Department or Program
Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor
Working and middle-class girls’ education underwent significant reform in Victorian England. These reforms have been widely studied, with scholars divided into two broad historiographical schools: one that emerged in the late 1970s and places emphasis on the theory behind the reform to argue that little changed, and one that developed around 1990 and focuses on tangible practical change to demonstrate that a transformation did indeed occur.
The purpose of this thesis is to bridge the gap between these two bodies of scholarship, examining the significance of girls’ educational reform from the subjective positions of some working-class and middle-class girls, as expressed in their memoirs. It demonstrates that while conservative attitudes regarding both the fundamental purpose and overall utility of girls’ education persisted (and indeed, remained prevalent) well into the late 19th century, major reforms within schools significantly altered the school experience for the majority of Victorian girls. These reforms drastically changed not only the educational but also the occupational landscape for young Victorian and Edwardian women. Thus this study concludes that girls’ educational reform, while not completely transformative, did transform the lives of many individual women.