Educating Girls and Women

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Birmingham was a leader in educational reform in the late nineteenth century. Opportunities for girls, however, particularly those from the working class, remained limited.

In Birmingham Faces and Places, 1893 it was proudly boasted that:

In regard to matters scholastic the relative positions of the sexes have undergone a complete change within the last twenty years, and now in almost all particulars, the boy and girl student commence an academic course upon an equal footing, and with almost identical opportunities for attaining the same goal.

The word ‘almost’ was crucial. Girls in England rarely had equal opportunities with boys at any level, it neither being considered desirable or necessary. Their education was further dependent on class,  family income and parental aspirations for girls. Reforms were to better their lot educationally but not make them equal.

There was no national schooling until 1870 for anyone, but there were endowed public and grammar schools for boys and many more private schools for them than for girls. Middle- and upper-class girls were often taught at home. There were a few excellent schools (including in the Birmingham area), albeit private and temporary, but many others gave only a superficial, if sometimes showy, education.

From the 1860s, female reformers fought for girls to partake in the general advances of schooling and gained reforms. These included the establishment of proprietary schools such as those of the Girls’ Public Day School Company (GPDSC later GPDST) schools and other ‘high’ schools and the first girls’ ‘public’ schools, while some local educational endowments were extended to girls.

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