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Reproduced from 1985 Conference Proceedings, pp. 42-60 ã SCUTREA 1997


Curricular innovations in women's adult education, 1865-1900

Elizabeth Bird, University of Bristol


The question of whether adult education should provide special programmes for women and if so, what kind of special provision, is a central concern of any day which is looking at the changing curriculum in women's education. We are all aware of the kind of courses offered as part of mainstream LEA provision which although not restricted to women are obviously aimed at women. Such courses are overwhelmingly domestic, from dress-making to cookery, with aerobics as a topical option, and where such courses are provided during the day, the expectation is that the audience will be exclusively female. The extent of this provision, often referred to by area principals as 'my courses for ladies', is such that surveys on the take-up of adult education usually show that the proportion of women to men students is of the order of 75% to 60%. With such statistics it becomes hard to argue that the adult education service is failing to meet women's needs.

Women, then are major consumers of adult education, but does this mean that their educational needs are being met? As a background to discussing this topic we can look at an earlier period when education was seen as the crucial issue in trying to remove a range of disadvantages experienced by middle class women, that is the period from about 1865 onwards which led to the university extension movement. At the same time as the educational needs of middle class women were pre-occupying the lady reformers of Langham Place, middle-class women were themselves increasingly involved in a number of philanthropic ventures aimed at improving the living and working conditions of working class people, men and women.1 Indeed it was the growing importance of these activities, to some extent recognised by the extension of the membership of school boards in 1870 to women, which backed up the campaign for the entry of women to higher education. One outcome of the work of local school boards, in Bristol at least, was the provision of evening class or continuation schools, and here we find the origins of the LEA domestic curriculum. My aim in this paper is to look at these two very different contexts in which a 'proper' curriculum suited to the education of women and girls was being developed in the period from about 1865 to 1900. What connection is there, if at all, between the 'Lectures for Ladies' developed in the 1860s and 1870s, the provision of School Board classes for women and girls in the 1880s and 1890s, and the kind of adult education now provided for women?

This paper will look primarily at the example of Bristol in the period 1865 to 1900. I am indebted to pioneer research in the general provision of adult education for women by June Purvis2 and to the work of Helen Meller on Bristol.3 My prime sources have been the archives of the University of Bristol, and the Bristol Local Collection, held in the Central Reference Library in Bristol. Much work remains to be done and this is only a preliminary account. The paper will look first at the early extension movement in Bristol, leading to the establishment of the University College, forerunner of the University of Bristol, in 1876. This will be discussed in the context of the movement for the higher education of women and special attention will be paid to the curriculum. Secondly, it will consider the development of a curriculum for working class women and girls, as exemplified in the work of the Bristol Evening Class and Recreation Society from its foundation in 1884 to its demise in 1895 and the Evening Schools which were set up by the Bristol School Board in the 1890s. The conclusion will explore the implications of these historical examples for contemporary discussion of the curriculum for women's education.

The extension movement at Bristol

The movement for the entry of women to higher education has been well documented and need not be recounted here.4 It is however perhaps worth remembering that histories of the extension movement tend to see it as a movement for the extension of university education to working class men and either forget or overlook the fact that the movement originated in the lectures given by James Stuart to a group of women in the north of England. The invitation to Rochdale came later and indeed Stuart subsidised his lectures to the co-operators of Rochdale by the fees paid by the ladies of Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool.5 It is not clear how the Bristol movement began. One of the originators was John Percival, a former master at Rugby School, who came to Bristol in 1862 to be the founding headmaster of the public school, Clifton College. According to one account,6 Percival formed a Committee to promote the Higher Education of Women in February 1868. This committee consisted of Percival, his wife, and ten other ladies and gentlemen, with Mrs. Percival and a Miss Brice acting as Secretary until 1870.

The Committee named itself the Clifton Association for the Higher Education of Women. Most accounts agree that a 'brilliant group of lecturers' were obtained to give series of lectures, including Jowett, then Master of Balliol College, Mandell Creighton, A. J. Symonds, and T. H. Green.7 We have a full account of what it was like to follow such a course of lectures from Miss Elizabeth Sturge and it is worth quoting this account in full as an indication of the curriculum.

There were, however, large numbers of young women, anxious for opportunities of improvement ,who could never hope to become students (at Oxford and Cambridge) and for their benefit a system of local 'lectures for ladies' was established. We were fortunate in having in Clifton a circle of enlightened men and women by whom the idea was warmly taken up, and for several years courses on a great variety of subjects were given by many eminent men. We elder sisters attended a number of them, as well as our aunts and some of their contemporaries. Of course, such a method of study was very unsystematic; one jumped from one subject to another; but the mental stimulus was of lasting value. We read diligently, and every week handed in papers signed by a number or pseudonym - such was the dread at that time of having your name known in such a connection. There was great excitement when the lists were read out - some who had not attained to the position they hoped for were even known to weep!

The first course was on biology. For three months we plodded through books on botany, zoology, and elementary logic, and even struggled with the works of John Stuart Mill. Professor Grant on astronomy followed, and before I had done with him I was trying to calculate the distance of the earth from the sun! Then someone lectured on George III's reign, and we plunged into the woeful history of that period. Afterwards came John Addington Symonds , a brilliant and inspiring personality.......

