The Cambridge Training College for Women Teachers:

the founding decade 1885-1895

The Cambridge Training College was a pioneering institution for the training of educated women to enter teaching as a profession. Founded in 1885 by Frances Buss, headmistress of North London Collegiate School and her deputy, Sophie Bryant, its first Principal was Elizabeth Phillips Hughes. Initially kept at arm's length by the University of Cambridge, which welcomed neither women nor professionalism, it was eventually recognised as an associated institution in 1949, changing its name to Hughes Hall. In the rapidly changing higher world of the 1960s and 1970s, Hughes Hall was opened to both women and men, in all fields of research and advanced studies, achieving full membership of the University as one of Cambridge's four graduate colleges in 2006. This study formed the basis of the first four chapters of the handsomely illustrated commemorative volume, Hughes Hall Cambridge 1885-2010 (London: Third Millennium International, 2011). It is republished here to focus on the founding decade of the Cambridge Training College.


The Cambridge Training College for Women Teachers:

the founding decade 1885-1895

Ged Martin










The centenary of the founding of the Cambridge Training College (usually referred to as 'CTC') was marked in 1985 by the publication of Margaret Bottrall's commissioned history, Hughes Hall, 1885-1985. Another hundredth birthday, of the College's Wollaston Road building, continued the story with Howard Bradley's Hughes Hall: A Short Illustrated History. For the 125th anniversary, in 2010, it seemed appropriate to go back to CTC's earliest days, re-examining its legendary foundation by a disparate group of fourteen students packed into two small houses on the fringe of the town, and under the anxious care of a young, slightly-built and utterly inexperienced Principal, Elizabeth Hughes. With defensive pride, historians of Hughes Hall have tended to adopt an "onward and approach" to its long march towards full membership of Cambridge University. Perversely, it is only by rediscovering the obstacles and frustrations of those early years as they emerge from the unpublished records that we can fully appreciate the enormous achievement of the establishment of CTC, and the remarkable contribution that it made to women's education in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain. By great good fortune, Molly Thomas, one of those fourteen pioneer students, wrote an autobiography which gives us a series of endearing glimpses into CTC in its first challenging year of existence. (A London Girl of the 1880s was published under her married name which, a little confusingly, was M.V. Hughes.) In returning to Molly's account of that torrential year, we should keep in mind that she was writing about CTC's very first academic session, a pioneer year of experiment and expedient. Fortunately, in 2004, Dr Pam Hirsch of Newnham College published a scholarly and very readable discussion of the work of Elizabeth Hughes (which forms part of Pam Hirsch and Mark McBeth, Teacher Training at Cambridge). It is now possible to set Molly's memories against the context of the aims and methods of Miss Hughes. Together they evoke a picture of an impressive initiative, driven by three formidable women. The project of a Cambridge-based teacher-training course for educated women was conceived and driven by Frances Buss, the formidable headmistress of North London Collegiate School, and her deputy, Sophie Bryant, who combined a sharp intellect with a feminine charm capable of undermining male chauvinist distrust of bluestockings. Elizabeth Hughes, who found herself converting their "scheme" into a free-standing college, was somebody who came late to formal education but who nonetheless achieved First Class Honours in her Cambridge examinations. (Appropriately, modern-day Hughes Hall is not only a graduate institution, but also supports mature students studying for Cambridge undergraduate degrees.)

In defiance of the modern convention of unvarnished surname use, the impressive women who pioneered CTC are alluded to in terms that they used themselves, as "Miss" and "Mrs". This is intended to be neither archaic nor ironic, but a simple gesture of respect. It is modified only in relation to (Mrs) Sophie Bryant, who held a doctorate. Unpublished reports in the Hughes Halls archives form a major source for the story of CTC's first decade. These are extensively quoted, but are specifically cited in the Endnotes, since they are easily identified by their context. The Note on Sources and Abbreviations preceding the Endnotes gives further information.


The cab seemed to be heading away from the centre of the town of Cambridge, towards the fading light of the late afternoon, and Molly's sense of adventure began to give way to a feeling of unease.[1] Although she was only eighteen, Molly Thomas was unusually self-reliant for a young Victorian lady and this was not the first time she had travelled alone. Even before her father's death six years earlier, she had become accustomed to being despatched for holidays to the generous aunt in Cornwall who later helped pay her school fees. Indeed, Molly had actively sought a liberal academic education, spending three years at the famous North London Collegiate, a pioneering high school for girls created by the formidable Miss Frances Buss. Now, on this September Sunday afternoon in 1885, she was taking the first step towards another un-Victorian objective, earning her own living as a teacher. Miss Buss had taken Molly under her wing, even inventing a mystery benefactor when the tin-mining shares owned by the Cornish aunt had taken a plunge and she was no longer able to bank-roll her niece's studies. Miss Buss would have thought it vulgar to operate on a quid pro quo basis, but somehow Molly's destiny was moulded for her by the powerful and pervasive personality of her headmistress. She would become a teacher. "It seemed a fairly pleasing prospect," Molly recalled, one that involved nothing more than "talking and putting red crosses on other people's mistakes."[2] But her mentors had more complex ideas about the professionalisation of teaching, and the year Molly left school, a training college for women was being launched by Miss Buss and her energetic deputy, Mrs Bryant. A brilliant teacher, Dublin-born Sophie Bryant, a bride at nineteen, a widow at twenty, had become the previous year the first woman to earn a doctorate in science. Frances Buss generously called her "my accomplished and brilliant young fellow-worker ... who is as good and as charming as she is clever."[3] Matrimony had never tempted Frances Buss. Like her contemporary Dorothea Beale of Cheltenham Ladies College, she had made herself into a pioneer career woman:

Miss Buss and Miss Beale,

Cupid's dart do not feel.

How different from us,

Miss Beale and Miss Buss.

We are told, implausibly, that Frances Buss saw the funny side of the rhyme.[4] Miss Buss and Dr Bryant decided to launch their teacher-training experiment in Cambridge, where they could draw upon the support of a cohort composed of male dons and female educators. As we shall see, their original plan, that Newnham College should sponsor the project, came apart when the Newnham Council indicated mild surprise at being bounced into an unknown venture. In short order, and with very little ground work, the experiment was launched in the guise of an independent college. One of Molly's brothers had studied at Jesus College, an experience that had transformed him from "a diffident and rather morbid schoolboy" into "an animated and charming young man." Molly's mother was excited at the thought that her daughter was also "going up," Molly had tried to contain maternal enthusiasm: "it isn't like Girton or Newnham," she warned her mother, "it's quite a beginning place."[5]

So it was that Molly Thomas found herself clip-clopping through the streets of an unknown town – unknown because her brother had never thought to invite his female kin to visit him in Cambridge. It was Monday 14 September 1885, the high noon of the Victorian age. Queen Victoria herself was at Balmoral, where she had spent the weekend firing off telegrams to Lord Salisbury, the ninth prime minister of her reign, full of agitated advice on foreign policy. Although the Queen was no enthusiast for female education, she was certainly not reticent in expressing her own opinions. That other great monument of the Victorian age, Mr Gladstone, only recently ousted from Downing Street, had spent the weekend at his castle in Wales reading about St Paul, and plotting to declare himself in favour of Home Rule for Ireland. Britain was facing into a general election, at which voters would decide not only the future of Ireland but would be momentarily entrusted through the ballot box with the destinies of the greatest Empire the world had ever seen. Imperial frontiers were still jerkily expanding. The previous year, General Gordon had perished, heroically if foolishly, defending Khartoum against the people who lived there. In the west, the two ends of the Canadian Pacific Railway were snaking towards one another in the mountains of British Columbia, where they would meet a few weeks later to link Canada from ocean to ocean. In the east, the British Raj was gearing up to complete the conquest of Burma, with the eager encouragement of the secretary of state for India, Lord Randolph Churchill, father of a ten-year-old son called Winston. In the south, gold would be discovered a few months later in the Transvaal and a village called Johannesburg would mushroom into a bonanza city. Although she had the good taste to dislike Mr Gladstone, the upcoming election would not mean much to Molly. It was not simply that she was too young to vote, for youth is an affliction that can be cured by the accretion of time. It was rather that she was female and so could never -- at least until 1918 -- be entrusted with the responsibilities of citizenship. Whether she realised it or not, Molly Thomas formed part of a Buss-Bryant strategy to challenge those values of gender superiority, in which even the ideal of democracy was about 'one man one vote'. It was to prove that women could achieve equal status in the professions that she was clattering through streets of Cambridge, her bulging trunk lashed to the back of a horse-drawn cab, on her way to the Cambridge Training College at Crofton Cottages, Merton Street, Newnham Croft.

