Autograph Letter Collection: Female Education

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 106 9/04
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      1 A box (1 volume)

Scope and Content

The collection contains letters written on the question of women's education. Writers include John Hullah, Emily Davis, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Rev FD Maurice, Mrs Grote, Helen Taylor, Mr W Cowper, Eliza Orme, Sir Edward Ryan, Professor JR Seeley, Frances Martin, Helen Gladstone, Anne Clough, Miss CF Gordon-Cumming, Prof Morley, Mr Henry Sidgwick, Mrs Eleanor Sidgwick, Elizabeth Wordsworth, Miss Helen Stoehr, Frances Power Cobbe, Lady Stanley of Alderley, Lady Frances Balfour, Sarah Lyttleton, Gertrude M Wilson, Maria Grey, Miss CL Maynard, Emma Cons, Dr Sophie Bryant, Dr Maria Montessori, Archbishop of Canterbury, Elizabeth Haldane, Bertha Johnson, Mr HAL Fisher, Margaret McMillan, Dame Emmeline Tanner and Ethel Strudwick.

Administrative / Biographical History

Until the end of the nineteenth century, most middle-class girls were educated at home by the family, unlike their brothers who routinely attended university, and the schools which did cater for them were generally of a very poor academic standard, with emphasis on 'accomplishments' such as embroidery and music. However, some, such as Louisa Martindale, tried to start their own schools for girls with more academically demanding curricula. Despite the failure of Martindale's exercise, Frances Mary Buss followed in her footsteps when, at the age of twenty-three, she founded the North London Collegiate School for Ladies with similar aims. In 1858 Dorothea Beale became Principal of the already extant Cheltenham Ladies College and soon transformed it into one of the most academically successful schools in the country while at the same time working to improve teaching standards through her work with the Head Mistresses' Association and The Teachers' Guild. In 1865 Beale began collaborating with Emily Davis, Barbara Bodichon, Helen Taylor, Frances Buss, and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, in forming a debating society which became known as the Kensington Society. There, these women, who would be crucial in the development of these schools, met for the first time to discuss this and other topics such as women's franchise. Nor did they confine their attentions to the education of girls but also researched the question of the subsequent entrance of women into higher education. The Queen's College in London had already opened in 1847 to provide a superior level of education to governesses and had proved a success without being an accredited institution of higher education itself. In this context and influenced by the London group, a large number of Ladies' Educational Associations sprang up throughout the 1860s and 1870s. Those in Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield, etc, were brought together in 1867 by Anne Clough as the North of England Council for Promoting the Higher Education of Women and its members included Josephine and George Butler as well as Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy. This council began setting up a series of lectures and a university-based examination for women who wished to become teachers and which would later develop into a University Extension Scheme. However, universities generally still refused to open their degree examinations to women. In 1871, Henry Sidgwick established the residence Newnham College for women who were attending lectures at Cambridge where Clough would become principal in 1879 when it was recognised as an academic college. Girton was established by Davis as the College for Women at Hitchin in 1869 and moved to Cambridge as the first residential higher education college for women four years later. After the campaign to establish these institutions, it remained necessary to continue the campaign to extend their levels of excellence to the general state of female education and to open up other avenues of achievement to them.

Constance Frederica Gordon–Cumming (1837-1924) was born into a wealthy Scottish family, which enabled her to travel. She first travelled abroad in 1868, journeying to India via Egypt. Her travels then took her to Ceylon, Fiji, South Sea Islands, California, China, Japan and Hawaii. In addition to writing about her travels she was a keen artist and produced over a thousand paintings of foreign vistas. Her later years were spent in publishing and printing her books and articles and arranging her paintings for an exhibition. She died aged 87.

Lettice Fisher (1875–1956), usually referred to as Mrs HAL Fisher, was the founder of the National Council for One Parent Families, she was its Chair 1918-1949, and then its Patron until her death in 1956.

In 1899 she married Herbert Albert Laurens Fisher (1865-1940) historian and politician. Their only child was the British academic, Mary Letitia Somerville Bennett (1913-2005).