Symonds lectured on Greek Literature and the Italian Renaissance . There was little sequence in these courses of lectures or in the arrangement of others which followed, but it was said by persons able to judge that the intellectual tone of our local society was noticeably raised as a result. 8

According to Elizabeth Sturge, and other sources, these lectures for ladies were the foundation of the movement to provide a university college for Bristol. A number of other factors were involved, not least the question of local pride, and moves at Bristol were greatly influenced by activities elsewhere in England. After several months of local discussion a public meeting was held on June 11th 1874 at the Victoria Rooms in Clifton, 'to provide the Establishment of a College of Science and Literature for the West of England and South Wales'. This meeting was addressed by Jowett, who pledged the support of both Balliol and New College, Oxford, to the tune of 500 per annum, provided that :

  1. the Oxford Colleges were represented on the governing body
  2. there was literary as well as scientific instruction
  3. the requirements of adult education be specially considered
  4. instruction (other than that of the medical classes) be open to women
  5. lectures on general subjects be provided.

Such provisions are obviously relevant to the debate over the relative merits of liberal and technical education which was currently being conducted and Meller argues that the influence of Percival and Jowett was crucial in ensuring that Bristol went for a university college and consequently a liberal curriculum. For our purposes we need to note that Jowett's provisos were complied with and, with the exception of the medical school, all classes at the new college were open to women. The Committee for the Higher Education of Women decided not to organise independent classes in future but to circulate the prospectus of the proposed college to their students. The Committee instead raised funds for the provision of scholarships for women at the College.

By 1876 then, it was possible for girls to enter a systematic course of study at university level, and if they were successful, they received degrees from the University of London. Records of the University of Bristol show that girls did enter in significant numbers and were especially prominent in the arts and social sciences. (Entry depended on matriculation and this was provided by a number of independent day schools for girls set up in Bristol in the 1870s and 1880s, again under the initial impetus of John Percival.) There was no stated reason why girls should not study the same curriculum as boys, nor was any distinction made. Earlier in the century it had often been claimed that studying seriously would impose too great a strain on girls' constitutions, leading to mental and physical debilitation. Infertility was especially feared. Catherine Winkworth, who was Secretary of the Committee for the Promotion of Higher Education for Women from 1870, suffered from ill-health but her sister Susanna did not attribute this to her studying:

I do not think, however, that either then or hereafter it was over study by which she was injured. In her latter years she often expressed to me her strong conviction of the reverse. She said that as far as she could trace, she had never suffered from intellectual occupation, but that whenever she had had the opportunity for it, it had been beneficial to her health; which had on the contrary sometimes suffered from the want of it. But worry or sorrow always told upon her greatly.9

Jowett in arguing for the inclusion of women at the proposed university college in Bristol, while still defending their exclusion from Oxford University, did not seem to consider questions of female physiology as being a barrier to study. His only concern was with, one assumes, their moral safety:

It was another of the advantages that a local university had over the older universities that it was able to solve the problem of the education of women - (applause) - owing to that characteristic of it ... that the pupils for the most part lived at home ... (H)e did not think any of them could make any objection to women attending the same lectures, having the same teachers, or receiving certificates, as they already did, both at Cambridge and Oxford.10

For those women who did not wish to enrol as full-time students at the new College, it was possible to attend lectures as a casual student, either in the day-time or the evening and in the first session of the College women students formed two thirds of the day-time enrolment11. The first Principal of the new College was Alfred Marshall who arrived in Bristol in 1877. Marshall had been a Fellow of a Cambridge college, but had had to resign his fellowship on his marriage to Mary Paley in 1877. Mary Paley was one of the founding students of Anne Clough's Newnham College in Cambridge, which prepared girls for the Cambridge tripos through the system of segregated education referred to by Jowett above. Throughout the short term of Marshall's Principalship ( he resigned in 1881 owing to ill-health but returned to lecture for one further year in 1882-3) Mary Paley Marshall also taught at the College. According to her memoirs, she gave the morning lectures in Economics to a class which consisted mainly of women and was also tutor to the women students. Marshall gave the evening lectures which were attended by business men, trade unionists and a few women.12

The struggle for access to higher education for women has been described as a contest between the opposing ideals of Anne Clough, who was prepared to settle for a different curriculum for women as a means of gaining access, and those of Emily Davies who fought to the bitter end for a provision which would be identical to that for men. At Bristol the arguments were always presented in a way which aimed to be non-controversial and non-doctrinaire. Jowett deliberately steered clear of controversy in his speech in 1874, and it is evident that Catherine Winkworth had little time for Emily Davies:

Miss Emily Davies has been here too, about a College for Ladies ... but got convinced I didn't approve of it, except for teachers and very exceptionally clever and studious girls; nor can I get converted to women's franchise, so some of my friends here look on me as a very half-hearted sort of person.13

The interesting phrase in this quote is 'except for teachers' for Jowett also reminded his audience that they should, 'remember especially the case of those ladies who had to gain their livelihood by teaching.'14 It can be argued that higher education was finally opened to women, on limited terms, because it was seen as a solution to the 'Woman Question', rather than because of the efforts of Emily Davies and Anne Clough. The Woman Question was essentially an economic problem about the need to provide middle-class women with some means of earning a living which was at least respectable if not either well remunerated or prestigious. The most commonly chosen career was that of governessing, but those parents who employed such help increasingly wanted their governesses to be well-educated. The opportunity to acquire an education and thus a profession via entry to teaching removed the necessity of fathers or elder brothers having to support their daughters or sisters indefinitely, and this was obviously a strong argument in favour of allowing women access to higher education.15

Emily Davies and Anne Clough were agreed on the importance of girls being able to learn mathematics, but an equally contentious issue was whether girls could learn Greek. Not knowing Greek was seen by many otherwise well-educated women as an enormous handicap, which prevented them from practising some literary forms, as well serving to restrict their learning and to exclude them from the world of educated and cultured men.16 Catherine Winkworth wrote to a master at Clifton College in 1873, i.e. after five years of 'Lectures for Ladies':