Perhaps Molly caught
a few glimpses of colleges, although as it was out of term there would have been few gowned figures hurrying along the pavements. However, her cab soon began to trundle away from the town centre, eventually stopping "outside a mean little row of houses all stuck together". Molly was reminded of lodging houses in "the less cheerful outskirts of London". Today, even though they have been academically gentrified, the short criss-cross of streets that constitutes Newnham Croft has something of the air of a stage set for an East Anglian version of Coronation Street. The cab-driver had reached Merton Street and was asking her which house she wanted. Molly was about to say that there must be some mistake, when the door of an unprepossessing brick building opened and a well-built young woman in her early twenties called in a friendly voice, "Is this Miss Thomas?" Molly had never in her life been addressed as "Miss Thomas", but it could hardly have sounded more incongruous than calling Crofton Cottages the "Cambridge Training College for Women Teachers".[6] This resounding title was quickly shortened to CTC, and by a process of transfer within a few years its students were calling themselves CTCs. It became an affectionately cherished abbreviation, especially in later decades when the bicycle became the standard form of student transport, and the young women hurrying off around the town to teaching practice interpreted the initials as standing for Cyclists' Touring Club. The surrender of the name in 1949-50 in favour of its present title, Elizabeth Phillips Hughes Hall was much regretted by the CTC old guard. Marguerite Verini, the Principal who presided the re-baptism, nostalgically remarked three years later that the initials CTC "seemed to stand for the College entity more vividly than the words they indicated".[7]



Hughes Hall is unusual in having been established very largely to meet the needs of a particular secondary school. New College Oxford was founded in 1379 in conjunction with Winchester, and King's College Cambridge was set up in 1440 in parallel with Eton, but in each case the link was to ensure a guaranteed path for schoolboys to proceed to university. The aim of the Cambridge Training College was rather to supply teachers, not solely for its principal progenitor Miss Buss but evidently in response to a felt need to improve the classroom experience at her North London Collegiate School. Thanks to the memoirs of Molly Thomas, we can appreciate that there was a pedagogical problem to be tackled.[8]

            North London Collegiate School was a Victorian success story, a pioneer project to supply academic education to girls. Founded in 1850 with 35 pupils, by 1865 there were over 200. Its growth was assisted by advances in the educational opportunities that became available to young women: in 1863 Cambridge experimentally opened its local examinations to girls, and two years later the arrangement was made permanent. Unfortunately there were also setbacks: as late as 1871, £5000 collected for women's education was diverted by trustees in the City of London to the completion of what seemed a more urgent project, a boys school on which £60,000 had already been spent. This blatant injustice was probably helpful in generating sympathy for Miss Buss, since money soon became available for the new buildings she so desperately needed, which were opened in 1879. By 1883 there were 500 girls. As a pioneer institution, North London Collegiate School found itself caught in a classic chicken-and-egg dilemma in finding teachers – educated women teachers – capable of sustaining its academic aims. In the early years, it undoubtedly fell short of realising its targets.

Arriving at the age of sixteen, Molly was quickly "disappointed with the work and disheartened by the atmosphere".[9] Not until she encountered the brilliantly gifted Dr Sophie Bryant in the sixth form did Molly begin to enjoy North London Collegiate. Lower down the school, the teaching was uninspiring and even unreliable. French was learnt without any attempt to speak the language (indeed speaking in class except in answer to a direct question was forbidden). Shakespeare was studied by memorising not the Bard's own text but the footnotes in the edition used, which generally mangled Shakespeare's words. Even in Upper Fifth, the Latin teacher surreptitiously used a crib, and no discussion of translations was allowed. (Latin was compulsory in the upper forms, "except in the case of delicate girls".[10]) In a History test, one persistent girl managed to negotiate half a mark for giving the date of the Spanish Armada as 1488.

            "Character as the prime aim of education soon became the key-note of North London practice," recalled Dr Bryant. The school declared war upon "the original sin of literary untidiness," emphasising "punctuality, accuracy, order, method, and the cultivation of the clerkly business abilities generally."[11] So much for the theory. The practice, encountered by Molly, was a welter of arbitrary regulations, enforced by compelling the girls to sign themselves and their sins into "The Appearing Book". It was an offence for girls to drop a pencil case or to walk more than three abreast. It was an offence to answer a question in class unless you had first been invited to respond. It was even against the rules to get wet coming to school. Girls were required to secure their mothers' signature to a nightly homework timetable, to confirm that they had devoted the required time to each subject. It was not an offence to forge your mother's signature, presumably because Miss Buss was not aware of this widespread practice. One girl airily explained that she was doing nothing wrong, since she was named after her mother and so entitled to use her name. The system evidently did not instil the inward sense of ethics that the Victorians usually meant by "character". Indeed, girls were not always sure how to confess their offences. Biology homework could include drawing diagrams of the human circulatory system. One pupil got into trouble because she forgot to bring a key diagram to school. "I left my heart at home," she wrote.[12]

            Detractors who assumed that Miss Buss had long since mislaid that crucial organ probably did her a disservice. However, the entire disciplinary system of North London Collegiate School undoubtedly pivoted upon her terrifying personality. The imposition of order upon a community of five hundred teenage girls was literally uncharted territory, all the more so as the violent sanctions employed in boys schools were unthinkable. Girls travelled from all parts of the capital to attend the school, hence even after-class detentions were out of the question. Girls whose misdeeds were recorded too frequently often in The Appearing Book were summoned to be quietly but devastatingly reprimanded by Miss Buss, who prided herself on being able to reduce any girl to tears within minutes. Perversely, she despised recourse to feminine defence mechanisms, and was even capable of forbidding girls to faint.

"In the years to come," she once wrote, "I hope many a woman will thank me in her heart for behaving harshly to her in her girlhood, in all matters of tears or want of self-control, and so putting before another ideal: that of a woman who is strong to bear, to endure, to suffer, rather than that of the weak woman always ready to give way at the least difficulty."[13]

            This noble, if bleak, sentiment was not obvious to the young females on the receiving end of an arbitrary system. Molly described North London Collegiate School as "an elaborate machine for doing the minimum of useful things with the maximum of fuss."[14] Once, her mother wrote seeking permission to withdraw her from school to attend a family event. Molly joined a queue of daily petitioners for the headmistress's favour, and in due course handed over her mother's note. She was met with a storm of abuse: did Molly think Miss Buss had nothing better to do that open letters in sealed envelopes? Chastened, she went to the back of the queue and extracted the document. It did not occur to Miss Buss that it might have been deemed disrespectful to have handed over a letter without the courtesy of a covering envelope, and downright impudent to have opened a missive addressed to somebody else.

            Sophie Bryant once asserted that "the most important factor in education is the personality of the learner."[15] Elizabeth Hughes echoed this in 1894 when she stated that CTC students who already had teaching experience had become "accustomed for the sake of discipline to think of the whole class" and "forgotten the right of each individual child."[16] The

classroom culture of North London Collegiate seems to have fallen well short of the ideal.

Teachers invariably addressed girls, in tones of cold indifference, as "dear". A file of cards was available for each class, each card bearing the name of a girl. Teachers could pull them out at random and direct questions to named individuals, even though they might not know them by sight. On one occasion, a nervous student teacher was let loose on Molly's class to deliver a test lesson supervised by Miss Buss herself. Unfortunately, she was issued with the wrong pack of name-cards, and slid steadily closer to tears as girl after girl, none of them present, was called upon to answer in inexorable silence. When she discovered the mix-up, Miss Buss angrily reproved the girls for failing to point out the mistake, although it is revealing that she had not noticed it herself. The criticism was hardly fair, for pupils were strictly forbidden to speak out of turn. In the sacred school hall, talking under any circumstances was an exceptionally serious offence. When the stage caught fire during a school play, an uncomprehending Miss Buss complimented the terrified girls on their self-control in not drawing attention to the danger.

