School Board Women and Active Citizenship in Scotland, 1873-1919 Introduction

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Until 1902, when school boards in England were replaced by appointed local education authorities, female board members in both England and Scotland pursued similar goals by similar means, working within a patriarchal system to enlarge the opportunities for women. In both countries, women were a minority of board members: in fact, proportionately there were slightly more women on boards in Scotland by the time they were replaced in England with unelected bodies. 77 School Boards continued in Scotland for another 16 years, and in contrast to England the authorities which replaced them were also elected, allowing women a continuing role in Scottish school governance based on the legitimacy of the ballot box over a period of nearly six decades. When education finally became the responsibility of local authorities in Scotland under the Local Government Act of 1929, women at least had won the franchise on the same basis as men. They had still not achieved equal citizenship with men, but as the English experience since 1902 had shown, co-option onto local education bodies still left women some room for manoeuvre.

Nevertheless, while school board women in Scotland had much in common with their counterparts in England, the former also believed that their country was distinguished by its democratic tradition in education. It was a patriarchal tradition, but whereas in England the schooling of the poor was held in low social esteem, in Scotland it was seen as a key means of cementing the national community and preserving its identity within the Union. As Lindsay Paterson has argued, Scotland had a degree of autonomy within the Union in the form of what he terms ‘domestic sovereignty’. 78 He sees middle-class women contributing to the development of a national system of education after the 1872 Education Act by championing domestic economy in the schooling of working-class girls, thereby attaching educational value to women’s traditional activities. 79 While continuing, even reinforcing, both the social hierarchy and the ideology of separate spheres, their actions led to some positive benefits for women through improvements in their education and incorporation into the teaching profession, albeit in a junior role. Indeed, the president of the EIS observed at the 1894 annual conference that the recent admission of women to the universities potentially had such an impact on the training of schoolmistresses that ‘in a few years we hope the sexes may be practically on the same platform’. 80 Although the EIS had itself only admitted women as members in the wake of the 1872 Education Act, it acknowledged, in terms which would have been acceptable to school board women, ‘the right of women to receive an education essentially and substantially equal to that of men (however one may differ from the other in subordinate details)’; and while it was not in favour of school boards, preferring education to be under local government, the EIS welcomed the elected women as allies of the profession, and made a number honorary fellows, including Margaret Black of Glasgow, Flora Stevenson of Edinburgh and Mrs Carlaw Martin of Dundee. 81

School board women became accepted and even lauded as active citizens in the local community long before women in general were accorded the status of political citizenship. Moreover, women’s work on school boards was complemented by other public activities: on parish and town councils, in church committees and charitable organisations, for imperial causes and feminist campaigns, in professional associations as well as the labour movement. Thus, however numerically insignificant, the example of female members of school boards helped secure women, especially but not exclusively from the middle class, a respected and valued place in public life and within the national system of education.


1 Eileen Janes Yeo, ed, Radical Femininity: women’s self-representation in the public sphere (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998), 8. For the seminal discussion of separate spheres see Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1780-1850 (London: Hutchison Education, 1987). See the introduction to the second edition (London: Routledge, 2002), xiii-l, for the authors’ reflections on the reception and impact of their arguments about the centrality of the notion of separate spheres to middle-class identity. For an examination of the limitations of the separate spheres thesis which focuses on Glasgow, see Eleanor Gordon and Gwyneth Nair, Public Lives: Women, Family and Society in Victorian Britain (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003).

2 Barbara Bodichon, Reasons for and against the Enfranchisement of Women (London: National Society for Women’s Suffrage, 1869), 6.

3 Eleanor Gordon, ‘Women’s Spheres’, in People and Society in Scotland. Volume 2, 1830-1914, ed. W. Hamish Fraser and R.J. Morris (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1990), 206-35: 225-26.

4 Laura E. Nym Mayhall, The Militant Suffrage Movement: Citizenship and Resistance in Britain, 1860-1930 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 5, 6.