I am afraid you think me more 'higher educated' than I am. I can't read your Sophocles, except the English parts. My sister and I were taught Greek for a little while, but we were soon interrupted, and I never had another chance.17

For a woman who had made a living and a reputation for translating from German, this deficiency in her education was obviously not some idle whim of the dilettante student. For other women the need to be able to follow a curriculum identical to that followed by men was partly in order to be professionally qualified on the same terms and to the same standards so as to be able to earn a living by practising a male profession, partly it was in order to establish the principle that women were the intellectual equals of men. Emily Davies came down more heavily in favour of the latter argument, while Anne Clough supported the former as she was particularly anxious to develop the teaching profession. The ironic fact, or perhaps one should not seek irony as the explanation for what happened to these ideals, is that ultimately neither Anne Clough nor Emily Davies could be said to have achieved their aims. Despite the founding of Girton and Newnham Colleges at Cambridge, and the winning by women students of highest mathematical honours, whole areas of the curriculum remained effectively closed to women as they were still unable to enter those professions for which higher education was preparing men: law, accountancy, architecture, and engineering, as well as the better known case of medicine. The profession which they were both allowed and encouraged to enter, teaching, was segregated into male and female spheres where women were not only paid on differential scales to men but were also to be found in the lower status end of the profession, teaching in elementary board schools.18

Most of the historians of Bristol university are disparaging of these early days: 'the syllabus fills us with misgivings'19, 'the absence of systematic teaching'20 and while it is recognised that the evening students were 'the life-blood of the little college' this was seen as a weakness because it meant that the ''undergraduates' proper would have no sense of cohesion'.21 The greatest scorn of the historians however is reserved for the women students. It is assumed that the motives of the 'numerous young ladies from Clifton' were trivial and that they used the College as 'a type of finishing school'. Whereas historians of adult education, by ignoring the movement for the higher education of women, assume that middle-class women were somehow not adults, historians of Bristol University assume they were dilettante. The combination of these biases results in historical accounts which overlook the fact that the extension movement originated in the demand for higher education for women and which consequently also fail to acknowledge that the civic universities owe their existence to the movement which Anne Clough started in Leeds in 1867.22

By the end of the century middle class women were able to matriculate and enrol for university degrees, and could follow the same curriculum as men, although they were often taught separately.23 It was considered desirable that women should study from home, although the strictly chaperoned colleges of Oxford and Cambridge were available for a minority. The idea that women's constitutions were too frail to permit them to study had largely disappeared and women followed rigorous and demanding courses. The purposes of this education were still not clear however. Having achieved their degrees, few professions were open to women except for teaching. Graduates of the women's colleges at Oxford and Cambridge were much in demand as teachers in the independent public and day schools for girls which were to be found in all the major cities. The main expansion of the teaching profession, however, was due to the system of Elementary Schools which had been set up by the 1870 Act and which were administered between 1870 and 1902 by local school boards, and a degree was not a necessary qualification for teaching in elementary schools.


How can we compare the opening up of higher education to women with developments in the curriculum for working class women and girls? In many ways the different kinds of education available to middle class and working class women are an illustration of the same kind of relationship which existed between the lady philanthropists and their working class clients, as commented on by Anne Summers:

In asserting a particular feminine point of view, women philanthropists made an indirect contribution towards the emancipation of women of their own class. However, their philanthropic initiatives were often diametrically opposed to the emancipation of women in the social classes beneath them.24

The majority of the women who were involved in the promotion of higher education at Bristol were also involved in philanthropic work of some kind. There was a long tradition locally of women being especially active in educational work, from Hannah More's schools for Somerset children which she founded in the early nineteenth century to Mary Carpenter's 'Ragged Schools' for destitute children which were the subject of national attention in the 1860s. Frances Power Cobbe worked with Mary Carpenter in the 1860s before moving to London and embarking on her campaign against domestic violence. Catherine Winkworth also knew Mary Carpenter and Miss Carpenter is one of the two women who appear in the record of those attending the meeting to set up the university college in 1874, though she does not appear to have spoken. Another philanthropic activity was home visiting, following the example of Octavia Hill's London schemes. (Elizabeth Sturge, whose account of the 'lectures for ladies' was quoted above moved to London in 1886 to work with Miss Hill returning in 1891) In the 1870s a number of Home Encouragement Societies were founded the purpose of which was to encourage neat and tidy homes, and annual exhibitions held contests which were judged by panels of ladies from prominent local families.25

The need for home improvement was linked to the education of both girls and adult women as it was felt that only by education and example could women be encouraged to provide 'fit homes for decent men and women'.26 Anne Summers argues that earlier in the century it was the fear of riot and sedition which led middle class women to start visiting the homes of the poor, often the homes of their husbands' employees. By the 1870s, the motives had become part of a general concern to improve the standard of working class housing, to encourage working-class women to give up paid employment in order to devote themselves to housework and care of children, with the overriding purpose of improving national standards of health and hygiene. The same group of people who were active in promoting higher education for women at Bristol were also involved in a number of philanthropic movements which advocated the provision of evening classes for working class women and girls. The connections between these two movements thus are to be found in the influential activities and arguments of Percival and other members of his circle. According to Feller the particular character of Bristol's social and intellectual institutions as developed in the second half of the nineteenth century was due to the influence of a group made up of men and women who were Liberal in their political allegiance and either Anglican or Quaker in their religious persuasion.

