Northern Whig, Belfast. Jan. 1872
Northern Whig, Belfast. May 1873
The Times, London. May 1873  
Letter Cardinal Cullen. Feb. 1878
Northern Whig, Belfast. July 1878
Northern Whig, Belfast. July 1878

Most of these documents relate to the period 1872-1899 when the movement for change and reform of girls' secondary education extended into Ireland. At first it was mainly confined to a few of the larger Protestant girls' schools in Dublin, Belfast, Cork, and Mountmellick.
The Intermediate examination system, introduced in 1878 in Ireland, succeeded in spreading this English view on girls' secondary education throughout Ireland in the period 1878-1910. This system also succeeded in imposing a new permanent State role and relationship in girls' secondary education, which prevails to the present day.
It was Isabella Tod the most politically minded of her sister-reformers on the Irish educational scene, who helped organise the first public meeting in Ireland to help spread the High School movement. The new movement (soon called 'The Women's Education Union') founded by Mrs Grey in England in November 1871 aimed to provide new cheap day schools for girls of all classes.

The Northern Whig, Belfast, 16 January 1872

Report of a speech made by Mrs Grey at a public meeting held in Belfast to promote the aims and ideas of the National Union for Improving the Education of Women of all Classes.

Before entering upon the subject to which she might just say she had devoted her life, she desired to tell them what the movement was not. It was not political; it was not sectarian; it was in no way connected with any political movement in connection with what are called 'the rights of women'.

If they took a true view of education as being the development of all the qualities of the human being, physical, moral and intellectual ... then they should no longer hear of education being good for the rich and not for the poor, of knowledge being necessary for a man, but not for a woman; then would they see that every human being had a right, and was bound to attain that development, to reach that highest cultivation which made him more like the Being he was intended to be, when he was created and stamped with the image of God. That view of education would at once do away with all the miserable, superficial narrowness, she might almost say meanness, of the education given to women. They should, then not ask whether this study or that was good to make a merchant or clerk, or lawyer, or a gentlewoman, but they should say at once that these studies were the best which best formed a sound judgment, which best enlightened the conscience, which best disciplined the will - then they would have a hope of having an educated people. (Applause). That was the character of the education she claimed for women. (Hear, hear).

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  1. Who made this speech and what connection did she have with the National Union for Improving the Education of Women of all Classes?
  2. What were the ideas behind this new movement?
  3. Give two reasons why Belfast was chosen as the venue for the first meeting in Ireland of this movement.
  4. Why, in your opinion, did the speaker claim that the movement was neither political nor sectarian?
  5. Does this document seem balanced or is it biased in any way? Explain your answer.
  6. 'Access to education was a critical stage in the attempts of women to bring about other changes in society.' Divide the class into two groups: one group to find evidence to support this statement, the other group to find evidence against it.
  7. Class to take a vote on the most significant areas of change for women in the nineteenth century. Rank the following in order of importance and give reasons for your opinion: employment; the suffrage; education.
  8. Make a list of the way in which girls' education changed in the nineteenth century and the way in which you feel it remained the same.
  9. Dramatise the above passage. Class to work in two groups preparing a two-minute play: one group to agree with the views expressed by the author, the other group to disagree.
  10. Do you think that educational reform would have come about without women like Mrs Grey? Give reasons for your opinion.
  11. Imagine that you are a reporter for a local or a national newspaper sent to interview Mrs Grey. What kind of questions would you like to ask her? (250 words maximum).
  12. Class to divide into two groups. Discuss the similarities and the differences between your views on education today and those expressed by Mrs Grey.

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The Northern Whig, Belfast, 30 May 1873.

[Extract from the first memorial presented to the Marquis of Hartington, Chief Secretary for Ireland, on the defective state of girls' secondary education in Ireland, by the Queen's Institute, Dublin, the Belfast Ladies' Institute, and the National Union for Improving the Education of Women.]

'My Lord,

We wish especially to draw your attention to the strength of our claim to a share in whatever portion of the revenues of the disestablished Church is allotted to educational purposes. We have a large personal knowledge of the working of the most important institutions for the education of girls in Ireland, and only those who have such knowledge are aware of the enormous difficulty presented by the want of adequate funds ... The examinations for women of Dublin University and the Queen's University, while very successful in some important respects have, by defining our aims, shown more clearly that without public aid, the end in view cannot be attained ... We wish also to take this opportunity of reminding your lordship that a hope has been widely entertained for some time past that a Commission of Inquiry into the Endowed Schools of Ireland, and into the state of higher education generally would be issued ... Information respecting the present state of girls' secondary education is not at present obtainable by any body in Ireland, nor is it possible for private persons or unauthorised institutions to ascertain what portion of existing endowments ... might properly be used for girls.


A.B. Corlett, Queen's Institute, Dublin.
Isabella M. Tod, Ladies Institute, Belfast.
Maria Grey, National Union for Improving the Education of Women.