5 Robert D. Anderson, Education and the Scottish People, 1750-1918 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 313.

6 Ibid., 171.

7 See Lindy Moore, ‘Education and Learning’, in Gender in Scottish History since 1700, ed. Lynn Abrams, Eleanor Gordon, Deborah Simonton and Eileen J. Yeo (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006), 111-39. Some local studies overlook women completely: see James Roxburgh, The School Board of Glasgow 1873-1919 (University of London Press: London, 1971). For a local study which provides an examination of women’s role on boards in east-central Scotland, see Andrew Bain, ‘The Beginnings of Democratic Control of Local Education in Scotland’, Scottish Economic and Social History, 23, no.1 (2003): 7-25.

8 See for example The Educational News, 14 April 1888, for a plea by Edinburgh schoolmistresses to Flora Stevenson that she contest the board election again. See also Edinburgh Central Library (ECL), XYLA659, Edinburgh School Board Press Cuttings, 2, 171: The Evening News, 19 January 1897 and The Scotsman, 20 January 1897 for complaints to the Board that Stevenson was too close to the schoolmistresses. See also the successful campaigns of Mrs Helen Ross in 1911 and 1914 for a place on Falkirk Burgh School Board: Andrew Bain, Ancient and Modern. A Comparison of the Social Composition of the Burgh School Boards of Stirling and Falkirk from 1873 to 1919 (Polmont: Falkirk Council Education Services, 2006), 45.

9 Jane Martin and Joyce Goodman, Women and Education, 1800-1980: educational change and personal identities (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 90. See also Jane Martin, Women and the Politics of Schooling in Victorian and Edwardian England (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1999).

10 See G.E. Davie, The Democratic Intellect: Scotland and her Universities in the Nineteenth Century (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1961). For more nuanced views of the ‘democratic tradition’ see Robert Anderson, ‘In search of the “Lad of Parts”: the Mythical History of Scottish Education’, History Workshop, no.19 (Spring 1985): 82-104; Lindsay Paterson, Scottish Education in the Twentieth Century (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2003). For a discussion of the gender inequality in the Scottish educational tradition, see Jane McDermid, The Schooling of Working-Class Girls in Victorian Scotland: Gender, education and identity (London: Routledge, 2005), 114-18; Helen, Corr, ‘Teachers and Gender: Debating the Myths of Equal Opportunities in Scottish Education 1800-1914’, Cambridge Journal of Education, 27 (November 1997), no.3: 355-63.

11 Lindy Moore, ‘Women in Education’, in Scottish Life and Society, Volume 11: Institutions of Scotland: Education, ed. Heather Holmes (East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 2000) 316-43: 331.

12 See the entry on Flora Stevenson in The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women. (BDSW), ed. Elizabeth Ewan, Sue Innes and Siân Reynolds (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006), 337. For Jane Arthur, see ibid., 18. See Helen Corr on Phoebe Blyth and Flora Stevenson, and Maureen Donovan Lochrie on Jane Arthur, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004-07).

13 The Aberdeen Journal, 11 October 1888, 7.

14 For the discourse on ‘civic maternalism’ see Seth Koven and Sonya Michel, eds., Mothers of a New World: Maternalist Politics and the Origins of Welfare States. (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), 3. See also Jane Rendall, ‘Women and the Public Sphere’, Gender & History, 11, no.3 (November 1999): 475-88.

15 The Aberdeen Journal, 11 October 1888, 7.

16 Bain, ‘The Beginnings of Democratic Control of Local Education in Scotland’, 18.

17 Anderson, Education and the Scottish People, 170.

18 The Glasgow Herald, 14 April 1873, 4. Their male companion was successfully elected.

19 Glasgow City Archives (GCA), DED1/4/1/5, Govan Parish School Board Minute Book, 5, entry for 8 November 1886.

20 GCA, DED1/4/1/5, 8, 10, 13, 16 & 19, Govan Parish School Board Minute Books.

21 ECL, YAY764, New Edinburgh Almanac (1886), 1033; (1888), 1069; (1891), 1075; (1894), 1009; (1904), 1144.

22 Ibid (1906), 1156; (1910), 1259; (1915), 1143.

23 GCA, DED1/1/1/9-22: Minutes of the School Board of Glasgow.

24 Andrew Bain, Three Into One: significant changes in representation and leadership related to the amalgamation of the School Boards of Bothkennar, Polmont and Grangemouth (Polmont: Falkirk Council Education Services, 2003), 21.