Before looking in some detail at the variety of both voluntary and statutory, or state funded, provision of evening class education for women and girls in Bristol in the period 1865 to 1900, we can briefly consider the history of the domestic curriculum with particular reference to that of adult education. The curriculum in higher education was essentially based on the kind of education offered to boys in the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge and the innovation demanded by the movement for the entry of women to higher education was that women should also be able to follow this curriculum. The demand of reformers such as Anne Clough and Emily Davies was that girls should not have to study those subjects which were considered proper for girls, especially the feminine accomplishments taught at the boarding schools for young ladies which had been condemned by the Taunton Commission.

The predominance of domestic subjects was to be found in all types of education for girls although this varied from the emphasis on deportment, music, drawing and sewing for middle class girls, to what amounts to a obsession with neatness, tidiness, and plain sewing for working class girls. Formal education for working class girls was relatively new in the mid-nineteenth century and such instruction as was given was provided by a mixture of voluntary and parish schools, but everywhere we find an insistence that girls should acquire domestic skills. That these should be formally taught in schools also assumes that girls were not being adequately taught by their mothers, and there were a number of voluntary initiatives which aimed at instructing adult working class women in housewifery. A survey of the variety of types of adult education in the first half of the nineteenth century by June Purvis27 shows that where women were admitted to bodies such as Mechanics' Institutes or adult schools, the education provided for women was in domestic subjects. The other major subject taught to women and girls was reading, combined with religious instruction, and here the emphasis was on moral improvement. Cleanliness and godliness went hand in hand for the moral crusaders, and the faith in the power of women to raise the physical and moral standards of the nation is seen in the insistent linking of the domestic and the religious in the curriculum.

A further reason for insisting on domestic instruction for girls was the expectation that the main source of employment for working class girls outside the home, either instead of or before marriage, would be domestic service. We shall return to this connection when looking at what constituted vocational education for girls, but we can note here that Hudson, in his history of adult education published in 1851, lamented the decline of female adult schools for evening instruction for 'the education of the domestic servant in this country has been grossly neglected'.28

Evening school education in Bristol

The 1870 Education Act provided for the setting up of local school boards which were charged with providing elementary education, up to the age of 10, for all children. The 1880 Act made it compulsory for parents to send their children to the local schools. This provision fell far short of the aims of reformers such as Percival for it did not provide for the needs of employers for a skilled work force, nor did it provide for the needs of adults. Education provided out of money raised from the rates did not result in the disappearance of the many other kinds of education which were paid for either by voluntary contributions or by ancient foundations. However during the period 1865 to 1900 there was a gradual and steady increase in publicly funded education, and a withering away of the older forms of voluntary provision with a consequent change in the role of the philanthropists. This shift can be seen clearly in the work of the Bristol Evening Class and Recreation Society, which existed from 1884 to 1895, and the extension during the period of the work of the Bristol School Board.

The Bristol Evening Class and Recreation Society issued a prospectus and solicited support for its aims in 1884. The provisional committee was chaired by John Percival and the treasurer was Emily Sturge, the sister of Elizabeth Sturge whose account of attending the original extension lectures was quoted above.29

The Evening Class Society set out its aims in the prospectus as to 'assist and supplement by Evening Classes, efforts for the intellectual, moral and religious improvement of Boys and Girls after they had left elementary schools'. The Society devised a system of districts, based on the districts of the School Board, and volunteer visitors were to be assigned to each district. Their job was to get to know all the school leavers in their district, to introduce them to the evening classes, to keep up a permanent relationship with them, and to act as adviser and friend. It was hoped that 'ladies who have some leisure may be found willing to undertake this portion of the work'. By 1890, when Percival was still Chairman and Emily Sturge still Treasurer, the Society was organising lectures in elementary science, and domestic economy, and instruction in Woodcarving, Fretwork, Carpentering, Painting, Drawing, Music, Singing, Musical Drill, Chemistry, Shorthand, Book-Keeping, Modelling in Clay, and Logic. All this work was supported by subscriptions and some of the cookery classes were subsidised by ladies of Clifton out of their own pocket. The report of 1890 notes however, that changes in the evening class code had meant that some subjects could now receive a grant from the Department of Science and Education, and that other subjects were now being provided by the school board, and were thus removed from voluntary provision. There remained, however, categories of subjects for which a grant was not available, for which subscriptions were requested particularly in respect of religious education. The report of 1895 is the final report as the Evening Code of 1893 had allowed local school boards to set up evening classes, and it was felt that the society no longer had a useful role. 'Recreative' subjects could now be provided by local School Board evening schools which replaced the voluntary activities of the Bristol Evening Class and Recreation Society.

The Bristol School Board, which had been set up in 1871 as described above, following the 1870 Act, provided evening classes at a number of different centres, mostly in school accommodation. Evening School Directories exist from 1897. Prior to this date there was some evening class provision, but as we have seen the extension to the evening school code of 1893 encouraged local school boards to extend their activities. The prospectus of classes as laid out in the Evening School Directory is very similar to the kind of provision made by the voluntary society. This raises the point which is often overlooked, that whereas the shift from voluntary to statutory is seen as highly significant in terms of funding and organisation, in terms of the curriculum it may have had very little effect. This is true of initial education also, where the schools which had been run by voluntary, often religious, bodies did not change their syllabuses when they became supported by state funds. The aims of the philanthropists, and those of the state, in so far as we can identify the aims of the state, were not very different. Where the education of girls is concerned the curriculum of the philanthropists and of the School Boards is identical in its insistence on the acquisition of domestic skills.