Instinctively Molly Thomas connected the rigid and random system of discipline with the inadequate quality of the teaching staff, "the sub-conscious fear that the assistant teachers could not carry on if there were much freedom for questioning and discussion in class."[17] She also believed that Miss Buss liked things that way, preferring to recruit as teachers her own past pupils whom she could control rather than opening the school to intelligent and educated women who might challenge her omniscient omnipotence. Molly was right in her first assumption, but unfair to Frances Buss in her second. Educated women simply did not exist in sufficiently large numbers to undertake the kind of flexible and individualised teaching that Molly had hoped to encounter and which Sophie Bryant and Elizabeth Hughes defined as the ideal. At Cheltenham, Miss Beale operated an in-house and in-service programme for her young teachers, and that is where Elizabeth Hughes acquired her training. Miss Buss never had the resources nor, more crucially, the time to attempt this. The rapid growth of North London Collegiate School made the problem still worse. "I scarcely know what to do for teachers, and am in correspondence with all sorts of people," Frances Buss wrote in 1871. "Old pupils do not seem available, or they are not mature enough."[18] Once free of Miss Buss, North Londoners did not stampede back to her staff room.

Miss Buss even imported a few stray male teachers, one of whom taught composition to the upper forms, who disliked him intensely. He certainly did not interpret his mandate as the encouragement of creative writing, sneering at any attempt at originality as "trying to be clever". However, the girls discovered that he had no concept of plagiarism and could easily be pacified by chunks copied from encyclopaedias. It took the indomitable willpower of Frances Buss to keep the North London show on the road. There was little she could do to help her staff improve their teaching skills, but she was acutely aware of the need for professional training.[19]


There were two extreme poles of approach to teaching in England, and in mid-Victorian times, the issue of professional training was impaled between them. At the one extreme, the public schools for boys educated the sons of gentlemen, although there were cynics who saw them as agents of gentrification which lacquered a veneer of refinement upon the fathers of subsequent generations. There was something perversely English about the use of the phrase "public schools" to describe fee-paying institutions dedicated to the defence of privilege. The term denoted schools which had originated from some form of independent foundation, usually charitable in nature, although the resulting enterprises did their determined best to resist any form of community supervision of their activities. At the lower end of the social spectrum, a myriad of Anglican and Nonconformist elementary schools drilled basic literacy into the children of the masses. This hit-and-miss network was supplemented and systematised after the passage of the 1870 Education Act by ratepayer-funded Board schools.

            These two educational sectors adopted diametrically opposed attitudes to the training of teachers, with the public schools embracing the cult of the amateur while the elementary network was based upon an arid system of the inculcation of fact-based knowledge and skills. The public schools stressed the development of "character" by masters who were superior human beings, clean in mind and body, orthodox (usually Anglican) in religion and preferably keen on sport. Teaching of the Classics, imbibed through their own University training at Cambridge and Oxford, was the preferred medium for this form of inspirational guidance but it was essentially a means towards moral ends, the curbing of boyish vice and the channelling of manly self-respect. The quality of the master depended on who he was, not what he had learned -- or could convey. Since the key forum of interaction with pupils was the classroom, it was through the classroom that the young aspiring master acquired his skills. Maria Grey, founder in 1878 of CTC's forerunner, the Bishopsgate Training College for Women, was scathing about the "singular superstition ... that instruction is education, and that the possession of knowledge and the power to impart it are one and the same thing". This "disastrous" assumption had created a situation where "training to teach was considered necessary only for elementary school teachers, whose want of knowledge was assumed; while any young man who had taken a brilliant degree at Oxford or Cambridge could always secure a good appointment", despite his utter lack of any understanding "of the mental and moral nature of the young creatures committed to his care, or of any method of teaching and training them".[20]

            Public school headmasters, who were mostly in Holy Orders, were addicted to inspirational sentiments that often proved to be portentous rather than profound. For a few years after 1878, some of them would embrace the notion that classroom training would constitute a useful preparation for a career as a schoolmaster. However, they quickly grasped that any flirtation with training would undermine their basic commitment to the ideal of the gifted amateur, and hence reverted to a stance that "the application of lecture-taught rules" could not possibly equip a man to face a raw horde of boys. Dr Herbert Kynaston, headmaster of Cheltenham College (which was not connected to Miss Beale's academy for ladies) put the case forcefully in a letter to The Times in 1887. "It is surely impossible to certify by examination that any man is a practically efficient teacher; and, if he is not that, his theory is worthless." A schoolmaster who had himself "been educated at a public school has had a previous training which, if he is a man of intelligence and sound common sense, must be of service to him". Kynaston defined this as "a vivid recollection of the methods of his former teachers – of the reasons why this one failed and that one succeeded; and he knows what are the difficulties of public school boys, and why they can get on with one master, but not with another." As one critic put it, one might equally argue "that the best physician is the man who has been attended in his youth by the largest number of doctors."[21] Unfortunately, public school opposition tended to harden. A C Benson, an Eton master and later a Magdalene don, was a mild educational reformer, who even accepted that "a certain period of training would probably be beneficial to most secondary teachers". However, he not only dismissed the notion "that a training in pedagogy necessarily makes a man a good teacher" but went on to imply that the process might even be counter-productive. "The best teachers I have ever known have been untrained," he informed readers of The Times in 1902. "The most inefficient teacher I have ever known was a highly trained product, familiar with all the psychological and scientific theories of educational philosophers."[22]

            Dr Kynaston conceded that "female teachers of the present day" lacked the experience of inspirational role models, the implication being that resort to training colleges was acceptable for women. However, given that academic secondary education for girls was attempting to establish itself under the shadow of the masculine public school system, the consistent lack of enthusiasm in the male independent sector for teacher training and its dogmatic preference for gifted amateurs were major handicaps. As a result, any attempt to launch teacher training for educated women would be liable to be associated in the public mind with the frankly dire system of training colleges for elementary teachers. These had grown out of institution of monitors or pupil teachers, originated more or less simultaneously in the early nineteenth century by the Quaker Joseph Lancaster and the Anglican Andrew Bell. Pupil teachers were bright youngsters, recruited at around the age of thirteen to work as classroom assistants. Later, the ablest of them would receive college training, which combined some study of the theory of teaching with a pastiche of a general education, heavily weighted towards rote learning which they would later recycle in the classroom. The alternative name for training colleges, "Normal Schools""reflected the assumption that there was a fixed, mechanical way of delivering classroom teaching, a "norm", that could be ingested and regurgitated. A college at Bangor in Wales retained the term in its title until 1996.[23]

The State was involved in funding schools well before it established its own elementary network in 1870 and, as with so often with government initiatives, ministers were anxious to secure obvious and measurable returns at the lowest possible cost. The notorious Revised Code of 1861, a Gradgrind system based on "payment by results," further narrowed the educational value of the training colleges by prescribing a curriculum that emphasised "cultivation of the power of memory, facility in mental calculation, close attention to English composition, and some knowledge of economy, political, social and sanitary." As the historian of teacher training, R.W. Rich, put it, "the idealism in education that had been developing during the preceding twenty years was replaced by a sordid materialism."[24] The Revised Code succeeded in its cost-cutting aims by driving down teachers' incomes. As a result, the numbers entering the elementary training colleges fell sharply, making their managers all the more conscious of the need for effective throughput of students, upon whose examination success their income depended. This was also the decade when the rulers of Britain became fixated by the "Prussian schoolmaster", the mythic prim pedagogue behind the rise of Bismarck's Germany and its bid for industrial strength and geopolitical supremacy. It was an image that did nothing to lighten the atmosphere of the elementary training colleges. To cap it all, not only was the education they provided dreary and repetitive but the subject matter also became encrusted with pretentious jargon. An Inspector reported with disgust in 1869 of a student who had said she would teach a certain subject by adopting "the catechetical, picturing-out, exhibitory explanation."[25]

            It was not surprising that the first generation of young women to be introduced to the liberating excitement of university degree studies were not attracted to postgraduate training in such places. As Sophie Bryant later recalled: "Either they despised it, or they could not afford it, of they did not like it, and could get entrance to the schools without it." The result, as she put it, was that in the emerging female teaching profession, as in the male, there was a "growing danger" of a division between "those who were highly educated and not trained, and those who were trained but not highly educated."[26] It was, of course, not just a division of classroom but of class: elementary school teachers came from the lower orders, educated women were young ladies.