Frances Power Cobbe (1822-1904) was a traveller and journalist, who was also a keen promoter of the emancipation of women. Cobbe was an early member of the Kensington Society, the Enfranchisement of Women Committee and later a founder of the London National Society for Women's Suffrage and a member of the executive committee of the Central Committee of the National Society for Women's Suffrage. She was also a member of the Married Women's Property Committee. She had strong religious and ethical beliefs on which she also wrote. For some years she was also joint secretary of the National Anti-vivisection Society and was a founding member of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. She visited Italy frequently and spent several seasons at places such as Rome and Florence. She died in 1904.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929) was born in Suffolk in 1847, the daughter of Newson and Louisa Garrett and the sister of Samuel Garrett, Agnes Garrett, Louise Smith and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. The sisters' early interest in the issue of women's suffrage and commitment to the Liberal party were heightened after attending a speech given in London by John Stuart Mill in Jul 1865. Though considered too young to sign the petition in favour of votes for women, which was presented to the House of Commons in 1866, Millicent attended the debate on the issue in May 1867. This occurred a month after she married the professor of political economy and radical Liberal MP for Brighton, Henry Fawcett. Throughout their marriage, the future cabinet minister supported his wife's activities while she acted as his secretary due to his blindness. Their only child, Philippa Fawcett, was born the following year and that same month Millicent Garrett Fawcett published her first article, on the education of women. In Jul 1867, Millicent Garrett Fawcett was asked to join the executive committee of the London National Society for Women's Suffrage and was one of the speakers at its first public meeting two years later. She continued her work with the London National Society until after the death of John Stuart Mill in 1874, when she left the organisation to work with the Central Committee for Women's Suffrage. This was a step which she had avoided taking when the latter was formed in 1871 due to its public identification with the campaign for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts. Fawcett, despite her support for the movement's actions, had initially believed that the suffrage movement might be damaged by identification with such controversial work. However, the two groups later merged in 1877 as the new Central Committee for Women's Suffrage and a new executive committee was formed which included Fawcett herself. Her influence helped guide the group towards support for moderate policies and methods. She did little public speaking during this period but after the death of her husband in 1884 and a subsequent period of depression, she was persuaded to become a touring speaker once more in 1886 and began to devote her time to the work of the women's suffrage movement. In addition to women's suffrage Millicent Garrett Fawcett also became involved in the newly created National Vigilance Association, established in 1885, alongside campaigners such as J Stansfeld MP, Mr WT Stead, Mrs Mitchell, and Josephine Butler. In 1894 Fawcett's interest in public morality led her to vigorously campaign against the candidature of Henry Cust as Conservative MP for North Manchester. Cust, who had been known to have had several affairs, had seduced a young woman. Despite marrying Cust's marriage in 1893, after pressure from Balfour, Fawcett felt Cust was unfit for public office. Fawcett's campaign persisted until Cust's resignation in 1895, with some suffrage supporters concerned by Fawcett's doggedness in what they felt was a divisive campaign. In the late nineteenth century, the women's suffrage movement was closely identified with the Liberal Party through its traditional support for their work and the affiliation of many workers such as Fawcett herself. However, the party was, at this time, split over the issue of Home Rule for Ireland. Fawcett herself left the party to become a Liberal Unionist and helped lead the Women's Liberal Unionist Association. When it was proposed that the Central Committee's constitution should be changed to allow political organisations, and principally the Women's Liberal Federation, to affiliate, Fawcett opposed this and became the Honorary Treasurer when the majority of members left to form the Central National Society for Women's Suffrage. However, in 1893 she became one of the leading members of the Special Appeal Committee that was formed to repair the divisions in the movement. On the 19 Oct 1896 she was asked to preside over the joint meetings of the suffrage societies, which resulted in the geographical division of the country and the formation of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. She was appointed as the honorary secretary of the Central and Eastern Society that year and became a member of the parliamentary committee of the NUWSS itself. It was not until the parent group's reorganisation in 1907 that she was elected president of the National Union, a position that she would retain until 1919. By 1901, she was already eminent enough to be one of the first women appointed to sit on a Commission of Inquiry into the concentration camps created for Boer civilians by the British during the Boer War. Despite this, her work for suffrage never slackened and she was one of the leaders of the Mud March held in Feb 1907 as well as of the NUWSS procession from Embankment to the Albert Hall in Jun 1908. She became one of the Fighting Fund Committee in 1912 and managed the aftermath of the introduction of the policy, in particular during the North West Durham by-election in 1914, when other members opposed a step that effectively meant supporting the Labour Party when an anti-suffrage Liberal candidate was standing in a constituency. When the First World War broke out in Aug 1914, Fawcett called for the suspension of the NUWSS' political work and a change in activities to facilitate war work. This stance led to divisions in the organisation. The majority of its officers and ten of the executive committee resigned when she vetoed their attendance of a Women's Peace Congress in the Hague in 1915. However, she retained her position in the group. During the war, she also found time to become involved in the issue of women's social, political and educational status in India, an area in which she had become interested through her husband and retained after the conflict came to an end. She remained at the head of the NUWSS when the women's suffrage clause was added to the Representation of the People Act in 1918 and attended the Women's Peace Conference in Paris before lobbying the governments assembled there for the Peace Conference in 1919. She retired in Mar 1919 when the NUWSS became the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship but remained on its executive committee. She also continued her activities as the vice-president of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, to which she had been elected in 1902, for another year. After this she became the Chair of the journal, the 'Women's Leader', and appointed a Dame of the British Empire in 1925. It was in that year that she resigned from both NUSEC and the newspaper's board after opposing the organisation's policy in support of family allowances. She remained active until the end of her life, undertaking a trip to the Far East with her sister Agnes only a short time before her death in 1929.

