The Beginnings of Higher Education for Women

{See also Bedford College}

Queen's College was founded in 1848 by Frederick Denison Maurice in Harley Street, London, to provide training for governesses and schoolteachers, it was Britain's first higher education college for women, securing a royal charter in 1851. Its first students were Sarah Woodman and Miss King. In its first year Queen's had 200 women students. Initially, all the tutors were men, and students were chaperoned by aristocratic ladies. It had male principals until 1932. Octavia Hill and Sophia Jex Blake were among its early students.

In 1849 Bedford College was founded at 47 Bedford Square, London, by widow Elisabeth Jesser Reid, nee Sturch (1789-1866), a friend of Anna Jameson, Julia Smith (who was aunt to Florence Nightingale and Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon ) and Harriet Martineau. Its primarily aim was to educate women to teach in girls' schools. Described by Sybil Oldfield as 'a radical, even visionary institution', by the mores of the day it had male tutors and, therefore, chaperones for the students (until 1893), among whom were Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon and George Eliot. (It later moved to York Place, Baker Street, then South Villa, Regent's Park. In 1900 it became part of the University of London and in 1985 merged with the Royal Holloway.)

These establishments were small but they were like an oasis in a desert. Hot on their heels were the North London Collegiate School, founded by Frances Buss in 1850, and Cheltenham Ladies College, founded in 1853, by a committee of gentlemen, some of them clergy. Within a year it had 113 pupils and in 1858 the legendary Dorothea Beale became the principal. (Miss Beale also opened a college for teachers in 1877 which was moved to Oxford and became St Hilda's College.)

This website is 'work in progress' and therefore pages may not yet be started, let alone finished.

All pages © Helena Wojtczak 2009. Corrections and additions are warmly welcomed. Email me