            Behind this gloomy picture, there were signs of change during the eighteen-seventies which pointed to the beginning of a recognisably modern concept of academic secondary teaching. In one sense, the development of higher education for women, conventionally seen as one of the headline breakthroughs of the decade, represented the icing on a far more substantial cake. In 1872, the Girls' Public Day Schools Company (later Trust) was founded, with the intention of establishing schools that would give teenage girls access to an academic curriculum, in effect replicating North London Collegiate around the country. There were twenty-two of them by 1880, and their rapid multiplication could only have put pressure on the already strained supply of appropriate teachers. However, it was an unforeseen by-product of the 1870 Education Act which arguably opened the way for the most revolutionary change. Officially the legislation aimed to create universal schooling to age of eleven, but many of the new School Boards were soon providing for the continuation of study beyond the age of twelve in "higher grade" schools. Mostly these concentrated on training youngsters for the job market, but floating about in educational debate was the sociologically revealing term, "middle-class schools," which would offer a more academic curriculum. The unspoken gloss on the name was that such schools were for lower-middle class families, who might aspire to give their children a better education but could only do so at cut-price rates. In the twentieth century, they would come to be called grammar schools. Higher grade classes were often tacked on to premises that already catered for five-to-eleven year-olds as associated "departments". This was the approach adopted in Cambridge, and the crossover gave Elizabeth Hughes the opportunity to expose CTC students to classes of younger children, on the reasonable assumption that a teacher working with young teens should also be familiar with their junior background.

It would take thirty years for a fully-fledged system of secondary education to emerge in England. A royal commission reviewed the subject in 1894-95, with Elizabeth Hughes as an impressive witness, but governments were naturally reluctant to incur a major new area of expenditure, and politicians were wary about the inevitable dog-collar fight which would break out once the prospect of legislation posed questions about doctrinal purity in the classroom and the disposal of public cash. Eventually a court case in 1900 ruled that it was illegal under the 1870 Act to spend money on the schooling of the over-elevens, and this brought about the formal recognition of secondary education in the Education Act of 1902. Nonetheless, the modern system of secondary schooling has its roots in the forward leaps of the eighteen-seventies.

            Even so, the training of teachers for the emerging secondary sector was slow to take off. "Training colleges do not exist," stated an article in the Journal of the Women's Education Union in 1873.[27] However, the first stirrings were visible, and Frances Buss had a hand in two of them. The Home and Colonial Training College, where she herself had trained, had been persuaded to establish what was revealingly called a "governess class" while, under her prodding, the College of Preceptors, a shadowy body founded in 1846 to raise the status of the teaching profession, appointed the United Kingdom's first Professor of Education in 1873. His lectures in effect provided in-service training for teachers who were already in post. But the major step came in 1879 when her co-campaigner Maria Grey opened the Bishopsgate College to train women for secondary teaching. Mrs Grey fell ill soon afterwards, and following her death in 1885 the institution was renamed in her honour.

            The fledgling movement for female teacher training still felt the need to be validated by a parallel acceptance among the men. The initiative in 1879 by Cambridge University to provide external examinations in education theory, discussed in the next section, offered both encouragement and, perhaps more important, a framework of potential qualifications at which newly established institutions might aim. Public school headmasters gave contradictory signals, sometimes pledging themselves to the encouragement of a trained profession, but more often by their actions and hirings indicating their preference for amateurism. One of their upswings resulted in the opening, in 1883, of a small secondary training college for men in Finsbury, whose existence was regarded as an important "cover" by the circle around Miss Buss. Its collapse in 1886 was seen as a blow to CTC, leaving the tiny Newnham Croft venture awkwardly isolated in functional terms.

            By 1885, two other developments probably helped to impel Miss Buss towards her own, Cambridge-based, project. First, in 1885 Dorothea Beale at Cheltenham was moving towards hiving off her own training department into a separate college. Cheltenham Ladies' College naturally charged high fees, and it seems likely that parents objected to their girls being expensively used as guinea pigs. Miss Beale and Miss Buss were allies, but it would not do to allow Cheltenham to get too far ahead. Second, Frances Buss had failed to persuade the Bishopsgate College to link itself to her own North London Collegiate School: "after mature consideration the [Bishopsgate] council held that it would be better to pursue a more independent course".[28] Relations remained amicable, but Maria Grey College set off on a trajectory of its own. Frances Buss and Sophie Bryant were free to pursue their own initiative which, in typically ambitious fashion, targeted the increasing number of educated young women who were emerging from the two female colleges established on the fringes of Cambridge University. As Miss Buss reported to a friend, Girton and Newnham students "will not go to Bishopsgate" but she and Dr Bryant believed "they may be induced to stay in Cambridge for a time" and receive their training there. And so it was, by the early months of 1885, Frances Buss was turning her mind to a "scheme" or a "class" -- not necessarily a wholly new college -- but a project located in the ancient University town.[29]



The choice of Cambridge was no accident. In 1863 Cambridge University opened its Higher Local Examinations, distant forerunners of A-levels, to women.[30] This gave schools like North London Collegiate a respected target at which to aim, and the gesture won the ferocious loyalty of its headmistress. "Her gratitude to the University of Cambridge for having been the first to come to the help of the girls was very beautiful and touching. ... She loved Cambridge as if it had been her own Alma Mater."[31] However, access to the Higher Locals did not point to establishing colleges on the Cam, since the examinations could be taken at centres around the country. But in 1878, Cambridge took a further important step which would have unintended consequences. Responding to pressure from various sources, including a temporary barrage of worthy sentiments from public school headmasters, the University decided to establish a Teachers' Training Syndicate, complete with a punctilious apostrophe, which began work the following year. ("Syndicate" is a Cambridge word for a committee.) The initial intention was to provide training for Cambridge undergraduates who planned to enter the teaching profession, but the Teachers' Training Syndicate also offered its qualifications extramurally, so once again there was no need for a college to establish itself in the town in order to benefit from the programme.

In fact the Teachers' Training Syndicate offered two certificates, one in theory and the other in the practice of teaching, the point of the split being to defend the University against issuing all-embracing pieces of paper to candidates who might prove incapable of survival in the classroom. The Teachers' Training Syndicate is usually associated with its founding secretary and undoubtedly driving force, Oscar Browning of King's. Browning had been driven out of his previous job as an Eton master in 1875 on trumped-up grounds, but essentially because his orientation (although probably not his practice) was homosexual.[32] For all his notable faults, which became more pronounced over the years, Browning was a genuine educational reformer. He was probably mainly responsible for the detailed and challenging syllabus set by the Teachers' Training Syndicate, and the programme formally launched in 1879 forms an essential element in the prehistory of CTC. Indeed, four aspects of the development of the Teachers' Training Syndicate paved the way for the establishment of the Cambridge Training College for Women Teachers six years later.

Of these four elements, the most important was the syllabus itself, which comprised three detailed papers. The first dealt with the Theory of Education, including such topics as the characteristics of childhood, the development of mental faculties, the acquisition of knowledge, the will, character and habits, memory, taste and imagination, discipline and rewards. The second paper dealt with the History of Education in Europe since the Renaissance, studying both the work of eminent teachers and the ideas of education theorists (one of whom, in the list of set books, was Browning himself). This paper included a special subject element which varied from year to year. In 1880 students got to grips with Locke and Matthew Arnold; in 1883, the focus was Milton and Pestalozzi – evidently a balance of ancient and modern. The third paper, on the Practice of Education, was wide-ranging and challenging. There were sections on method and school management which dealt with a frightening array of practical issues, from oral teaching, the use of textbooks, the art of examining and the management of curriculum to classroom furniture, attendance registration and school hygiene. Paper Three represented a startlingly practical innovation for Cambridge: here was a major university offering a course on how to arrange desks and mark an attendance register.[33] The basic importance of the Teachers' Training Syndicate was that it established the syllabus that CTC followed from the outset. Elizabeth Hughes had to work out how to train her teachers but she did not have to determine the topics they had to study. It is important to stress that CTC was not a degree-granting or diploma-awarding college in its own right. The establishment by Cambridge of its Teachers' Training Syndicate created ready-made a matrix of study into which other colleges could fit, and an externally validated qualification at which they could aim.

Second, the University established a handful of lecture courses associated with the work of the Syndicate. Although in their first year these were reported to be "numerously attended," they did not set Cambridge on fire. Canon Evan Daniel of St John's Training College, Battersea, was imported to deliver a course of lectures, presumably on the despised practical aspects of school management but, as he ruefully told a royal commission in 1886, "there were not many of the undergraduates who found time to attend."[34] Their absence was tactfully ascribed to the demands of Tripos teaching, and the course was soon dropped. Even so, remarked J.G. Fitch, another of the lecturers brought in from outside, the decision by Cambridge University to "institute a course of lectures on the Art and Method of Teaching" was "a significant fact in the history of Education in England."[35] Fitch was a major figure in the educational world, a prominent Inspector of Schools and a close ally of Frances Buss in the fight to create opportunities for women. Like Canon Daniel, he did not contribute to the Syndicate's teaching for very long, probably because there were too many demands upon his time. However, in 1881 he published his lectures in a 400-page tome, which the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes as "written with clarity and elegance, and destined to become one of the most significant books on teaching methods produced in the nineteenth century." Fitch's book formed one of the staples of the first year of study at CTC. To Molly Thomas and her fellow students, it seemed to cover so many possible scenarios that "it seemed silly" and they tried "to get as much fun out of it as possible."[36] But Fitch had the last laugh, for his textbook remained in print until 1955.