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  1. What Church had been disestablished in 1870 ? What does disestablishment mean?
  2. What was the most important point made in this document?
  3. Do you think that these three institutions were generally representative of girls' secondary schools in Ireland? Explain your answer.
  4. Were there any other institutions that should have been included in this memorial?
  5. The authors of this document claimed to have a personal knowledge of the most important girls' schools in Ireland. Can you find any statement which appears to contradict this?
  6. Why did they ask for a Commission of Inquiry into the Endowed Schools of Ireland?
  7. Why would Maria Grey have been asked to sign her name to this document?
  8. Why do you think that this memorial failed to win any support from the English government?
  9. Class to write out their own memorial, incorporating ideas which might gain more support for the improvement of girls' education.

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The Times, 29 May 1873

[Mr Gladstone's reply to the above memorial, forwarded by Dr Ingram, F.T.C.D. Registrar of the Dublin University Examination for Women.]

10 Downing Street, May 15, 1873.

This is a proposition of great novelty and great importance. I will not say that the time may not come for giving it full consideration. But it has not, in my judgment, yet come. Of the three grades of education in Ireland, the highest remains unsettled; the middle has not yet even been attempted; even the lowest is sometimes threatened with disturbance. It seems requisite that some solid ground should be laid in those known and familiar questions before we put out to sea, as may be called, were it only because we do not yet know how far it may be practicable to provide for the case of women in dealing with University and middle-class education in Ireland.


  1. Who wrote this and what position did he hold?
  2. Why does the author think that the time had not yet come to reform girls' secondary and university education? Do you agree or disagree with these views? Give reasons for your opinion.
  3. What does Gladstone mean when he says that 'some solid ground should be laid' before any moves to help improve girls' education could be made?
  4. Does this document seem balanced or biased? Explain your views.
  5. Does it seem accurate or are there any obvious omissions?

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Extract from a letter dated 7 February 1878 from Cardinal Cullen (1864-78) referring to the position of girls in the proposed Intermediate Education Bill.

The bill which we are examining is intended to extend to the Intermediate Schools for girls as well as for boys. This might do very well for infant or primary schools where children of both sexes learn the more fundamental rudiments of knowledge, but it should not be extended to higher schools in which the training and teaching separate into diverging channels for the different sexes.

In the Intermediate schools, the boys begin to train themselves for the army or navy, for the bar or the magisterial bench, for the medical or surgical professions or for other occupations to which men alone can aspire: females go in a very different direction, and require other sorts of training and teaching; and it seems strange that regulations for the two classes should be united in the one bill. All those I have consulted strongly protest against such a union.


  1. Who wrote this document and what position did he hold?
  2. Explain why the author objected to the inclusion of girls in this Bill. Check other sources to find out if the author's views reflected those of Irish society in 1878.
  3. Were University degrees open to Irishwomen in 1878? What implications did this have for them?.
  4. What is meant by the phrase 'females go in a very different direction' to boys?
  5. an you identify any aspects of French educational traditions in this document?
  6. Discuss the view that ' girls in second level schools require different sorts of training and teaching to boys'.

The Northern Whig, Belfast, 8 July 1878.

[A deputation led by Miss Isabella Tod met the Lord Chancellor asking that girls should be included in the Intermediate Bill.]

Miss Tod read the following memorial from the Belfast Ladies' Institute:

It is not necessary to state at any length the reasons why the education of women of the middle and upper classes is now recognised as a matter of national concern as well as that of men of these classes. The welfare of the country depended so largely upon the enlightenment and well-applied energy of those who have it in their power to influence those beneath them in the social scale, that for this end even more than for the professional and industrial interests involved, it is needful that the means of higher education should be brought within the reach of both men and women of these classes.

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  1. Why is the author so concerned with the education of women of the middle and upper classes?
  2. Do you agree with the author that the welfare of Ireland depended on the moral influence exerted by an educated middle class? Explain your views.
  3. To what extent was the author representative of Irishwomen in general?
  4. Was this deputation successful or not? Explain your answer.
  5. Does this document seem balanced or biased in any way? Explain your answer.

The Northern Whig, 16 July 1878.

[Reporting Mr Gladstone's explanation in the House of Commons as to why he thought the
proposal to include women in the Intermediate Bill was reasonable and fair.]

'Upon grounds of justice, it was only fair that women who, quite irrespective of political aims, were making such great efforts for advancement, and as to whom so just a feeling had arisen, which was shown by many of those who stopped short of voting for parliamentary measures for their political enfranchisement, that they received less than their due, should receive increased educational advantages. He was most anxious to impress upon the Government that they should make no scruple or difficulty as to admitting women to share in the fullest manner in these benefits. He heartily hoped it might pass as speedily as possible into law because it was a new boon to be conferred upon the people of Ireland in conformity with justice and with right, and which would tend to attach them more and more to the laws and institutions of this country'. (Cheers).


  1. Who made this speech and what position did he hold?
  2. Gladstone claimed that it was on the grounds of justice that women should be included in this Bill. Can you find any apparent contradiction between this assertion and the refusal of Parliament to give women the vote? Explain why you think this was so.
  3. Can you find any evidence from earlier sources to show that Gladstone had changed his views on the education of Irishwomen? Give two reasons why he might have done so.
  4. How does this speech compare with other available sources? Does it seem accurate?
  5. What results did Gladstone suggest would come about in Ireland as a result of the passing of this Bill? Do you agree with his conclusions? Explain your answer.
  6. Gladstone was an orator who was able to bring his audience with him. Can you find any indication of this skill in the above passage?

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