From looking at the Evening Schools Directory for Bristol in the period 1897 to 1902, it would seem that only Domestic Economy, Needlework and Dressmaking were provided exclusively for women, all other subjects appear to be open to both women and men, and also to boys and girls. In fact the prospectus for 1897-8 offers separate provision for men:

Men's Classes- a separate class will be formed in every school for men who prefer to be taught by themselves, and the Board is prepared to render more individual assistance in the men's classes.

It is not clear why this special offer was being made to men, presumably to try and encourage them to enter what was already being seen as a female domain. (Further clues may be available in the School Board minutes, if they exist.) Where classes were held in schools which were single sex, then the evening classes were also single sex, as this example from the 1897-98 Directory shows. (See box below). From this example we can see that the curriculum for men and women was differently inflected, and in ways that seem surprising to us today. Both sexes could study basic literacy and numeracy, but women seem to be encouraged to do physical exercises (perhaps today's keep-fit?) and men to do shorthand and book-keeping. Both can attend 'Ambulance', described elsewhere in the prospectus and equivalent to today's 'First Aid', but women do cookery and men do drawing.30 In part these differences reflect the gendered structure of occupations in the period. 'Drawing' was the basis for a number of skilled trades rather than a ladylike accomplishment, and shorthand and book-keeping were the tools of the clerk, which was then a male occupation. Office work was however rapidly growing in this period and we can see the recruitment of women into office work reflected in curricular innovations. The Evening School Prospectus for 1898-99 quotes from the Vice-President of the Council on Education at length on the need for more commercial education as 'commercial pursuits ... were open to the competition of the whole world'. The Evening Commercial Schools, it is claimed, provide a curriculum which meets 'the requirements of modern business life' and classes for men and women , boys and girls, were to be held in five different centres. Subjects included French, Commercial Arithmetic, Commercial Geography, Business Training, and Shorthand. Although occupations were highly segregated by gender, and thus vocational education is also gender segregated, we can see that in this period office work was changing its gender character and there is a consequent co-educational strategy in some areas of the curriculum.

The Evening School Directory for 1901-2 shows that by the end of the period with which we are concerned, education in the evening was being offered to both boys and girls and men and women. There was very little restriction on what could be studied by women and girls, indeed it would seem that the only classes which were restricted to one sex were those in cookery and needlework which were closed to men. However from the attendance patterns, and the pattern of provision in mixed or single sex classes, it would seem that evening classes were in fact organised by gender. At the level of elementary education, here provided by what were called Continuation Schools, classes in Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Geography and History, could be followed in either boys schools, girls schools or mixed schools. Commercial Education was , as we have seen, co-educational. There was a third level of provision, corresponding to the Higher Grade Schools, which provided classes for matriculation. Here entry was open to both men and women but choices were influenced by gender, with some subjects being common to both sexes, while others such as Hygiene, taken by girls, and Building and Machine Construction, taken by boys, were seen as suitable for one sex or the other, as still occurs today.

Before moving to a conclusion about the ways in which this curriculum is still with us in adult education, I would like to look briefly at two other developments in this period, which although they do not lie within the field of adult education, still have implications for the general development of education for working class women and girls, and which form both a marked contrast to the educational developments for middle class women and girls and also provide a connection between the two spheres. One is about the formation of the curriculum in further education, the other is the curricular innovation of 'Domestic Science'.

Further Education was, in effect, founded in the period from 1889 to 1902. This period saw the implementation of central funding for further education through grants from the Department of Science and Art to local Technical Instruction Committees, as provided for in the 1889 Technical Instruction Act. This money was supplemented by the 'whisky' money of 1890, (Local Taxation [Customs and Excise] Act) such that in this period many of the buildings in which polytechnics and colleges are to be found today were built. After 1902 further education came under the auspices of local education committees and there were no capital funds available. Less important however than the buildings is what was taught in them and, as Gill Blunden has shown,31 further education for girls consisted almost exclusively of domestic education. The Technical Instruction Committees were not elected as were School Boards, so women did not have the opportunity to put themselves forward. They could be co-opted but this was uncommon. It was assumed that the only technical education suitable for girls was in domestic subjects so as to equip them for employment as domestic servants. It is here that technical education for girls meets up with the other developments in domestic science.

The term domestic science has so entered our vocabulary that we rarely consider the significance of the word 'science'. For a number of key educational reformers in the 1890s however, the inclusion of the word science was crucial. Ehrenreich and English have traced these curricular innovations in the USA and shown how the main proponents of the domestic science movement were feminists. They were women who had taken advantage of access to higher education in order to qualify as teachers, and who then tried to change the science curriculum so as to make it more relevant to girls.32 In Edinburgh, as Helen Corr33 has shown, domestic science was part of a feminist movement, co-ordinated by women who were also involved in fighting for the suffrage and for local representation. They used the positions they had gained on the Edinburgh School Board to argue for the inclusion of domestic science on the curriculum for girls. The domestic instruction offered to girls in the new further education colleges also drew on a new method of scientific instruction. In addition a number of localities used the grants available under the technical instruction act to set up colleges of home economics. The nearest one to Bristol was in Bath and it was established in 1892. It was intended to provide classes for women and was established by the Committee for Technical Education. The rather odd thing about the Bath College is that it states quite firmly that classes are for 'ladies', whereas the majority of education provided by local technical education committees was aimed at the working, or at least the artisan, class. The College was able to qualify students as teachers in 1895 which is some indication that it was intended for the daughters of the middle class.34

The terms on which grant was provided for technical education were not very clear and much depended on local circumstances. University College Bristol, with which the first part of this paper is concerned, became embroiled in a dispute with the Merchant Venturers College in the 1890s over the whisky money. Technical instruction at the latter institution was grant-aided but science instruction at the university college was not. It is interesting that the university college tried to obtain such money for its science classes but it never proposed either to provide domestic science instruction, nor was this ever seen as appropriate to the university, whereas scientific education, presumably at a technical level, was appropriate when it came to getting a grant. The implications of these distinctions are only visible to us in gender terms when thus spelled out, for it seems quite unthinkable that universities should instruct in domestic science. We have to ask why? In the 1890s it would seem that there were no laid down criteria about what was appropriate to the new university colleges, and there was also room for argument with the Department of Science and Art about what constituted technical education.