Lady Frances Balfour [née Campbell], (1858–1931), was born in Kensington, on 22 Feb 1858, tenth of twelve children of George Douglas Campbell, eighth duke of Argyll (1823–1900), and his first wife, Lady Elizabeth Georgiana Leveson-Gower (1824–1878). Lady Frances's youth was spent at the three Campbell residences: Inveraray Castle, in Argyll; Rosneath Castle in Dunbartonshire; and Argyll Lodge in London. She was educated by a governess. Lady Frances had a disability, which left her with one leg shorter than the other and necessitated her wearing a built-up shoe on her right foot. On 12 May 1879 Lady Frances Campbell married Eustace James Anthony Balfour (1854–1911), youngest brother of Arthur James Balfour, later prime minister. Their five children were reared in their home at 32 Addison Road, Kensington. Eustace was an alcoholic which caused disputes with his sister Alice Balfour, it may also explain Lady Frances's refusal to accept alcoholism as acceptable grounds for divorce when she sat as a member of the divorce commission. Lady Frances was friends with politicians and clerics, especially her brothers-in-law Arthur and Gerald Balfour, as well as Sir Robert Finlay, Robert H Story, Archibald Fleming, Alexander Macrae, and AJ Milne. Frances's closest friend was her sister-in-law, Lady Betty Balfour, but was less friendly with Alice Balfour, who managed Arthur Balfour's households.

In 1885 Lady Frances became president of the Travellers' Aid Society and she remained president until her death in 1931. In 1889 Lady Frances began her political work when she joined the campaign to secure the women's suffrage and became a leader of the constitutional suffragists. Her campaigning was informed by her mother and grandmother who had been keen abolitionists in the anti-slavery campaigns. She also supported the equal education of women and equal entry to the professions, supporting her niece Ruth Balfour's decision to study and practise medicine. Lady Frances objected to the tactics of the militant Women's Social & Political Union. In the constitutional campaigns she marched, gave many speeches, lobbied, and wrote extensively - she helped lead the ‘Mud March’ of Feb 1907. Lady Frances served on the executive committee of the National Union for Women's Suffrage Society from its inception in 1897 until 1918, when British women over the age of thirty were accorded the vote. In addition, she was president of the London Society for Women's Suffrage, from 1896 to 1918 and an active member of the editorial board of the Englishwoman's Review. Due to her family and friends she had regular access to Parliament, and was able to lobby contact in the Liberal, Conservative, and Unionist parties. In 1912 she became founding President of the Scottish Churches' League for Woman's Suffrage. Lady Frances became member of the executive committee of National Council of Women of Great Britain & Ireland in 1917 and in 1921 was elevated to the presidency. Following her retirement as president in 1923, she served as one of the organization's vice-presidents until her death in 1931. Lady Frances was one of two female members of the royal commission on divorce and matrimonial causes which sat from 1910 to 1912. She was the first chairman of the Lyceum Club, and a member of the executive committee of the Women's Municipal Party, which encouraged women of all parties to stand for election to councils. She was also granted honorary degrees from the University of Durham (DLitt 1919) and the University of Edinburgh (LLD 1921). Lady Frances was also active in the Anglican Church; between 1893 to 1930 she was one of the few women who regularly attended the annual meeting of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland. Between 1905 to 1909, she ensured the rebuilding of Crown Court Church in Covent Garden. She was also President of the Crown Court Church's Woman's Guild following the death of her sister, in 1910 and served in this capacity until her death. Lady Frances published numerous articles and letters in British periodicals and the daily press, as well as several books. Her autobiography Ne obliviscaris: Dinna Forget (1930); biographies of: Lady Victoria Campbell (1911), The Life and Letters of the Reverend James MacGregor (1912), Dr Elsie Inglis (1918), The Life of George, Fourth Earl of Aberdeen (1923), and A Memoir of Lord Balfour of Burleigh (1925). Lady Frances Balfour died at her London home, 32 Addison Road, Kensington, on 25 Feb 1931 from pneumonia and heart failure. She was buried at Whittingehame, the Balfour family home in East Lothian.


Arranged in chronological order.

Access Information

This collection is available for research. Readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit. Available on microfiche only.

Other Finding Aids

Abstracts of individual letters in the autograph letters collection were written and held alongside the letters. This work was done from the 1960s by volunteers including Nan Taylor. In 2004 Jean Holder completed a 3 year project to list the letters, copy-type the abstracts, and repackage the letters to meet preservation needs. In 2005 Vicky Wylde and Teresa Doherty proof read and imported the entries to the Special Collections Catalogue.

The original card index of all correspondents, including date of letter & volume reference, is available on the microfiche.

Alternative Form Available

A copy of this archive is available on microfilm held at The Women's Library.

Related Material

Other collections within The Women's Library Strand 9 which may be of interest include 9/01 Women's Suffrage, 9/02 General Women’s Movement, 9/03 Emancipation of Women, 9/09 Suffrage and Women in Industry, 9/22 Scholars & Learned Ladies.

Further papers of Emily Davies are held by Girton College, Cambridge.