In the story of the founding of CTC, the key figure in the original Teachers' Training Syndicate team – Sophie Bryant named him as one of the three founders[37] – was James Ward, a Fellow of Trinity College. He had originally come to Cambridge, the town not the University, as minister of the Emmanuel Congregational Church, but theological doubts had quickly forced him to resign. He had been persuaded by Henry Sidgwick, another prominent agnostic, to enter the University as what we would now call a mature student, and he had quickly become an expert in academic psychology. "He was a man who found things very difficult," recalled the philosopher G.E. Moore, who studied under him.[38] A supporter of women's education, in 1884 Ward married a brilliant young Newnham graduate, the college librarian Mary Martin, who had briefly worked as a pupil teacher before coming to Cambridge. James Ward provided liaison with the Teachers' Training Syndicate, which may help to explain why Oscar Browning apparently played no part in the founding of CTC. Ward's lectures took the form of an agonised dialogue with himself as he struggled to find the right words to convey his ideas, and they proved a challenge to the first cohort of CTC students. A later recruit to the Syndicate team, Bass Mullinger of St John's who lectured on the history of education, had serious difficulties handling interpersonal relations of all kinds, notably, it seems, a problem with women. On balance, it was the fact that the University provided outline lecture courses that was important, not their content.

            The third formative element was that, from the outset, the Teachers' Training Syndicate opened its examinations to women. It is to the credit of the oft-maligned Browning that he favoured this, since he might well have argued that the initiative of teacher training was so novel for a traditional University that caution was needed in challenging gender barriers as well. However, the precedent of the Cambridge Local Examinations pointed to the inclusion of women, and their fees would be welcome. The decision hardly amounted to an invitation to women to storm the portals of Cambridge, since the teaching certificate examinations could be taken in London. None the less, in an April 1879 letter to The Times, Maria Grey gratefully hailed the initiative. "It is notorious that every woman who could not dig and to beg was ashamed ... thought herself competent to be a governess." Luckily, parents were starting to require "some guarantee of competence beyond 'ladylike' appearance and manners, or the fact that having been born and bred to do nothing till family misfortunes created the necessity to do something". The establishment of the Cambridge Syndicate "at once constitutes teaching into a regular profession, and opens its doors to women on the same terms as to men."[39]

            If the third development, the opening of the certificate examinations to women, was by no means inevitable, the fourth was unforeseen and dramatic. Very quickly, the Cambridge Teachers' Training Syndicate examinations became dominated by women. From the outset, cohorts of candidates were entered by the Bishopsgate College, whereas very few men came forward. In 1884, seven men and 22 women presented for the certificate. In 1885, there were again seven men, competing with 28 women. In 1886, the first year that handful of CTC students entered (some of the original fourteen were below the minimum age of twenty), there were only three men but the number of women had risen to 48. As Browning gloomily concluded: "the proportion of men to women entering for the examination appears to be gradually becoming less."[40]

            The explanation for this gender imbalance lay in the sixth sense that undergraduates always possess enabling them to distinguish between requirements which are in fact obligatory and requirements which turn out to be merely pious and pro forma. In 1878, a circular to public school headmasters had elicited assurances that 29 of them would give weight to possession of a teaching certificate in making appointments, some even undertaking to withhold full job confirmation until the qualification had been obtained. In all, 35 schools declared themselves favourable to the encouragement of some form of training for their masters, and only eight were against.[41] So far, it seemed, so good.

However, virtuous rhetoric was part of the standard equipment of public school headmasters. More to the point, most of the 35 positive responses came from schools which were recent and in some cases marginal foundations. Eton declared itself unfavourable to requiring a teaching certificate from new appointees, although it was prepared to encourage younger masters to acquire it if they so wished – unlikely, given the workload of Eton staff. Harrow, Rugby and Winchester claimed to be generally favourable but refused to sign up to specific proposals. Even if they had wished to, the headmasters of the second-rank schools could hardly have raised the bar for new appointments by insisting upon a teaching certificate while the great schools thumbed their noses at the requirement. In 1878, Dr Kynaston of Cheltenham College had declared himself "partly favourable" to training. Nine years later, he had pulled up his intellectual drawbridge. "That subtle influence over boys which characterizes a 'good disciplinarian' is a quality which cannot be imparted by lectures," he pronounced, adding mystically: "We cannot tell how it is acquired."[42] As a result, Browning complained in 1887, while large numbers of young Cambridge undergraduates were keen to become schoolmasters, and competition was jobs was "keen", few of them took the programme of the Syndicate seriously. "Men wishing to be school-masters would be ready to do almost anything to improve their chance of gaining a post. If it were felt that head masters set the slightest value on the possession of a University certificate ... our class and examination rooms would be crowded."[43] Indeed, far from being valueless, possession of a teaching certificate might even have become counter-productive, a signal to potential employers that a young man was suspiciously deficient in "character" and, worse still, a potential troublemaker full of bookish theory. To supporters of the Teachers' Training Syndicate, as the young men conspicuously deserted their lectures, a class of trainee women teachers, not formally part of the University but resident in Cambridge and swelling its classes, must have seemed attractive.

            If the University of Cambridge provided lecture classes for trainee women teachers at one end of the educational spectrum, historians have overlooked the way in which the town of Cambridge supplied classrooms at the other end of the process. "When our college started," wrote Elizabeth Hughes in 1891, "we were the only training college that had no practising school of our own."[44] At Cheltenham, the training college had grown out of an established school, but in most of the elementary training colleges, a practising school was established as a training laboratory for the student teachers. The "model school", as it was sometimes called, suffered from the disadvantage of artificiality, but it was administratively convenient and was reassuringly under the control of the college principal: practising schools existed to provide training facilities and could not say 'no' when student teachers needed classroom time. "We have no practising school of our own," Elizabeth Hughes told the royal commission in 1894. How did CTC to manage without such a facility? In fact, the town of Cambridge in the mid-eighteen eighties offered the necessary solutions.

The best known school in Cambridge, the Perse, had been founded to teach boys back in 1615. In 1881, moving with the spirit of the times, the Perse trustees had diverted some of the foundation's income to the establishment of a girls' school. The Perse School for Girls, locally known as the "High School", was still a small-scale operation, based in a house in Panton Street, but its headmistress, Miss Kate Street, was an early and fervent supporter of CTC. Gwen Raverat, born Gwen Darwin (and, like CTC, in 1885) recalled that "the Perse School for Girls was not well spoken of" among donnish families: there was a reluctance to send their girls to day schools, presumably because they would be forced to mix with the daughters of the Town.[45] If Miss Buss was correct, and Girton and Newnham students could be persuaded to train in Cambridge, then it was likely that they might also wish to make their careers in the University town. Backing CTC would give Miss Street first choice among the best candidates, helping her to develop a first-rate teaching staff and so break down the academic prejudice against the local school. But Kate Street's support clearly went beyond calculations of personal advantage. She was among the nine founders who attended the inaugural committee meeting in May 1885, where she was appointed to a three-woman sub-committee that oversaw the furnishing of Crofton Cottages. During the College's first term she delivered a guest lecture to the CTC students on the training of teachers. She remained a mainstay of the successive committees and boards of trustees that ran CTC in its early decades. Indeed, it is likely that it was Kate Street's influence that blocked plans by Elizabeth Hughes to establish CTC's own "Middle Class Model School" in 1890. The project would have represented unfair competition with the Perse, and even Miss Hughes came to recognise that it would have been an intolerable addition to her workload. Another early progenitor of CTC – included by Sophie Bryant among the three originators of the project – was Margaret Verrall, a Newnhamite who later ran a small private school at her home in Selwyn Road. Since her husband was a professor, it is likely that her motivation stemmed from interest and commitment rather than from financial need. She too provided teaching practice opportunities – and not far from Crofton Cottages – although on a necessarily restricted scale.