It is impossible to provide anything more than some suggestions in answer to such a speculative question. One relevant factor is that the women who were involved in the promotion of higher education for women wanted access for women to the established (male) curriculum. Their battle was for women to be able to learn Greek, not for learning better methods of washing pans. As we have seen most of the women who took advantage of the university lectures for women were from middle class families, and the cost of both the extension lectures, and the degree courses once they were available to women,35 made it impossible for either working class women or working class men to study at university level. However, it is not so simple as to be able to say that the established university curriculum was deemed appropriate for middle class girls while the domestic curriculum in its new scientific garb was for working class girls for, as we have seen, at Bath the new College was specifically for 'Ladies'.

Social class, and specifically the wherewithal to pay for education was one factor governing both women's entry to higher education and the curriculum they followed, but equally important is the construct of femininity which was being applied to the daughters of the middle class. The feminist reformers were applying a model of femininity equalling masculinity, although the strength of the equality concept varied from the stance of total identity taken by Emily Davies to that of modified equality favoured by Anne Clough. They were in opposition to a view which saw women as quite different from men with different needs, different lives, and different career futures. This latter view, while it emphasised the domestic curriculum, was not necessarily one which entailed a concept of femininity as inferior to masculinity but was capable of inflections which stressed the importance of providing education which was relevant to the needs of women and girls, rather than a slavish imitation of the masculine curriculum. In this form it could be quite compatible with the aims and ideals of some of the feminist reformers and we can see examples of how the domestic curriculum could be radicalised in the development of domestic science; in the work of the Co-operative Guild; in the work, for example, of the University Settlements in providing education for working class women in methods of child care; or the work of the maternity clinics set up during the first world war which led to the campaigns for a national health service and a family allowance.


What kinds of connections can we make between the changing curriculum for women in the period 1865 to 1900 and the present? Many of the arguments as we have seen, are still the subject of debate and the different versions of equality outlined above are to be found in competing femininisms today. I would like to return to the Evening School curriculum in the 1890s and the shift from the voluntary provision of the Bristol Evening Class and Recreation Society to the statutory provision of the Bristol School Board. The voluntary society was able to give up its existence in 1895 because the School Board had broadened its curriculum and was offering subjects such as Singing, Drawing, and Dressmaking which had previously been provided on a voluntary basis to adults. However the Society saw some of these subjects as 'recreative', whereas the Evening School Code would only support subjects which were 'instructional' or, in our terms, vocational. The significance of the education offered to women and girls was that it was at one and the same time both instructional and recreative. The domestic curriculum prepared girls for domestic service but it also instructed women in how to be 'efficient' wives and mothers. In the years immediately following 1900 there was a national drive to improve standards of housekeeping, following the need for healthy recruits for first the Boer War and then the First World War. After the First World War the servant crisis, i.e. their disappearance, meant that middle class women and girls, also needed instruction in the domestic skills. A number of writers have examined both the history of the domestic curriculum and its continued existence in secondary education for girls36 but its predominance in the adult curriculum has not been the subject of much attention. A historical approach helps us to see how it came to be established in the evening school provision where it was defined as vocational.

Today 'classes for ladies' will be part of the non-vocational programme of LEA provision and will be subject to whatever constraints are currently favouring or disadvantaging leisure classes. It is assumed that women take subjects such as cookery or dressmaking or keep-fit as part of their leisure. We also know that the consumers of these classes, despite being classified by their husband's occupation, will include a number of women who are middle class; some who are in the shifting C2 or 3M occupational social class categories; and very few who are unskilled manual working class. The domestic curriculum, aimed at the working class women and girls in the 1890s, has survived in adult education by attracting middle class women. Its function in adult education is seen as adding to the quality of leisure; it is not the remedial curriculum of the nineteenth century philanthropists. One could however argue, as does Nell Keddie in her paper and following a thought suggested by Alison Lurie in a recent interview, that such provision is misconceived as being non-vocational. Alison Lurie described a period of her life in which she 'supported herself as a wife and mother', i.e. by choosing to do those things as a job. The leisure curriculum sounds like hard work to me, part of the up-dating of housewifely skills and body maintenance.

In the 1870s and the 1890s , then as now, the curriculum offered and available to women and girls was determined by the double inflection of social class and the construct of femininity. Then, as now, choices were made within these constraints and the educational paths followed by women were the outcome of gender and class rather than individual ability, aptitude or inclination.

Further References

Arnot, Madeleine (1983) 'A cloud over co-education: An analysis of the forms of transmission of class and gender relations' in Walker, S. and Barton, L. (eds.), Gender, class and education, Brighton, Falmer Press.

Bradford Corporation (1970) Education in Bradford since 1870, Bradford.

Bristol Evening Class and Recreation Society Reports 1890-1895 and Prospectus, 1884.

