Constance Maynard and Women’s Education with Jessica Stout

This month on the History Cafe we’re back to an interview, again with a recent alum of mine, Jessica Stout.  Most of Jessica’s work focused on nineteenth century British literature (some of which gets mentioned in the podcast.)  For her historical work, Jessica looked at the debate that began in the late eighteenth century but continued through all of the nineteenth concerning whether or not women should receive a university education.  Various thinkers felt that educated women would be alternately better educators for their children or worse parents if they spent too much time learning Latin; create more stable families if they could earn a living or be unwilling to marry if they could support themselves. The debate drew comments from major voices of the time, including John Stuart Mill (who was a strong supporter of quite radical levels of equal rights).  The debate carried on in editorials, newpapers, and public speeches over many years.

From this mass of information, Jessica looked for a focused historical question that could help illustrate the debate in a humanizing way.  In the end, she wrote a study focused on the single figure of Constance Maynard – an educational pioneer, one of the first women to receive a university degree in England and the founder of Westfield College (now part of Queen Mary College at the University of London).  We talk about how Constance embodied both the hopes of educational advocates as well as the fears of those who opposed educating women in the first place.  Reading her journals gives us a great deal of insights into the desires and struggles experienced by someone taking a course in life that openly defied the opinion of many in the society.

Bibliography and Resources:

Phipps, Pauline, “Faith, Desire, and Sexual Identity: Constance Maynard’s Atonement for Passion,” Journal of the History of Sexuality vol. 18, No. 2., (2009): 265-286.

Maynard, Constance Louisa (1849-1935). unpublished autobiography, 1915–27.  London: Special Collections, Queen Mary and Westfield College Archives, 2013.

—. unpublished green book diaries, 1866–1935.  London: Special Collections, Queen Mary and Westfield College Archives, 2013.

While at first glance it might be appropriate to have tea over a conversation about British Education, this conversation is longer and more detailed than a single cup of tea, so I’m recommending a hearty dinner of Toad in the Hole.  In the US this sometimes means a piece of bread with a circle cut out and an egg fried in the middle, but in England it’s a bunch of sausages cooked into Yorkshire pudding (and, of course, pudding doesn’t mean a sweet pudding like we think in the US anymore than black pudding does…it’s more like a puff pastry with meat drippings cooked into it and then stuffed with vegetables and sausages.)  Served with a good stiff mustard or even horseradish, it’s delicious.  Think of it as a slightly swankier version of a pig-in-a-blanket.

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