            The Perse School for Girls represented one "pull" factor towards Cambridge, but a small academic girls school could hardly provide all the classroom teaching practice that even a modest training project would require. It was a second, and now forgotten, educational charity which probably clinched the attractiveness of the town of Cambridge as the location for Miss Buss's scheme. The 1870 Education Act had covered England with ratepayer-funded elementary schools and ratepayer-elected School Boards. Cambridge, however, was an exception, for long before 1870 the town possessed a comprehensive network of primary schools funded by a trust established by a Cambridge mathematics professor, William Whiston, back in 1704. Known as the "Old Schools", a term which confusingly in the twentieth century became the shorthand term for the University's own administration, they were administered ex officio by the incumbents of the town's fourteen Anglican parish churches. "We have no board schools in Cambridge," Elizabeth Hughes informed the royal commission.[46]

            The town did not suffer by this arrangement. The governors of the Old Schools kept up with current educational trends, including the provision of higher grade schools for the over-elevens. Indeed, these were in the process of considerable expansion as the CTC project took shape. Higher grade departments for both boys and girls were either added or enlarged during 1884 at King Street and Paradise Street for boys and Eden Street and Park Street for girls. J.G. Fitch had become chief Inspector of Schools for the eastern counties in 1883, and it is likely that it was through him that Frances Buss was informed about this expansion programme. We shall probably never know what negotiations, nudges or winks transpired between the projectors of CTC and the governors of the Old Schools, but we can be reasonably sure that the scheme would not have been launched in Cambridge without reasonable guarantee that its students would be accommodated for teaching practice.[47] An elected school board might have been less amenable to such an arrangement, and certainly less reliable in sticking by it. Local resentment against the privileged position of students erupted from time in Cambridge civic politics, and it would only need a few vocal ratepayers objecting to the wasting of their children's time by a bunch of dilettante trainee governesses for the school doors to have banged shut on CTC. In her first report, Miss Hughes praised the "kindness and help" she had received from local headmistresses. No doubt their personal goodwill was genuine, but equally they would hardly have committed their schools without a clear indication from their own sponsors that CTC was to be supported.

            The key personality here was almost certainly the Reverend George Forrest Browne, a Fellow of St Catharine's College, who chaired the inaugural committee meeting in May 1885. Browne was a key figure among the small group of academic bureaucrats who ran Cambridge. He had virtually created the Local Examinations, and served for many years on the Council of the Senate, the academic cabinet that administered the University. The ben trovato story was told of an overseas visitor who was given an extensive conducted tour by a Cambridge academic. At the end of the day, the foreigner confessed his perplexity: he had seen all the colleges, but where was the University? At that moment, his host spotted G.F. Browne hurrying along the street, with a bundle of official documents under his arm. "There, Sir," he pronounced, "that man is the University."[48] Browne had taught briefly at Glenalmond, the Scottish public school, between graduation and election to his fellowship, and had served on the Teachers' Training Syndicate. As secretary of the Local Examination Syndicate, he had been closely involved in opening its qualifications to women. Almost certainly, it helped that Browne was not only an academic reformer but – an unusual combination – a man who was politically "the life and soul of the University Conservative Party" and, indeed, emotionally reactionary. He always deplored the decision of his own college to abandon its original name, Catherine Hall. Indeed, Browne took his college patriotism to unusual lengths, for he was highly vocal (and virtually isolated) in his defence of its embattled Master, C.K. Robinson, who was something of a pariah in Cambridge. Robinson had won his Mastership by a single vote, his own, cast – so his detractors whispered – in breach of an agreement with his opponent effectively to abstain by voting for each other.[49] A man of inexhaustible energy, Browne was also involved in municipal affairs and would have known what was going on in the Town. Dr Bryant recalled that he backed the idea of a Cambridge-based teacher training programme for women "from the first"[50] and he was probably the person who was best placed to broker the necessary deals that gave CTC students access to local schools. Another clergyman, the Reverend Alfred Rose, Bursar of Emmanuel College, was brought into the project at an early stage, and later served as treasurer for many years. Men like Browne and Rose 'ran' the University, in the sense that they kept its administration moving, but they could not dictate major policy changes. Ultimate authority rested with the Masters of Arts, which meant any graduate who had paid the necessary fee to upgrade his BA four years after graduating. Thanks to academics like Browne, CTC could hope for practical accommodation alongside the institutions of Cambridge. Thanks to the conservative block of a Senate composed of unthinking MAs, it could only dream of formal recognition.

            Cambridge, then, offered not access not merely to the lecture rooms of the University for theoretical training, but opportunities to practise the teacher's craft in the classrooms of the town as well. Of course, the arrangement had its downsides. Miss Hughes constantly complained that the need to negotiate teaching hours with, at first, four individual head teachers – the figure would rise to fourteen by the time she departed – took up a disproportionate amount of her time. However, the major and probably unforeseen problem that very quickly arose in the early days of CTC lay in the geographical tension between its initial orientation, with its attempt to hatch itself under the wing of Newnham College on the leafy west side of the town, and the fact that the population of Cambridge was concentrated in an arc around the eastern flank of the central area. Founded just before the massive impact of the safety bicycle upon female mobility, CTC quickly discovered that Newnham Croft was the wrong location for easy physical access to local schools, and the inflexible pull of professional training quickly dispelled the mirage of academic environment. It is easy to view the founding of CTC as a continuation of the process that had seen women establish themselves as students seeking degrees on the physical margins of Cambridge University through the preceding decade and a half. In reality, the origins of the CTC depended more on University Syndicates and Town schools, only intersecting briefly and largely fruitlessly with the movement for women's degrees.


When CTC began in 1885, the cause of women in Cambridge seemed to be on the crest of a wave.[51] The dozen years from 1869 to 1881 had seen almost vertical progress, from the first stirrings of what became Girton and Newnham, to the officially sanctioned admission of women to Tripos examinations, although not to Cambridge degrees as such. The first tentative steps were taken in 1869 when Emily Davies opened what would become Girton a safe distance of 29 miles away.[52] Undergraduate debaters at the Cambridge Union voted by 78 votes to 26 to view "with interest and sympathy the career of the Ladies' College at Hitchin", but not before defeating an amendment to delete the two positive terms and substitute the word "amusement".[53] At the same time, Henry Sidgwick began to organise special classes for women, aimed initially at the Cambridge Local Examinations, proto-A-levels rather than degree studies.

            These two projects quickly took brick-and mortar shape as colleges, albeit on the purdah-like fringes of Cambridge. Girton occupied its first buildings in 1873, and by 1887 had completed its first courtyard complete with an appropriately embattled entrance tower.[54] Sidgwick's lecture programme attracted young ladies from afar. A house was taken for them in 1871, and a residential hall opened at Newnham, which became the name of the college, in 1875. Meanwhile the first women had been informally admitted to Tripos examinations, with co-operative examiners delivering papers to ersatz examination venues in private houses, and providing unofficial feedback on the scripts.

            Then, in 1881, came a remarkable breakthrough. The University's Senate, so often dominated by non-resident and deeply conservative Masters of Arts, voted by a resounding 366 votes to 32 to admit Girton and Newnham women to Tripos examinations as of right, and to provide each one with an official certificate attesting to the class they had achieved, or rather would have achieved had they been formal candidates for the Cambridge degree. The correspondent of The Times described the scene in the Senate House as "in some respects the most remarkable ever enacted within its walls."[55] Cambridge's subsequent dogged rearguard action refusing until 1948 to admit women to the degrees that they were now allowed to study for has obscured the remarkable breadth of the academic goodwill towards the women that carried the 1881 vote. In retrospect, it was easy to see what happened in 1881 as another milestone in a process that would inevitably be forward-projected at the same speed and in just one direction. In fact, there are indications that 1881 represented a high point and, for many dons, also a stopping point. The University of Cambridge was not structured to take notice of undergraduate opinion, especially when expressed in the debates of the Union Society, but student debates are revealing because their lack of originality makes them a reflection of the prejudices of the wider social elite. The Cambridge Union debated the claims of women relatively frequently, and there is strong evidence that even by 1881 the young did not share the liberal attitude of their academic elders and betters. A motion expressing hope that the admission of women to Tripos examinations would prove "only a step towards granting them degrees" was defeated by 166 votes to 102. For all their undoubted optimism about the suitability of Cambridge for their teacher training experiment, the CTC pioneers of 1885 would find themselves knocking on a door that would be slammed shut in their faces.