25 The Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald, 30 March 1888, 7.

26 For Dundee as a ‘woman’s town’ see The Life and Times of Dundee, ed. Christopher A. Whatley, David B. Swinfen and Annette M. Smith (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1993), 113. There had been calls in Dundee for female representation on the school board since the beginning: The Dundee Advertiser, 18 February 1872.

27 Anderson, Education and the Scottish People, 166, 170. See also Robert Anderson, ‘The History of Scottish Education pre 1980’, in Scottish Education, ed. T.G.K. Bryce and W.M. Humes (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, 1999), 220.

28 T.R. Jamieson, Aberdeen in the 1880s: A View from Within (MLitt thesis, University of Aberdeen, 1996), 120. For Mayo see the entry in the BDSW, 261-62.

29 ECL, XYLA659, Edinburgh School Board Press Cuttings, 4, 26-27: The Evening News, 16 March 1909. The other two ladies were elected.

30 Anderson, Education and the Scottish People, 170.

31 Bain, ‘The Beginnings of Democratic Control of Local Education in Scotland’, 19.

32 The Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald, 25 March 1876, 5.

33 ECL, XYLA659, Edinburgh School Board Press Cuttings, 1, 65, The Scotsman, 7 April 1879.

34 The Glasgow Herald, 18 April 1885, 7.

35 The Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald, 17 April 1891, 7.

36 ECL, XYLA659, Edinburgh School Board Press Cuttings, 1 , 248, The Scotsman, March 1888.

37 The Irvine & Fullarton Times, 18 April 1919, 2; The Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald, 30 March 1928, 3.

38 See the BDSW, 167-68 for Hogg, 175 for Husband.

39 The Educational News, 16 May 1903 for Airlie; BDSW, 17 for Clunas, 261-62 for Mayo, 318 for McNab Shaw; The Aberdeen Journal, 17 July 1917, 2 for Farquharson-Kennedy.

40 See the BDSW, 182-83.

41 See the BDSW, 77 for Clunas, 175 for Husband, and 318 for McNab Shaw.

42 The Scotsman, 4 June 1909, 8. See also ECL, YDA1818, Press Cuttings on Notable Victorians: The Weekly Scotsman, 20 February 1932.

43 ECL, YLA659, Edinburgh School Board Press Cuttings, 3, 58: The Evening News, 7 March 1903.

44 For Cowan, see the entry in the BDSW, 81; for Rainy, see The Scotsman, 22 May 1908, 10. For Jane Hay who worked with the Scottish Armenian Association before standing successfully for the Edinburgh School Board in 1897 see The Scotsman, 10 March 1897, 12; and ibid., 2 November 1901, 12, where it was reported that she was standing in the parish council elections and had been a member of the Lunacy Board 24 years earlier; and ibid., 24 October 1913, 1, where it was noted that she was giving public lectures on ‘The Child and the State’ and had been a member of the Coldingham Parish Council.

45 ECL, YAY764 New Edinburgh Almanac (1901), 1162.

46 See for example Bain, ‘The Beginnings of Democratic Control of Local Education in Scotland’, 18, for an example in Fife.

47 See Sue Innes on Cowan in the ODNB.

48 GCA, DED1/1/1-9 Minutes of the Glasgow School Board; Mitchell Library Glasgow room, School Board of Glasgow General Summary of Work 1873-1903.

