational Commission in July, 1867, and signed by 521 teachers of girls, in which they state that “it is not in the power of private teachers, however able and zealous, to supply adequate means and inducements for continuing study beyond the school period.” The need of some satisfactory means of discriminating between the teachers qualified for their work and those who are not is strongly urged; and the belief expressed that the foundation of a place of education for adult female students, at which certificates should be conferred by an independent authority, and to which scholarships should be attached, is among the most urgent educational wants of the present time.

Of the present unsatisfactory state of girls’ schools  and of the need of University education for women, abundant and convincing
evidence is to be found in the reports of the Royal Schools Inquiry Commission.

Much may be said in favour of courses of lectures, really educational and supplemented by examinations; but this expedient would meet the wants of those only who reside in towns, leaving the ladies living in the country — which is the case with the majority of the sisters of the Oxford and Cambridge students — wholly unprovided for, and it is this class whom we should specially have in view in any plan for putting superior education within the reach of women. Their abundant leisure and influential position, if turned to good account, would be invaluable — the Hall and the Rectory might become centres of light for a whole parish.

The fundamental question whether Englishwomen will be the better — will fulfil their work in life better — for more education, is not settled in many minds. We want healthy, happy, dutiful Englishwomen. A fear is entertained that the tendency of colleges, of examinations, will be to give us women the reverse of all this. But what if this fear be false? What is so conducive to health, physical and mental, as regular, interesting occupation? Who so likely to see the true poetry which lies in the discharge of the humblest duties as those whose minds are fitly balanced, their imaginations withdrawn from vanities and occupied with pure visions?

The plan of education proposed has not for its object the enabling women to make money, though this may be among the ends indirectly attained. It has a wider scope. Its aim is to prepare women for the duties of life, whatever they may prove to be; and will it not generally be admitted that some further preparation is needed, that too much is expected from girls whose school trainig is over at the age of eighteen? The college training is not intended as a substitute for the education of life, but as a temporary stage. It will not be specifically directed towards changing the occupations of women, but rather towards securing that whatever they undertake shall be done wisely and well. In works of philanthropy thoughtless activity is not the most fruitful. To untie the knots, to solve the difficult problems which the circumstances of our times force upon us, we want all the light that can be gained by the widest diffusion of sound and godly learning. We cannot spare a single ray.

2. A glance at the distinctive features of the proposed college will best explain how it is intended to supply the want we have been considering.

With regard to the admission of students, an entrance examination will keep up the general level of the studies, and exclude those who are not in earnest, as well as those who ought to be in the schoolroom; indeed, as regards the age of the students  it is believed that it will be somewhat above that of the undergraduates at the Universities.

The discipline and internal arrangements will be under the direction of resident ladies, who will be to the students in loco parentis. As the students in general will be drawn to the college by a real desire for improvement, the maintenance of order will not be difficult to attain without vexatious checks and regulations. Each student will have a small sitting-room to herself. This arrangement, affording opportunity for a certain amount of solitude — so important an agent in the formation of character — and sparing the student the strain on her faculty of concentration, which must be exercised when studying in company with others, will be one of the real advantages enjoyed in the college life, while the opportunities of congenial companionship will be a safeguard against any temptation to undue isolation. A short service, answering to family prayers, will be conducted by the head of the college, and the students will attend the parish church, but no constraint will be placed on Nonconformists in regard to attendance at prayers or church.

It has been decided to locate the college in the country. The fresh, pure air, the quiet and the opportunity of country rambles and out-door exercise exercise, will be of real benefit to those who spend their life chiefly in study. Besides which, the constant interruptions, from which it would be impossible for young ladies of eighteen and upwards to be free in London, will be avoided .The college year, which will occupy rather less than six months, broken into terms of about eight weeks duration, ought be free from distraction; time enough is left the students during the vacations for going into society, under the guardianship their mothers. The college is meant to supplement, not to supersede, the home, which, doubtless, will be appreciated by the students all the more after their temporary absences.

With regard to the course of study, it is intended to apply to the University of Cambridge for admission to the examinations for degrees, and the requirements of those examinations will be met by the college curriculum. But these examinations will not be compulsory, and a certain amount of choice will be allowed in the plan of study, which will exclude no subject that is regarded as suitable for a lady’s education by competent authorities. The instruction will be given by women or men, according to circumstances, the only test being that of fitness. It is hoped that the institution will become a living branch, a dependency of Cambridge; it will be connected, as far as possible, with that University; it does not propose to be a female University, standing on own basis, and undertaking to confer degrees by its own authority; it will aspire to no higher position than, say, that of Trinity College, Cambridge.

3. In order to carry out the project, there must be students, and there must be money. Evidence can be brought forward of there being a fair prospect of both.

The steady annual increase in the number of girls offering themselves as candidates for the Cambridge Local Examination, the wish expressed by them for further means of improvement, the opinion of  superior schoolmistresses who have kept up acquaintance with former pupils, all tend to show that, though from the circumstances of the case there can be no loud-spoken call, there doess exist a real demand for such an institution as is proposed.

As regards funds, it is to the wealthy members of the class whose daughters will hereafter benefit by the institution, that the appeal is made for funds for the foundation. The actual students will do their part in paying the current cost. It has been decided to build, as the expense of adapting any house that might be purchased would be great, and the result not satisfactory. The building will be the only endowment of the college proper. Exhibitions and scholarships will no doubt be added, as soon as the institution gets into work. The Schools Inquiry Commissioners have already recommended the application of some of the old charities, now wasted, if not mischievous, to this purpose. There is good reason to expect that public bodies will give their aid when the college is no longer  an experiment. There are at present no considerable endowments for the higher education of women, but there are indications that the tide is turning. It is for the friends of education to take the preliminary steps. Every contribution made to such an undertaking will have a reproductive power; the work they aid in its beginning will, by-and-by, be carried on to far larger issues.



Source: Transactions of thNational Association for the Promotion of Social Science, Birmingham Meeting, 1868, ed. Andrew Elgar (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer) 1869, pp. 400–403.