            To appreciate the context within which the CTC project was mooted, it is necessary to grasp the point that Cambridge's two still-unofficial women's colleges, Girton and Newnham, represented alternative approaches to securing the higher education for women which to some extent made them into rival projects. Girton set out from the start to qualify its students for Cambridge degrees. If, like the examinations for the Indian Civil Service, the Cambridge BA had included a compulsory module in horse riding, Girton would have built stables and hired farriers. Newnham, on the other hand, was dedicated to promoting educational opportunities on a broader front. Especially in its early years, Newnham students were likely to be engaged in more-or-less self-guided study programmes, which might or might not approach degree standard. There was also a noteworthy difference in leadership between the two colleges. Girton was very much the project of Emily Davies, who dominated its development even though she only briefly held the office of Mistress. It might seem belittling to call her opposite number, Anne Clough the first Principal of Newnham, more of a matron than an academic leader, for she was undoubtedly the right person to forge the community and guarantee the respectability that the emerging institution needed.[56] But Miss Clough was not the driving force behind the Newnham project, and the controlling authority rested with a wider group, notably Henry Sidgwick, along with his wife Eleanor and a team of able women, several of them married to male dons.

In short, Girton was founded to demonstrate that women were in every respect the intellectual equals of men. Its declared aim was "to obtain for the students admission to the examination for degrees of the University of Cambridge, and generally to place the college in connection with that university".[57] Hence Girton students read for the Tripos on the same terms as men. Crucially, these included passing the University's retrospective matriculation test (a hurdle that a substantial minority of men never surmounted), officially called the "Previous Examination" but generally known as the "Little-Go". Newnham, on the other hand, took a more relaxed approach to formal University requirements. The Previous was part of a degree structure which Henry Sidgwick strongly opposed. His main objection was the inclusion of compulsory Greek, which seemed merely to duplicate the advantages of studying Latin, and was felt to give an unfair advantage to male candidates, many of whom had been swotting both the ancient languages at public and preparatory schools since pre-teenage years.[58]

Reformers like Sidgwick also disliked the Little-Go for its compulsory study of Paley's Christian Evidences, which at the time of its publication in 1794 had represented a bold Enlightenment attempt to justify Christianity in rational terms. A century later Darwin's theory and the growth of Biblical criticism had left Paley's tome intellectually stranded as little more than an idiot guide for Anglican sermons. Whereas Girton policy was to establish its respectability by aligning itself with the Church of England, Newnham was unsectarian and even agnostic. Girton built a chapel; Newnham never bothered. In fact, Newnham acquired something of laid-back reputation. As one clergyman boldly remarked, the difference between the two institutions was that Girton wore stays [corsets] and Newnham did not. Unfortunately he did not specify the research basis of his hypothesis.[59]

When Miss Buss sought a Cambridge anchor for her teacher-training project, it was obvious that eclectic Newnham was a more likely prospect than severe Girton. In contrast to Girton, the Newnham mission statement not only omitted any explicit allusion to Cambridge University examinations, but gave the College open-ended permission to undertake "such other things as are incidental or conducive to advancing education among women in Cambridge and elsewhere".[60] At the opening ceremony for the CTC's Wollaston Road building in 1895, trees were planted in memory of Frances Buss and Anne Clough, neither of whom had lived to see the day. The implication was that Miss Buss played a co-equal role in founding the college. CTC, Elizabeth Hughes would recall in mourning the death of Miss Clough in 1892, was "first discussed and planned in her sitting-room at Newnham."[61] However, the tribute was locational as much as creational. We can be reasonably sure that CTC took shape in Miss Clough's sitting room because Miss Buss commandeered it as her temporary headquarters when she descended upon Cambridge. In floating her scheme for Cambridge-based training of educated women for the teaching profession, Frances Buss could count on the enthusiastic support of Anne Clough, who was invariably generous with her time and commitment to help other people's projects get off the ground. The previous year, one of the ablest of Newnham students, Elizabeth Hughes, had started, first, an evening class for local working men and, second, a national association for assistant schoolmistresses. Miss Clough gave hands-on assistance to the first scheme and valuable advice for the second. That was her way. She happened to own a small property in Newnham Croft, two adjoining terraced houses named after a friend, Miss Crofton, who had left her a small sum of money. She not only took "the greatest interest" in Frances Buss's teacher-training project but, characteristically, went beyond generalised expressions of support and offered Crofton Cottages as its student residence. Thus it was that CTC has sometimes been regarded as an offshoot of Newnham. Unfortunately, these appearances were misleading.


The impression that CTC derived from Newnham was of course partly based on the fact that its first principal was a Newnhamite. Elizabeth Phillips Hughes was Welsh, with a dash of largely unacknowledged Jewish blood.[62] Born in Carmarthen in 1851, she was the daughter of a highly respected local surgeon, John Hughes, whose successful efforts to protect the local Army garrison from fevers unwittingly introduced by Irish Famine victims had won him the personal thanks of the Duke of Wellington. Her father seems to have been the town's Lord High Everything Else: "there was scarcely any public or municipal office that he did not fill at one time in his career." The poorer inhabitants showed their appreciation of his relentless reformist spirit by nicknaming him "Bismarck".[63] Phillips, the maiden name of her lively and articulate mother, had been chosen by her maternal grandfather when he had abandoned his own birth surname of Levi on converting to Christianity. Elizabeth Hughes made a good deal of her Welsh heritage, but does not seem to have emphasised her Jewish ancestry. In this, she differed from her brother, the Reverend Hugh Price Hughes, a prominent Wesleyan minister, who was inclined to trade upon this Biblical aspect of his make-up.

John Hughes seems to have straddled Nonconformity and a conventional Anglicanism. It is hard to recapture Elizabeth's relationship with her brother Hugh, who became President of the Methodist Conference in 1898. Hugh Price Hughes was minister to a congregation in Oxford between 1881 and 1884, and she seems to have visited him there, but there is no evidence that they were especially close. However, it is likely that an enigmatic comment in the biography by his daughter refers to Elizabeth. "A relative who had been brought up in Methodism, but who, for various reasons, felt that she could never happily enter into its fellowship, he urged to join the Anglican communion, seeing that she had for years longed to do so."[64] Having studied philosophy and psychology to degree level, it is unlikely that Elizabeth Hughes would have felt comfortable with the simplistic enthusiasms of Nonconformity. A century after John Wesley's death, Methodism was either conventional and smug, or dynamic and intrusive. It is unlikely that either would have appealed to a woman who was quietly engaged in undermining inherited notions of gender roles. Maybe she simply wanted to create family space for herself. "Somewhat dictatorial, perhaps" was the loyal verdict of Hugh's daughter, and the description could be shortened.[65] It is noteworthy that there was no contact between CTC and the Leys School, Cambridge-based and one of England's leading Methodist foundations, which was growing rapidly in the eighteen-eighties.

Elizabeth's adherence to the Church of England would have been useful in securing CTC access to Cambridge's network of Anglican schools, but she was no zealot. It was her practice to begin the CTC day with non-denominational prayers, "as unsectarian as I can make them," but attendance was optional. As Miss Hughes told the royal commission, "our college is unsectarian" and she refused to allow any distinction "between those who are members of the Church of England and those who are not."[66] Because CTC students were drawn from all denominations, she would not allow the inclusion of religious instruction in their teaching practice, even though some schools would have welcomed this. From a modern point of view, the exclusion of formal commitment to any brand of belief seems an uncontroversial and even common-sense way of defining. However, at the time, it was unusual and CTC's secular identity so troubled its third Principal, Helena Powell, that she moved in 1908, after six years in post, to the reassuringly Anglican atmosphere of St Mary's College, Paddington.

