Mary Ann Higgs née Kingsland (1854-1937), social reformer, was born on 2 February 1854 in Devizes, Wiltshire, the eldest child of William Kingsland, a Congregational minister. In 1871 she won an exhibition to the College for Women, Hitchin, which in 1873 transferred to Girton College, Cambridge. The was first woman to take Cambridge's natural science tripos, gaining second-class honours in 1874. After eighteen months as assistant lecturer at Girton, Mary Kingsland taught mathematics and science at the recently established grammar school for girls in Bradford.
In August 1879 she married a fellow Congregationalist, Reverend Thomas Kilpin Higgs (1851-1907), and moved to Staffordshire, where Thomas was minister at Hanley Tabernacle. Concern for her health prompted a move to Withington, near Manchester, in 1888, but difficulties in the church and failing health led Thomas to resign in 1890. The family moved to Oldham, Thomas serving as minister of Greenacres Congregational Church for sixteen years until his death.
Mary Higgs's interests were wide-ranging: besides church work, she collaborated with W.T. Stead and others on a Twentieth Century New Testament (1898, 1900). Subsequent religious works included poems, meditations, and a prize-winning essay, Christ and his Miracles in the Light of Modern Psychology(1905). She inspired the foundation in 1902 of the Beautiful Oldham Society, and was active in its wide-ranging programme to improve the town's appearance and build a garden suburb. She also wrote a weekly column in the Oldham Standard and the Oldham Chronicle.
Mary Higgs is best-known as an advocate of vagrancy reform. About 1899 she found a room where women could stay in emergencies; later, with a benefactor, she set up three women's lodging-houses in Oldham. She became an acknowledged authority, giving evidence at inquiries such as the 1906 departmental committee on vagrancy, producing practical manuals, and acting as a prime mover in founding the National Association for Women's Lodging-Homes in 1909. In 1916 she joined the Society of Friends. In later years she worked through the Quakers and with the Vagrancy Reform Society on vagrancy-related issues, giving evidence to the departmental committee on the relief of the casual poor (1930). She died on 19 March 1937, soon after receiving an OBE for her services to Oldham.
Source: Rosemary Chadwick, 'Higgs , Mary Ann (1854-1937)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/38523.