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Reew: The ation of 4th Cetary Itch Women: Tae Unexpected Reelin Study inthe story of the ‘Edun of Women and ite athe ‘Nncceath Century by Margaret Bryant Need access to JSTOR? ita cn pn ces ESSAY REVIEW IL The Education of 19th Century British Women Margaret Bryant, The Unexpected Revolution: A Study in the History of the Education of Women and Girls in the Nineteenth Century. University of London Institute of Education, Studies in Education (New Series) 10, London: NFER Publishing Company Lid., 1979, Sheila Fletcher, Feminists and Bureaucrats: A Study in the Development of Girls’ Education in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980. In the debate that swirls around the changing status of women in the Victorian era and feminist criticism of traditional histories of that period, these books come down on the side of an optimistic view. Although one study is implicitly and the other openly critical of earlier approaches to the history of women’s education in Britain, approaches which focus on heroic leaders like Emily Davies, Frances Buss or Dorothea Beale, and tell Whiggish stories of struggles towards the light, both nevertheless opt for interpretations stressing Victorian achievement. For Margaret Bryant, improvement in the Education of British women in the nineteenth century constituted a “revolution”. Although Sheila Fletcher's more detailed and particular study recognizes widespread apathy and reaction when it came to the spread of grammar school endowments for girls, her chapter on “what was achieved” remains the focal point of her book. Both authors see the winning of secondary and higher education for young women as the products of a sustained battle as well as of any number of skirmishes; and if there were “opponents” and “supporters” (chapters ¢ and 5 of Fletcher's book) and “a campaign” (chapter 8 of Bryant's) there were inevitably heroines—and even, heroes—in the struggle. Sheila Fletcher's bureaucrats are the unsung men of government who pushed for secondary schooling [or British girls in the 18605, and 1870s. Bryant's brief chapter on “the agents” focuses less on individuals than on the philosophical and religious underpinnings of the educational advancement of women. Middle class evangelicals, wilitarians and positivists ‘come forward to take their bows. In other ways the wo studies ate poles apart. The virtues of one, in fact, constitute the flaws of the other. Bryant has attempted a general overview and has succeeded in putting together a brief but provocative account which asks questions and points out the need for further research, The flaws are generalizations which sometimes seem unsubstantiated; the virtues the sease of the author's engagement with the wider sweep of history, her evident Summer 1982 215 n_tab_contents concern to get at the root of things and to place women’s history within the broad context of economic, social and intellectual change. Fletcher, on the other hand, has an extremely narrow focus: the Byzantine politics of government initiated grammar school reform over a 30 year period. The mountain of detailed evidence, particular situations and personalities is almost overwhelming. Non-British students of educational history especially may feel unduly bombarded with unfamiliar characters and places and be forgiven their longing for a nice generalization or ewo amongst the myriad. facts. Butas Fletcher herself points out, the fight o endow girls’ grammar schools boiled down to (or refuses to be boiled down because of) “a multitude of small encounters,” and Feminists and Bureaucrats leaves no doubt about the complexity of the baitle for women’s right to a fair share of the grammar school legacy. First, a clause had to be inserted into the Endowed Schools Act of 1869, providing that girls should share in the endowments. Section 12 referred to grammar schools for girls, but the idea of an equal share of the funds had to be abandoned: girls’ schools would be provided for only as faras, this could be done “conveniently”. As Fletcher wryly asks, “how could it be convenient? When is it convenient to part with money—and for the education of girls?" Of course it was not very convenient. Every endowment, and there were thousands of them, had to be investigated. every school concerned inspected, and all of this reported upon. A “'scheme" for areformed use of each endowment had to be drawn up and published locally. Trustees had to be cajoled; headmasters placated. Finally, each seheme went before parliament, where after a waiting period of forty days it could be enacted into law. Once a girls’ grammar school made it through these hurdles, it had won security ona scale no girls’ schools had ever before enjoyed. For the headmistress there was sometimes the possibility of a relatively elevated income and for interested laywomen, very occasionally, the possibility of memberships on the endowment’s board of governors. But each provision was a concession. Surely Fletcher is right in her assessment that the fact that any girls’ schools at all ‘were wrung out of such procedures is almost a miracle. Her achievement is the patient unravelling of the circumstances, personal alliances and polities that made the miracle happen. Notall of the politics occurred on the national stage. Often, especially in the sluggish period after the Conservatives threw out the original Endowed Schools’ Act commissioners in 1874, it was local town councillors who applied the leverage necessary for the founding of proposed girls’ schools, by withholding much needed additional funds until trustees took action. But before such pressure became necessary, much was accomplished. The first commissioners managed to create 27 grammar schools for women and to initiate proceedings that resulted in the founding of 20 more in the brief period between the passage of the act in 1869 and their dismissal in 1874. In the Period of reaction that followed, it took their successors 28 years to push through an equal number of girls’ schools. Fletcher provides appendices 216 HISTORY OF EDUCATION QUARTERLY