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Women and Education

Resources on women's education in the IOE archives.

Collage of three black and white images from the Institute of Education archives

Women and Education: Introduction

The education of women and girls remains, in many parts of the world, a divisive issue. With regards to the UK, historically middle and upper class girls were largely educated in the home to become good wives. Working class girls, if they had access to education, were taught the basics of reading, writing and domestic skills in schools set up by charities or religious institutions. Despite this women have played a large part in the history of British education and many of the collections held in the Archives were created by female educationalists or organisations concerned with women and education.

Context: A brief history of women and education

Education Acts

The 19th century saw a recognition of the need to educate women beyond the elementary level. Private secondary girl’s schools began to open which offered middle class girls the same educational opportunities as boys. In 1864 a Schools Enquiry Commission surveyed secondary education and saw a general deficiency in girl’s education and recorded only 12 public secondary schools for girls in England and Wales. The Education Act of 1870 set the framework for the elementary education of children, but secondary education was largely unavailable to working class girls. The 1918 Education Act raised the compulsory school leaving age to 14, but it was not until the 1944 Education Act that secondary education became free and the compulsory leaving age rose to 15. The majority of secondary schools were single-sex until the comprehensive reform of the 1960s and 1970s.

Higher Education

In the late 19th century, higher education colleges and universities began to accept female students. Girton College, Cambridge, opened in 1869 as the College for Women, was the first residential college for women. Other universities began to offer courses for women which did not lead to degrees. In 1878, the University of London was the first university in the UK to accept women students on equal terms with men and award degrees to female students.


In the 19th century, teaching was one of the few professions open to women though their status and position was much lower than their male counterparts. At this period teacher training was formalised as many teacher training colleges or departments were opened, including some designed specifically for female teachers such as Whitelands College. Female teachers were paid significantly less than male teachers, organisations such as the National Union of Women Teachers campaigned for equal pay. After the First World War, educational cuts led to the reduction of wages for all teachers, wages of female teachers being hit the hardest. The educational cuts and rising unemployment also moved many local education authorities to introduce marriage bars which led to the sacking of married teachers in some areas while others required female teachers to resign on marriage. The introduction of the Burnham Salaries Scale in the 1920s helped some female teachers, though their wages were at 80% of the men’s wages. The 1944 Education Act outlawed marriage bars and in 1961 it was agreed that equal pay should gradually be introduced. In 1975 the Sex Discrimination Act prohibited the discrimination in promotion of teachers, allowing female teachers to progress in their careers more easily.


For guidance on how to use our dedicated online catalogue to browse and search archives, manuscripts and records see the archives home page.

Archive collections

Papers of Gene Adams

Gene Adams was the Museum Education Adviser for the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) from the 1960s. Her papers, [1966-1996], relate to her work and the use of museums by teachers. (RefNo: GA)

Papers of Mary Anderson

Mary Anderson was the headmistress of the Aburi Girls' Secondary School, Ghana, 1953-1970. Her papers, 1920-1970, mainly relate to her work at the school. (RefNo: AN)

Papers of George and Judith Baines

The Baines were primary school teachers who pioneered new teaching methods in an open-plan environment at Eynsham Primary School in the 1960s-1980s. (RefNo: BA)

Papers of Katherine Bathhurst

Katherine Bathhurst was a female school inspector who criticised public elementary schools. Her papers, 1891-1931, relate to her work as a school inspector and her involvement in later debates. Katherine Bathurst was also a friend and supporter of the NUWT and there is correspondence between them in both the NUWT collection and Katherine Bathurst Papers. (RefNo: KB)

Photographs and papers of Brenda Francis

Brenda Francis was an advisory teacher in home economics who worked in London. Her papers, 1930s-1980s, mainly contain photographs of domestic science classes and other papers regarding home economics. (RefNo: BF)

Papers of Isabel Fry

Isabel Fry was the founder of two experimental schools where training in farm and household duties were emphasised. Her papers, 1878-1958, contain her diaries/ notebooks and other papers. (RefNo: FY)

Papers of Amelia Fysh

Amelia Fysh was the head of Beech Green Nursery School, which pioneered the integration of handicapped children into mainstream schooling. Her papers, 1951-2002, mainly relate to her work at Beech Green. (RefNo: AF)

Papers of Dorothy Gardner

Dorothy Gardner was the head of the Child Development Department at the IOE, 1933-1992. Her papers, 1933-1992, mainly regard her work at the IOE and research into child development. (RefNo: DG)

Papers of the Girls Day School Trust (GDST)

The Girls’ Day School Trust have opened and operated a group of independent girls’ schools in England and Wales since 1873. The Records, 1872-2005 comprises the main administrative records of the Trust. (RefNo: GDS)

Papers of Mimi Hatton

Mimi Hatton taught in Germany with the British Families Education Service (BFES), 1946-1952. Her papers, 1946-1952, relate to her work with the BFES and an account of her service written in 2001. (RefNo: MH)

Papers of Ethel Martha Hatchard

Ethel Hatchard was a career teacher in London. Her papers, [1906]-1950s, include records regarding her teaching career and examples of teaching materials. (RefNo: EH)

Papers of Susan Isaacs

Susan Isaacs was head of the experimental Malting House School and the first head of the Department of Child Development at the IOE. Her papers, 1928-1979, contain personalia; correspondence; writings; and press cuttings concerning her role as the agony aunt 'Ursula Wise'. (RefNo: SI)