Bristol School Board, Evening School's Directory, 1897-1902.

Bristol Women's Studies Group, (1979), (ed.), Half the sky, London, Virago.

Carleton, Don, (1984), A University for Bristol, Bristol, Bristol University Press.

Chapman, Arthur C., (1955), The story of a modern university: a history of the University of Sheffield, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Clough, Blanche Athena, (1903) A memoir of Anne Jemima Clough, London, Edward Arnold.

Devereux, William, (1982), Adult education in Inner London 1870-1980, London, Shepherd-Walwyn/ILEA.

Draper, W. H., (1923), University extension: a survey of 50 years 1873-1923, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Grylls, Rosalie Glynn, (1948), Queen's College 1848-1948, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Harmer, M., (1903), 'Girls of whom the counties are proud - some ladies of Gloucestershire', Girls' Realm, Vol. 5 (Sept.) pp. 916-923.

Holt, J. C., (1977), The University of Reading: The first fifty years, Reading, Reading University Press.

Hutton, Stanley, (1907), Bristol: its famous associations, Bristol, Arrowsmith.

Kamm, Josephine, (1965), Hope deferred- girls' education in English history, London, Methuen.

Kelly, Thomas, (1970), A history of adult Education in Great Britain: from the middle ages to the twentieth century, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press.

Kelly, Thomas, (1981), For advancement of learning: the University of Liverpool 1881-1981, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press.

Latimer, John, (1887), Annals of Bristol in the nineteenth century, Bristol, W. and F. Morgan.

Mansbridge, A., (1913), University tutorial classes, London, Longmans Green & Co.

Mansbridge, A., (1920), An Adventure in working-class education being the story of the WEA 1903 -1915, London, Longmans Green and co.

Marwick, W. H., (1945), 'Adult Education in Scotland', World Association for Adult Education Bulletin 2nd series no. XL Feb.

Penny, D. A. A., (nd.), Clifton High School 1877-1952.

Purvis, June, (1981a), 'Towards a history of Women's Education in Nineteenth Century Britain: a sociological analysis.', Westminster Studies in Education, Vol. 4. pp. 45-79

Sadler, M. E., (1908), (ed.), Continuation schools in England and elsewhere, Manchester, University Press.

Sampson, Walter Adam, (1908), A history of the Red Maids' School, Bristol, privately printed.

Shaw, M. G., (1932), Redland High School, Bristol, Arrowsmith.

Thompson, Joseph, (1886), The Owen's College, Manchester, J. E. Cornish.

Tuke, Margaret J., (1939), A history of Bedford College for Women 1849-1937, Oxford, Oxford University Press.



