Secondary Education in England, 1870-1902: Public Activity and Private Enterprise

By John Roach | Go to book overview

20

Proprietary and other schools—1

The two most distinguished headmistresses of the later nineteenth century, Frances Mary Buss and Dorothea Beale, had established their reputations well before 1870. Miss Buss died in office at Christmas 1894 after a headship of forty-four years, and in that role she was one of the central figures in the history of nineteenth-century English education (Ridley 1895; Burstall 1938; Kamm 1958).

In her own school she worked tirelessly to train and to encourage pupils and colleagues. In a period when class consciousness offered a serious obstacle to the free development of new girls’ schools she cared nothing for such things. As an old pupil wrote, ‘no one asked where you lived, how much pocket-money you had, or what your father was—he might be a bishop or a rat-catcher’ (Hughes 1946:184). Her interests extended far beyond her own school and she worked indefatigably for women’s education in general; she was one of the founders of the Headmistresses’ Association, of the Cambridge Training College for Women, and of the Teachers’ Guild. She was actively interested in the College of Preceptors. She was without self-importance or desire to arrogate praise to herself. She was ready to listen to others and to accept advice from people she trusted. There were less attractive aspects to her system. The problems that she had to face were immense, and she tended to solve them by creating an endless mass of rules. Much time was spent on the collection and recording of marks. The staff had a heavy burden of work to get through and the girls were subject to considerable strain. Yet she was far from being a cold and remote pedant. She could be hot-tempered and sometimes even unjust, but she was also warm-hearted, hospitable, and anxious to give young people a good time.

One of her great successes was to find and train her successor, Sophie Bryant. Widowed in early life, Mrs Bryant joined the North London staff to teach mathematics. She became Miss Buss’s right hand and eventually followed her as headmistress. A woman of great intellectual ability, she was the first woman to be awarded the London DSc degree. Keenly concerned to promote the development of the individual student, she was also, like Miss Buss, active in affairs outside the school. She

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