Archive of the Manchester and Salford College for Women

  • Reference
      GB 133 MCW
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      14 items
  • Location
      Collection available at University Archive and Records Centre, main John Rylands University Library.

Scope and Content

The archive comprises the minutes of the governing committee of the College, 1877-1883, an incomplete set of annual reports 1878-1883, syllabuses and a several registers recording admission and attendance of students. There is, in addition, a draft scheme for the College (1877) and a printed lecture by Herman Hagar, who taught German at the College. It is believed that this constitutes the surviving records of the College, which were probably never voluminous. No records have survived relating to the acquisition of the College property or teaching and learning materials used at the School. The archive has value for wider issues relating to the history of women's higher education, as well as the attitude of Owens College to this issue.

Administrative / Biographical History

The issue of women's education was the subject of intense debate in Britain during the 1860s and 1870s. The Schools Inquiry Commission (1864-1868) had revealed that girls were particularly badly served by the existing provision of secondary schooling. In addition, the growing opportunities for male students to pursue higher education had not been accompanied by similar arrangements for women. The first initiative in this area had come with the establishment of a women's college by Emily Davies at Hitchin (Herts.) in 1867; this later evolved into Girton College, Cambridge. A number of pressure groups were also established to promote the cause of female secondary and tertiary education, one of the most influential being the North of England Council for the Promotion of Higher Education of Women, established in 1867, to which the Manchester Association for Promoting the (Higher) Education of Women was affiliated. At this date, educational provision for girls in the Manchester area was poor. Women had attended classes of the Manchester Mechanics' Institution for a number of years, but there was a paucity of local secondary schools and women were excluded from Owens College by the terms of the will of its founder. The Owens College Acts of 1870 and 1871 had overturned this situation, in theory permitting female admission to the College, but concerns about the cost and upheaval to College routine meant that little progress was made.

By the mid-1870s, the debate about female admission to Owens had been reopened. During the 1874/5 academic session, women had been admitted as visitors to Professor A.S. Wilkins' lectures on Greek, and the experiment was repeated for other classes in the following session. However, attempts to win a definite commitment to the admission of women on equal terms to men failed; on 16 April 1877 the College's Court had supported a motion which stated it could not support "the principle of mixed education, believing that it would be opposed to the true educational interest of students of either sex, and out of harmony with the sentiments and usages of society";. As a result, the supporters of admission decided that the best strategy would be to establish an independent college for women, albeit one with close links with Owens. A meeting at Manchester Town Hall on 16 July 1877 approved a draft scheme for such a college, which would be aimed at "girls who have left school and who are able and willing to give, not a small part only, but the greater portion of their time to a course of continuous study." The College would recruit mainly from the 16-19 age group; it did not aim to prepare its students directly for university degrees (such as the external University of London degrees), but would provide a sufficient grounding in a range of subjects to make this option possible at a later date. It was however recognized that most of the College's students would not pursue such an advanced level of instruction.

The College offered a two stage curriculum comprising a one-year preliminary and a two-year advanced course. Students had to be at least sixteen years of age to be enrolled on the preliminary course, and seventeen years for the advanced course. Students who completed the advanced course and passed their examinations were eligible for certificates. Fees were set at a relatively high £15 per session [fees for an Owens College arts course in the same period began at £17 per academic session]. Fees for those training to be teachers were reduced by one-third. The curriculum was determined largely by available teaching expertise, with course biased to arts subjects: English language and literature, English history, Greek, Latin, German, French and maths were the mainstays. Although classes in botany, zoology, geology, physiology and geography had been envisaged in the original scheme, lack of suitable facilities precluded instruction in most scientific subjects. Teaching was provided mainly by Owens academics, including Wilkins (Greek), A.W. Ward (English literature), T.N. Toller (English Language) and A. Lallemand (French). Owens staff also closely supervised College examinations.