  1. Summers, Anne, (1979), 'A Home from Home - Women's Philanthropic Work in the Nineteenth Century' in Burman, Sandra, (ed.), Fit work for women, London, Croon Helm
  2. Purvis, June, (1980), 'Working Class women and Adult Education in Nineteenth century Britain', History of Education, Vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 193-212'; Purvis, June, (1981b), 'Women's life is essentially domestic, public life being confined to men' (Conte). Separate Spheres and Inequality in the Education of Working Class Women, 1854-1900. History of Education, Vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 227-243.
  3. Meller, H. E., (1976), Leisure and the changing city 1870-1914, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul
  4. Dyhouse, Carol, (1984), 'Storming the citadel or storm in a teacup? The entry of women into higher education 1860-1920', in Acker, S., and Warren Piper, D.(eds.), Is higher education fair to women?, London, SRHE and NFER, Nelson; Jepson, N. A., (1973), The beginnings of English university adult education: policy and problems, London, Michael Joseph ,Ch. 3; Kamm, Josephine, (1966), Rapiers and battle-axes, London, Allen and Unwin ; Strachey, Ray, (1978), The cause, London, Virago orig. pub. 1928
  5. Stuart, James, (1911), Reminiscences, London, privately printed, Chiswick Press
  6. Shaen, Margaret J., (1908), (ed.), Memorials of two sisters: Susanna and Catherine Winkworth, London, Longmans Green & Co; p. 260.
  7. Little, Bryan, (1954), The City and County of Bristol, London, Werner Laurie); p. 290.
  8. Sturge, Elizabeth, (1928), Reminiscences of my life, Privately printed pp. 16-17.
  9. Shaen (1908), op. cit. p.28.
  10. Report of a public meeting held at the Victoria Rooms, Clifton, Bristol, on 11th June 1874 to promote the Establishment of a College of Science and Literature for the West of England and South Wales. Bristol, Jefferies and Sons, 1874; p. 18.
  11. Cottle, B. and Sherborne, J. W., (1959) The Life of a university, rev. ed., Bristol, University of Bristol; p.10.
  12. Marshall, Mary Paley, (1947), What I remember, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. The quote which is always cited by historians of Bristol University comes from this passage of Mary Paley Marshall's memoirs: 'Later on Lady Jebb told me that she went to his lectures because they supplied 'such good after-dinner conversation''. (p. 24) The quote is usually cited as evidence of the dilettante nature of women's interest in education. See McQueen, J. G. and Taylor, S. W., (1976), eds., University and community Bristol, University of Bristol; p. 7, but it seems apparent from the context that Mary Paley's tongue was firmly in her cheek. Her own account of studying at Newnham shows how the unsystematic study described by Elizabeth Sturge had been replaced by a rigorous syllabus identical in content to that followed by the male undergraduates, but pursued under the chaperonage of Miss Clough. (Such chaperoning, while preventing the young women from studying with male students, could not prevent them from meeting male tutors with the consequence of marriage for Mary Paley.)
  13. Shaen (1908), op. cit. p.260.
  14. Report etc. (1874), op. cit. p. 18.
  15. The Winkworth sisters, Susanna and Catherine, moved to Bristol in 1862 from Manchester where they had been tutored by Mrs. Gaskell's husband. Susanna Winkworth, despite her sister's reservations about Emily Davies, was aware of the need to provide for her future, as she wrote in 1846, in support of her arguments to persuade her father to let her join in a class for young ladies to be taught by the philosopher Martineau: 'The great difficulty is to bring Papa to consent. Whether he will keep to the forbidding of all fresh lessons except Selina's painting? But surely it is as necessary for us as to her to have the means of supporting ourselves, and I presume Papa would not wish to expose any of us unnecessarily to the chance of having to be private governesses because we were fit for nothing better? Pray represent to Papa seriously that I cannot be easy while I could not get my own living without descending far in society, which would be the case at present (owing to my never having received ... any regular or sound education), and that you know how deficient I am in actual knowledge...(I)f anything happened to Papa now, we are, according to present arrangements, not adequately provided for, and he knows it too; so it is but common justice to put into my hands the means of providing for myself.' Shaen (1908), op. cit. p. 19. Her father agreed!
  16. Fowler , R. (1983), 'On not knowing Greek: the classics and the woman of letters', The Classical Journal, April-May, 1983, vol. 78, no. 4, pp. 337-349;
  17. Shaen (1908), op. cit. p. 303.
  18. The Bristol School Board Year Books provide information on both the numbers of men and women teachers employed and their relative remuneration. In 1900 there were 29 male Head Teachers and 63 female Head Teachers, and of Trained Certificated Assistants there were 83 men and 154 women. While male Certificated Assistant received 75 per annum for their first year of teaching, women in their first year received 70. By the 10th year however, men would receive 150 p.a. compared to 95 p.a. for women. For Head Teachers the differential was even greater with men receiving 125 p.a. rising to 140 for schools of 140 pupils or less, compared to the female equivalent of 60 rising to 75 p.a.
  19. Cottle and Sherborne (1959), op. cit. p.10.
  20. McQueen and Taylor (1976), op. cit. p. 7.
  21. Cottle and Sherborne (1959), op. cit. p. 10.
  22. The Universities of Exeter, Sheffield, Liverpool and Manchester, among others, all owe their existence to the movement for the Promotion of Higher Education for Women.
  23. At Bristol lectures in French were given separately. See Cottle and Sherborne (1959), op. cit. p.9.
  24. Summers (1979), op. ci. p. 24.
  25. Meller (1976), op. cit. p. 172.
  26. Sturge (1928), op. cit. p. 46.
  27. Purvis (1980) and (1981b), op. cit.
  28. Hudson, J. W., (1969), The history of adult education, London, The Woburn Press orig. pub. 1851, p.25.
  29. The Sturge family were Quakers and engaged in a variety of philanthropic activities. Emily was the eldest daughter and after an interrupted education, such as that commonly experienced by middle-class girls, she became interested in the work of the elementary schools which had been set up after 1870. She had experience of teaching in the Quaker Sunday school, and in 1879, having been a visitor at one board school, she stood for election to the Bristol School Board in 1879. School Boards were one of the few public bodies to which women could be elected. Emily Sturge was not the first woman to be elected to the Bristol Board, she had been preceded by a Miss Richardson in 1877. As a member of the School Board from 1880 until her death in an accident in 1892, Emily Sturge promoted women's education in a variety of contexts such as the Day Training College for women teachers, founded in 1892, technical education, including cookery classes, penny dinners (a form of school welfare) and evening classes.
  30. A registration fee of one shilling per session was charged. However there was a system of prizes whereby the registration fee was returned to all scholars who had attended two-thirds of the classes and whose 'conduct had been good'. Nine-tenths attendance carried a bonus of three shillings and sixpence while a 'prize of the gross value of five shillings' was awarded to each scholar 'who is neither absent nor late during the whole session, and whose conduct has been good'. (See Bristol School Board Evening Schools Directory 1898-99, p.7)
  31. Blunden, Gillian (1982) 'Women's place in non-advanced further education: the early development of three colleges in South West England.', University of Bristol, Ph.D. thesis.
  32. Ehrenreich, Barbara, and English, Deirdre, (1979), For her own good, London, Pluto Press
  33. Corr, Helen (1983) 'The schoolgirls' curriculum and the ideology of the home, 1870-1914' in Glasgow Women's Studies Group (ed.), Uncharted lives, Glasgow, Pressgang
  34. Bath City Council (1974) Unwilling to school - an account of the educational service in the City of Bath.
  35. Fees for attendance at the new University College were 4 to 6 guineas per session, or 5/- per term for evening classes. Compare this with the fees for Evening Schools above (note 30).
  36. David, M., (1980), The state, the family and education, London. Routledge and Kegan Paul; Dyhouse, Carol, (1976), 'Social Darwinistic ideas and the development of women's education in England, 1800 -1920', History of Education, Vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 41-58. Dyhouse, Carol, (1977), 'Good wives and little mothers: social anxieties and the schoolgirls' curriculum 1890-1920', Oxford Review of Education, Vol. 3, no. 1; Marks, Pauline, (1976), 'Femininity in the classroom: an account of changing attitudes' in Oakley, A. and Mitchell, J., (eds.), Rights and Wrongs of Women, Harmondsworth, Penguin; Sharpe, Sue, (1976), Just like a girl, Harmondsworth, Penguin

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