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Great Grandpa and the Education of Women

Posted by on July 5, 2013

Or rather the education of his daughters in particular.  This account is based on what I remember of their stories and my mother’s memories.

I have two books, elegantly bound in leather embossed in gold, that were presented to my great-aunt Ethel Liversedge as school prizes.  The first for English presented to her in 1898, when she was 14, is Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho.  The second, A Life of Sir Walter Scott by Lockhart, presented in 1904 is for “outline from nature”.  Her bookmark is still in this volume, a postcard of H B Irving in theatrical dress.  At this time she was living in Stradella Road, Herne Hill.

Ethel Jen Liversedge (1886-1977)

Ethel Jean Liversedge (1886-1977)

The school that Ethel and her sister Gladys attended was Mary Datchelor School, Grove Lane, Camberwell.  My mother told me once that the school was unusual in being one of very few in the country that provided girls with an education equivalent to that of boys.  As well as music and drawing and other traditional subjects for girls the school taught mathematics and the sciences.  But in case I believed this was an example of modern thinking from their father, Albert John, she then explained that up to the age18 their education had been in the hands of their mother, Charlotte, and once they expressed a desire for further education, the Victorian father took over and put an end to their dreams.  She told me Ethel had wanted to study the Law, an ambition that in those days might well have proved impossible even if her father had approved.  She did practise oratory though, winning debating prizes at the Liberal Women’s conference and later taking on the might of Croydon Corporation who she sued for negligence in failing to treat the water properly resulting in her being infected with typhoid.  Gladys, who had wanted to train to teach sport, ran drill classes during the second world war for girls in the east end of London.

They later regarded as a source of wry amusement the fact that after denying them the education and careers they desired their father ended up being dependent on their earnings from the office jobs they obtained when his various schemes failed to materialise.

When they attended the school it was still under the charge of its first headmistress Caroline Rigg who was appointed in 1876 prior to the school opening in 1877.  The initial funding for the school came from the bequest of Mary Datchelor and her sister.  Originally around 1725 £20.00 was invested to provide apprenticeships for poor boys in the parish of St Mary Axe in the City of London.  However over time as the City developed the supply of poor boys was exhausted and in 1871 Charity Commissioners appointed Trustees to administer the Datchelor Charity and granted them £20,000 to found a girls’ school with the primary objective of educating girls’ of middle class in the parish and the secondary objective of educating other girls of the same class.

The story of how this aim came to be fulfilled and the history of the school can be found in The Story of Mary Datchelor School 1877-1977[1].  The school itself finally close in 1981 and although the new additions have been demolished the original Victorian building my Aunts would have known still stands albeit converted to luxury flats.


[1] The Story of Mary Datchelor School 1877-1977 published by Hodder and Stoughton, © the Clothworkers Company.

5 Responses to Great Grandpa and the Education of Women

  1. Nicola Stevens

    Thank you sharing your memories of Ethel and Gladys. The irony being they ended up financially supported their father.

  2. Diana Devlin

    As I mentioned to you, a friend of mine taught at Mary Datchelor – I think this was in the late 1960s or in the 1970s, so not long before it closed. I have not managed to trace the schools my own women ancestors attended – as usual, it is easier to track down the men!

  3. Lesley Berry

    I am forever grateful that I had the honour and privilege to attend M.D.G.S from 1958-65 when Miss Pearse was the headmistress. Today I still regard myself as a “Datchelor Girl”. And the Stradella Road you mention was the very same road I walked down on the way to catch the bus from Herne Hill to Camberwell Green.
    Wilsons Grammar School for boys was also in Camberwell, and I have recently discovered that my grandma’s brother went there-the first from our family to go to a grammar school. All my female ancestors were either in service or in lowly occupations!

    • Barbara Selby

      Thank you for you comment, its good to hear about some of the more recent history of the school.

  4. JEAN

    Jean Clarke Falconer I attended for only one year in 1938.
    A great pity I never returned after the War but it mucked up my Education. However I had an interesting Life. I’m trying to get a Book Published as “I only Married a Constable”. I need Notoriety for My next Book that might help others. My Darling John became Royalty Protection but at 90 years he’s so very sick.

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