Apart from its academic supporters, the College enjoyed influential backing from a group of well-connected Manchester public figures. Both the bishop of Manchester, James Fraser (president of the College), and the dean of Manchester Cathedral, B.M. Cowie, were supporters, exemplifying local Anglican interest in the issue of female education. Also on the College's governing committee were several members of the Owens College Council or their wives: Thomas Ashton, E. J Broadfield, Alfred Neild, Mrs R. D. Darbishire, Mrs E. Donner, Mrs H.J. Roby (wife of the former secretary of the Schools Inquiry Commission), and Mrs E Behrens. Some of the College's most energetic supporters were the editor of the Manchester Guardian, C. P. Scott, and his wife, the former Rachel Cook, who had been one of the first students at Emily Davies' College. Other supporters with connections with Hitchin/Girton College/Newnham College were Elizabeth Day, the headmistress of the Manchester High School for Girls, and Miss Bulley, the College's resident secretary. Committee members also included Oliver Heywood, president of the Manchester Mechanics' Institution, and Meta Gaskell, the daughter of the novelist, Elizabeth Gaskell. The College was supported by a relatively small numbers of benefactors; chief amongst these were Sarah Fielden, later to endow a chair of education at the University of Manchester, R. N Phillips, M.P., and members of the Thomasson and Winkworth families, local textile manufacturers, who had supported women's education at Cambridge.

The College opened in October 1877 in rather cramped premises at 292 Brunswick St, close to both the Manchester High School for Girls and Owens College. In its first year, it taught the preliminary course only and attracted forty two students. In the following session forty six students were admitted, with the number steadily rising until over a hundred were enrolled in 1881/2. Most students would study one or two courses per session, but a few would take five or six classes and present themselves for examination at the end of the session. Evidence from the registers show that girls were recruited from across the Greater Manchester area. Although the College enjoyed its successes, it did not have the means of developing into a more sophisticated enterprise, and in any case, many of its supporters believed that the entry of women students into Owens College would not be long delayed. This appeared to be justified when a charter was awarded to the federal Victoria University in 1880, and this stated that the University's degrees would be open to both men and women. As a constituent member of the University, it appeared that Owens College would now have to decide its position on the admission of women. In response, MCW appointed a sub-committee to examine options for ensuring its students could read for Victoria degrees. The sub-committee reported in late 1880 that three options were possible: 

  • 1) to seek direct membership of the Victoria University;
  • 2) to seek incorporation into Owens College;
  • 3) to request that Owens open its classes for women students who planned to take degrees.
After deliberation, the governing committee decided to support the third option, while requesting that Owens keep open the option of incorporation. A memorial to this effect was submitted to the Owens College in December 1880. Although its Senate was sympathetic to the proposal, there were still resistant voices in Council and Court, and the issue made slow progress over the next two years. It was not until 3 April 1883, that the Court agreed that the College would be incorporated for the next session, where it would become the Department for Women of Owens College. The assets of the College were transferred to Owens, which reserved the right to terminate the "experiment" after five years if it was considered not to be working. Two College students, Florence Acton and Annie Eastwood, immediately registered for Victoria degrees, the former becoming Owens' first female honours graduate.


The collection is arranged into the following series:

  • MCW/1 - Annual reports
  • MCW/2 - Minute Books
  • MCW/3 - Registers
  • MCW/4 - Syllabuses
  • MCW/5 - Other documents.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Other Finding Aids


Conditions Governing Use

The archive is owned by The University of Manchester.

Photocopies, scans and photographic copies can be supplied for private study and research purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands University Library, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PP.

Custodial History

The earlier custodial history of this collection is unknown. It is believed that it was transferred to the care of Owens College on the dissolution of the College in 1883. At some stage, it was transferred to the Department (now School) of Education of the University of Manchester, from where it was transferred to the University Archives in October 2005.

Related Material

JRUL also has custody of the archive of the Women Students' Debating Society, which was originally the Miscellaneous Society of the College for Women. (WDS). A scrapbook compiled by Edith Wilson of the Department for Women contains material relevant to the early years of women's higher education in Manchester; this forms part of the archive of the Advisor to Women Students (AWS ). Relations between MCW and Owens College can be followed in the minute books of the Owens College Court, Senate and Council ), as well as the College Document Books, which contain some MCW documents, see OCA.


Mabel Tylecote, The education of women at Manchester University 1883-1933 (Manchester 1941) includes a brief discussion of the College. Alex Robertson, "Manchester , Owens College and the higher education of women : 'A large hole for the cat and a small one for the kitten'" Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester Vol.77.1 Spring 1995, pp.201-220 is valuable on the background to the College's creation. See also Carol Dyhouse, No distinction of sex? : women in British universities, 1870-1939 (London 1995), the best general guide to women's higher education in this period, and Gillian Sutherland, "The social and political location of the movement for the higher education of women in England c.1840-1880" in P.J. Waller, Politics and social change in modern Britain: essays presented to A.F. Thomson, (Hassocks 1987).