Secondary schooling

In the 19th century, a ragbag curriculum of music, French, dancing, and drawing; with a governess of limited education or at a fashionably expensive girls' school; 'educated' the middle and upper class girl for marriage. But the 1851 Census revealed that one million women were unmarried and in need of employment. One of the few 'respectable' employment options was as a governess, yet often girls' education was too inadequate to enable them to secure such work, resulting in poverty and dependence on family or charity.

Denied access to the male education system, women began to create their own system of alternative institutions. The beginning of this ambitious campaign was in 1848 with Queen's College for Women, Harley Street, London W1, established by the Governesses' Benevolent Institution, taking the first step in secondary education to enable girls to gain recognized qualifications.

A typical setting for a middle class girl’s home education in 'accomplishments'.
A typical setting for a middle class girl's home education in 'accomplishments'. The music room, Quorndon House, Leicestershire, 1887. © (Taken 1887) Reproduced by permission of Historic England Archive

One popular objection to female education was women's supposed mental and physical frailty which made them unfit for learning and exercise. Trying to answer their critics produced a conflict in the Women's Movement between those groups who devised a curriculum especially for girls, as opposed to those who demanded an education equal to that of boys.

Queen's College still occupies several terraced town houses built in around 1760.
Queen's College still occupies several terraced town houses built in around 1760 as part of the Portland Estate. Listed Grade II. © Cheryl Law (2010). Source Historic England Archive

Frances Mary Buss (1827-1894) believed in equal secondary education and her small school opened in 1850 at 46 (later renumbered 12) Camden Street, London NW1 forming the basis of the successful North London Collegiate School for Ladies. In a final move, the school was established on its current site at Canons, Stanmore from 1929.

Buss, a believer in freeing all aspects of women's lives, included many sports in the curriculum and incorporated the first specially-designed gymnasium in a girls' purpose-built school in Sandall Road. In 1871, Buss started the Camden School for Girls for families on lower incomes which now occupies the site at Sandall Road.

NLCS moved to its purpose-built premises, Sandall Road, London in 1879.
NLCS moved to its purpose-built premises, Sandall Road, London in 1879. © & source North London Collegiate School.
Musical gymnastics’ likely to be held at the NLCS’s second home from 1870 at 202 Camden Road, London.
'Musical gymnastics' likely to be held at the NLCS's second home from 1870 at 202 Camden Road, London. © & source North London Collegiate School.
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