28 APRIL 1939, Page 30


The History of Bedford College for Women. By Margaret J. Tuke. (Oxford University Press. nos. 6d.)

NDIETy years ago Mrs. Elizabeth Reid, a widow who was neither very wealthy nor wholly wise, became illuminated by the idea that mankind would be the better for the higher education of women. "If (men) would hear, see and feel as I do, that we shall never have better Men till men have better mothers, they would come flocking about us," she said, and by 1849 she had found a few to agree with her. She then advanced £1,5oo and took a house in Bedford Square, and they issued a prospectus stating that "Ladies over the age of 12 years would be admitted to a curriculum of a liberal education."

The life of the half-school, half-college so launched was in constant danger from within and without. Its original constitution was vague, and the definite principle to which its founder clung, namely, that women should have a real share in its control, only added to the opportunities for disaster. "It was a new undertaking unguided by precedent to unite men and women in a single governing body," as Erasmus Darwin, its first chairman, said, and the precedent was not easy to make. Even the ablest and most forceful of Victorian women were unschooled in committee procedure : "Over half an hour was wasted by one of the lady members lament- ing that she had nothing to say on the question."

Greatly as all this made for confusion, the early troubles of the college were of deeper origin. The religious question, the doubt whether a college really was wanted rather than a school, the financial stringency, the problems of accommoda- tion, and above all, the difficult question of who was to control the policy and the staffing of the venture, caused crisis upon crisis, and no sooner was one storm over than another began.

Dame Margaret Tuke shows how the college lived through all these dangers, and who contributed to its life. She gives accounts of the men and women who caused and solved its early difficulties, making a gallery of portraits of Victorians, many of whom wete eminent in the outer world, and all of whom were " characters " in every sense of the word. By their efforts—contradictory and conflicting as they often were —the college grew. It moved from Bedford Square to Baker Street in 1874, and in 1878—when London University opened its degrees to women—it prepared students for degrees. In 1884 the age of entry was raised to 16, and by 1894, when the first Treasury grant was received, the school element had gone.

By 1900, when London University became a teaching as well as an examining body, Bedford College was fully ready for its place, and since 1913, when the move to Regent's Park was accomplished, it has grown to be one of the major colleges in the University, with as many graduate and under- graduate women students as all the five women's colleges at Oxford put together, with a budget of over L80,000, and a standing in the educational world which would have seemed incredible even to the most far-sighted of its founders. In this book the story of the amazing development of Mrs. Reid's idea is clearly told, and it is a record of great value.