Papers of Hilde Jarecki

Hilde Jarecki worked as the Senior Professional Advisor for the London Playgroup Association. Her papers, 1945-1997, contain biographical papers, material for publication and papers relating to the playgroup associations. (RefNo: HJ)

Papers of Arabella Kurdi (AK)

Arabella Kurdi worked as School Meals and Domestic Science Organiser from The British Families Education Service (BFES) in post-war Germany. Her papers, 1947-[1971], relate to her work in Germany including material relating to the school meals service. (RefNo: AK)

Papers of Elsie Victoria Lane

Elsie Lane (nee Leak) was a hairdresser who ran a wig-making school in London. Her collection, 1881-1973, comprises personalia, autobiographical notes and correspondence about her life, training, career and views on education and training, 1912-1973. (RefNo: EL)

Papers of David and Mary Medd

The Medds worked for Hertfordshire County Council Architect's Department and joined the Architects and Building Branch at the Ministry of Education in 1949. They designed notable educational buildings and designed school furniture and equipment. Their papers, [1940s-1990s] cover every aspect of their work and also include the personal papers of Mary Medd.  (RefNo: ME)

Papers of Eileen Molony

Eileen Molony, television producer, was involved in the production of a wide range of programmes. The collection, 1969-[1979] contains material relating to her BBC television series 'The Expanding Classroom' (1969). (RefNo: EM)

Papers of Professor Kate Myers

Kate Myers was the Senior Associate of The Leadership for Learning Network at the University of Cambridge and an adviser for The London Challenge. Her papers, 1970s-1990s, contain material relating to various projects she was involved in mainly regarding equal opportunities. (RefNo: MYE)

Records of the National Union of Women Teachers (NUWT)

The NUWT was a union of teachers whose main aim was to obtain equal pay for female teachers but was also interested in other issues affecting teachers. The records, 1904-1961, cover every aspect of the Union’s work until equal pay was adopted in 1961. (Collection reference: UWT)

Papers of Lady Bridget Horatio Plowden (1910 - 2000)

Lady Plowden was Chair of the Central Advisory Council for Education, 1963-1966. Her papers mainly relate to her work on the Committee of Enquiry into Primary Education which produced the influential report, Children and Their Primary Schools (also known as the ‘Plowden’ report), published in 1967. (RefNo: PL)

Papers of Margaret Helen Read (1889 - 1991)

Margaret Read was an social anthropologist who was the Head of the IOE’s Department of Education in Tropical Areas. Her papers, 1900-[1982], contain travel notebooks and diaries; photographs, including albums of overseas visits and tours; personalia; drafts of published and unpublished writings; and correspondence. (RefNo: MR)

Papers of Margherita Rendel

Margherita Rendel was a barrister whose interests focused around discrimination against women, especially in higher education, and was Lecturer in Human Rights and Education at the IOE. Her papers, 1965-1988, related to a survey for UNESCO of Courses and Research in Political Science, Law and Related Disciplines Concerned with the Role and Status of Women, 1979-1982. (RefNo: RL)

Papers of Cynthia Reynolds

Cynthia Reynolds was an Advisory Teacher on home economics for the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) Advisory Teacher. Her papers, 1963-1985, mainly related to her work in promoting and developing courses in parenting and home economics curriculum development. (RefNo: CR)

Papers of the White Family

This collection, 1883-1964, comprises the papers of three female generations of the White family who all worked at teachers, including papers relating to activities at The Garden School which was based on principles of love, freedom, brotherhood, cooperation and service. (RefNo: WF)

Photograph Archive of the Architects and Buildings Branch (1940s - 1990s) (ABB)

The collection includes photographs of some of the first secondary modern schools for girls built in England. In other parts of the collection the reader will find photographs illustrating gendered education (eg. girls in sewing lessons, boys in metalwork/woodwork). (RefNo: ABB)

Ebenezer Cooke Archive

Ebenezer Cooke (fl. 1853-1911) was a drawing master interested in the theory and practice of art education and expressed his views in conference papers and journal articles. He taught in a variety of establishments, including succeeding Ruskin at the Working Men's College. The collection includes drawings by primary aged girls at Station Road Girls' School, Highbury, London in 1897. (RefNo: CO)

Records of the History in Education Project (HEP)

The History in Education Project was a major research project set up to look at the development of the teaching of history in English state schools from 1900 to the present day. It was funded by the Linbury Trust and based at the institute of Historical Research. Under the direction of Professor Sir David Cannadine, from January  2009 the Project's two academic research fellows. Dr Jenny Keating and Dr Nicola Sheldon, created a 'history of school history' across the twentieth century. They looked at archives across the country, gathered a wealth of primary and secondary source material and interviewed a wide range of former pupils and teachers, school inspectors, educationalists and secretaries of state for education. The collection includes oral history interviews and transcripts, some of which are women recalling their school days. (RefNo: HEP)

Papers of Lesley Longley

Lesley Longley completed a Masters dissertation at the IOE during the late 1980s on the topic of the education of girls during the interwar years. She was a registered PhD student at the University of Surrey and had begun collating research material when she died at the age of 70. This collection contains material collected by Lesley Longley during preparatory research for a PhD on the education of working class girls, focusing on the predominance of gender stereotyping and social stratification. (RefNo: LL)