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

By John Roach | Go to book overview

22

The girls’ schools and their objectives

After considering the development of the schools, it is time to examine the objectives of those who founded them. In one sense the founders of the women’s movement were revolutionaries because they were fighting to secure new opportunities for women, and that has been the generally accepted historical interpretation of the movement. Since the late 1970s many women scholars have urged that this view exaggerates the extent of the changes that took place (Burstyn 1977:11-19). Their general argument runs like this. Though the traditional roles of women were modified by the changes, they were not abandoned. Women continued to live their lives in a family structure that was still dominated by men. Men were the leaders of opinion, the breadwinners of the upper- or middle-class family, and women had to work within the narrow limits laid down by these social and sexual relationships. Women, once they had become better educated, certainly found it easier to earn a living and in some cases to follow a professional career. Yet, as a general rule, they were trained, not to function as independent persons, but to become intelligent wives and mothers, more equal companions for their husbands and sons, better equipped to engage in social or voluntary work outside the home. On this line of argument the changes look much less like a revolution, much more like a reform within structures that remained largely unchanged and that still left women in a distinctly inferior position.

The advocates of the new high schools and colleges had gained much support, but as we have seen had also attracted much resistance. Sometimes the diehard view comes out most clearly in some local debate, remote from London and the centres of power. For example, the select committee of 1886 heard evidence about a plan to turn an old boys’ grammar school endowment into a new girls’ high school at Blandford in Dorset. The plan was stoutly opposed by the rector, the Rev. C.H. Fynes Clinton (PP 1886 IX:331-4:5,020-112). He claimed that a GPDSC school which had been set up at Weymouth had been a failure. They have a B.A. or M.A. or whatever it is from Girton or elsewhere as head mistress; it has the whole high pressure system.’ Mr Clinton and

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