49 GCA, CO2/5/8/15/1 Paisley Burgh School Board Minutes.

50 GCA, DED1/2/1/2-3 Cathcart Parish School Board Minutes.

51 The Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald, 26 March 1897, 1.

52 Anderson, Education and the Scottish People, 171; Moore, ‘Education and Learning’, 127.

53 See Rosalind K. Marshall, Virgins and Viragos: A History of Women in Scotland from 1080 to 1980 (Chicago: Academy Chicago, 1983), 252-56.

54 See PP, XXV, Education Commission (Scotland), Report on the State of Education in the Country Districts of Scotland, A.C. Sellar and C.F. Maxwell (Edinburgh: HMSO, 1868), 98.

55 The Educational News, 30 March 1900.

56 ECL, XYLA659, Edinburgh School Board Press Cuttings, 1, 22 for The Scotsman, 6 December 1877; and 25 for The Scotsman, 14 February 1878.

57 Bain, Ancient and Modern, 55-61.

58 ECL, XLYA659, Edinburgh School Board Press Cuttings, 1, 199 for The Scotsman 21 January 1888.

59 The Glasgow Herald, 7 April 1885, 3.

60 See Willie Thompson and Carole McCallum, Glasgow Caledonian University: Its Origins and Evolution (East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 1998), 5-14 for Paterson and also for Mrs Margaret Black who taught at the Glasgow School of Cookery when it first opened, before leaving in 1878 to set up her own West End School of Cookery; she was elected to the Glasgow School Board in 1891, serving two terms.

61 ECL, XYLA659, Edinburgh School Board Press Cuttings, 4, 235 for The Evening News, 1 March 1914.

62 The Educational News, 3 March 1900.

63 Anderson, ‘In search of the “Lad of Parts”’, 84.

64 See Ruth Lister, Citizenship: Feminist Perspectives (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, 3rd ed).

65 T.H. Marshall, Citizenship and Social Class (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1950), 25-26.

66 The Glasgow Herald, 24 March 1911, 13.

67 See for example the entries in the BDSW on Agnes Hardie, 159, and Isabella Pearce, 290-91. See also the Dictionary of Scottish Business Biography 1860-1960, ed. Anthony Slaven and Sidney Checkland (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, two volumes, 1986-1990), 1, 337-38 for James and Jane Arthur.

68 See for example, The Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald, 28 November 1902, 6, for Jessie Moffat; The Educational News, 30 September & 7 October 1905 for Flora Stevenson; The Glasgow Herald, 27 May 1907, 10, for Jane Arthur and 30 November 1925, 6 for Grace Paterson. For a discussion of the ‘redundant woman’ question see Gordon and Nair, Public Lives, 167-98.

69 See for example Jane McDermid, ‘Place the book in their hands: Grace Paterson’s contribution to the health and welfare policies of the School Board of Glasgow, 1885-1906’, History of Education, 36, no.6 (2007): 697-713.

70 The Educational News, 30 September 1905 & 7 October 1905 for Stevenson; Glasgow Evening News, 1 December 1925, 3, for Paterson; BDSW, 81 for Cowan, 159 for Hardie, 183 for Jamieson; The Scotsman, 22 May 1908, 10 for Rainy.

71 The Aberdeen Journal, 11 October 1888, 7.

72 Ibid.

73 Moore, ‘Education and Learning’, 127.

74 Lister, Citizenship, 4, 11.

75 Patricia Hollis, Ladies Elect: Women in English Local Government, 1865-1914 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 153.

76 Marshall, Citizenship and Social Class, 11.

77 Anderson, Education and the Scottish People, 170; Hollis, Ladies Elect, 130, 133: see also chapters 2 and 3 for a detailed discussion of women’s work on school boards in England.

78 Lindsay Paterson, The Autonomy of Modern Scotland (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1994), 65-66.

79 Ibid, 70.

80 EIS Annual Reports Proceedings, Scottish Record Office, GD342/1/9, 1894, 65.

81 The Educational News, 6 May 1876.

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