The major mystery in what seems to have been the happy childhood of Elizabeth Hughes is the reported fact that "Bessie", as brother Hugh patronisingly called her, "could scarcely read at the age of ten," although a later CTC tradition claimed that books were "sedulously kept from her".[67] By implication, this experience is assumed to have directed her towards the cause of education, and it has even been suggested that she may have been dyslexic.[68] This seems unlikely. Her longhand reports to the CTC Council were unstructured and evidently written in some haste, but they betray no indication of problems in rendering words; nor would the Cambridge Tripos examiners of the 1880s have been indulgent of any such handicap. A simpler explanation is that as a child in Carmarthen, she was almost certainly reared in Welsh, and probably made the transition to English at around the age of ten when the question of sending her away to school would have arisen. Her problem was probably not literacy as such, but the challenge of reading in a second language. It is noteworthy that it was said of her that "having once made a start a year or two later, she left the rest of her generation behind her"[69] – by no means an unusual experience for a bright child in receipt of a bilingual education. German was the intellectual language of nineteenth-century Europe, and Miss Hughes presumably became fluent in it as part of her study of Moral Sciences. She was able to exploit her linguistic competence by touring Germany (and also Sweden) to observe teacher training practice at first hand, and talking direct to German teachers. In addition, she had a reading knowledge of French but could be defeated by regional accents: as she confessed with some embarrassment after a visit to Arles, "I had mistaken our guide's description of a Sunday bull-fight for a meeting of the Salvation Army!"[70] "As to language," she told a teachers conference in 1888, "girls should have a thorough knowledge of their own – not always given – and of one, or perhaps, two others. Grammar ought to be founded on language rather than language on grammar."[71] That sentiment, too, may owe its origins to a bilingual childhood.

Her Welsh heritage meant a great deal to Elizabeth Hughes, even though it encouraged her in romantic ethnic fantasies. She told the 1894 royal commission that "there are several characteristics useful in teaching which are characteristic of the Celtic race," although she did admit that she had encountered "some Welsh students who were not good teachers".[72] In 1884, she argued that Welsh education should not be a mere replication of the English system, and in her later years she was active in the Eisteddfod movement, taking a Bardic name that recalled the legendary association of Merlin the magician with her home town of Carmarthen.[73] On a visit to Japan after she left Cambridge, she was even photographed in Welsh national costume, steeple hat and flannel petticoat included, which must have taken up considerable space in her luggage.[74]

            If not exactly a late developer, Elizabeth Hughes was a late-comer to formal schooling, for it as not until her mid-twenties that she was sent to Cheltenham Ladies College – a common enough arrangement in the early days of female academic education – and in 1877 she progressed to join the staff as an assistant mistress. Miss Beale trained her teachers in-house, and Elizabeth Hughes used her four years there to acquire Cambridge Local qualifications and also to study for South Kensington science examination. The 1881 census finds her boarding in the home of a local surveyor at Ormond Terrace, right in the centre of the spa town, and a couple of hours by train to her family in Wales. It must have been an agreeable life, but it was not enough. In 1881, at the age of 30, she went up to Newnham, to take advantage of the opening of Tripos examinations to women.

Elizabeth Hughes read Moral Sciences, and in 1884 gained a First, the only one awarded that year.[75] The forerunner of today's Philosophy Tripos, Moral Sciences contained a considerable element of Psychology, and it was through this study that Elizabeth Hughes formed her views about the need for child-centred classroom teaching. "I had taught myself for four years before I learnt any theoretical psychology, and when I came to Cambridge and studied psychology I was constantly understanding very much better the art of teaching as a result."[76] Her abilities meant that Miss Hughes became "known to Miss Clough as an able woman, to Miss Beale as a gifted teacher, and to Dr. Ward as a talented pupil".[77] Her earlier connections with Dorothea Beale were probably seen as politically useful within the small world of female education.

On the basis of these multiple recommendations, Miss Buss determined that Miss Hughes was the right person to take charge of the Cambridge-based teacher training programme that she had in mind – and, with Frances Buss, the word 'determined' has a very specific meaning. Elizabeth Hughes was obviously planning to make an impact in the world of education. She had submitted papers on education to the 1883 and 1884 Welsh Eisteddfods (they were read on her behalf) dealing with the education of girls with special reference to Wales. Combined with her leading role in forming an association of schoolmistresses, we might conclude that if she was attempting to write her own career ticket, it was targeted at a return to the classroom and to Wales.[78] However, in the autumn of 1884 she returned to Cambridge to take the Historical Tripos, and it was at about this time that she was run over by Miss Buss. During the first year at CTC, Elizabeth Hughes confessed to her charges "that when the task was first proposed to her she refused it flatly, but that Miss Buss had pointed out to her that it was a grand opportunity, that there was no one else to do it, and that she simply must." As a North London alumna herself, Molly Thomas had no difficulty in picturing the scene.[79]

The outlines of the scheme were in place by early April 1885 when Frances Buss wrote to one of her supporters "begging for help towards starting an experiment at Cambridge for a class for training Girton and Newnham students as teachers before they enter their profession. ... Cambridge is willing, and a suitable lady is ready. A house for seven students can be had." The "suitable lady" was named as "Miss Hughes," and the house was evidently Crofton Cottages. "Cambridge is willing" was something of an exaggeration: Miss Buss was operating on a promised budget of £50, the scheme needed to raise another £200 "and Cambridge cannot do this."[80] Clearly, "Cambridge" as formulated by Miss Buss represented something less than the Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the entire University. In fact, one segment of Cambridge had just responded to Miss Buss with a word that she did not offer encounter: Newnham College had said NO, and the entire project had been shaken to its still-shallow foundations.


We owe the long-hidden story of the Newnham rebuff to the research of Dr Pam Hirsch.[81] On 21 February 1885, Miss Clough read a letter from Frances Buss to the Newnham College Council "on the subject of the training of women teachers at Cambridge, together with a scheme for carrying this out to which she hoped the Council Would give its sanction". At a crucial moment in the project's history, its fate depended upon Anne Clough's persuasive skills, and these were regrettably deficient. In those early years, the Newnham Council was not a Governing Body composed of Fellows, but a supervisory committee mainly comprising outside supporters. Some members, notably its original driving force, Henry Sidgwick, had been spectacularly generous to the college and could claim more than a passive consultative role. In addition to some formidably shrewd Cambridge women, the Council included academics such as Alfred Marshall, Professor of Political Economy, and J.C. Adams, the veteran Professor of Astronomy who had discovered the planet Neptune.[82] Miss Clough was very definitely not an academic prime minister dominating a cabinet of her own creation. Frances Buss or Emily Davies would not have found this an insuperable challenge, for they were skilled in the strategies of logical pleading. By contrast, Anne Clough was easily out-gunned in argument. A supportive biographer conceded that "she was incapable of methodical arrangement of her thoughts." Miss Clough was a woman who craved education, not – like, for instance, Sophie Bryant – one who was living proof that the female mind could flourish through mental training. "She had no natural instinct for logic, and never felt the need of establishing the connection between one idea and another." Worse still, the greater her enthusiasm for a project, the more ideas and opinions would crowd upon her, overwhelming any prospect of cogent presentation: "she frequently began at the wrong end; she followed no order, and left the link between one thing and another to be divined." Precisely because they seemed obvious to her, Miss Clough would take for granted the main points of an argument, "while remote consequences and side issues were dealt with in detail." The conclusion that "she was to some extent unfitted for her work on committees" seems a charitable understatement.[83] It is possible to imagine Anne Clough assuming that the letter from Frances Buss was self-explanatory, and launching into an excited disquisition on the convenience of Crofton cottages and the merits of Elizabeth Hughes. The Newnham Council was not impressed.

The truth was that on that February day in 1885, the Newnham Council was confronted – apparently without forewarning – with a bold and monumentally tactless proposal to tack on a teacher-training department to their still-fledgling college. It came from outsider – true, a fellow labourer in the vineyard of female education but somebody who was not a member of the College Council and whose North London Collegiate students had more often headed to Girton than Newnham. Although the project was no doubt compatible with the open-ended aims of their college, it would still represent a considerable broadening of the Newnham programme. Almost certainly, there had been no advance formal discussion: indeed, the scheme seems to have arisen informally only within the previous few months. It is not surprising that the response to the letter from Miss Buss was an agreed view "that though quite friendly to the scheme the Council could not undertake any responsibility with regard to it."[84] Anne Clough's generosity helped establish the Cambridge Training College. Her muddled committee skills may well have ensured that it operated from the first as an independent unit.

Even putting aside a reluctance to be bounced into accepting a proposal that would considerably modify the purpose of their college, there were perfectly good reasons for the Newnham Council to hold back from becoming involved. Even though, in the great tradition of academic committee minuting, no reasons were recorded, it is not difficult to imagine them. There were unresolved practical and especially financial issues that would have aroused unease, the more so as the scheme was to be launched in a little over six months. What would it cost, and who would guarantee its finances? Miss Buss presumably pointed out that the proposed class would follow the syllabus set by the Teachers' Training Syndicate, but there was no reason why this could not be done anywhere in the country. It would have been too early to identify the special educational quality that Cambridge-based training would inject into teacher training, and indeed Miss Hughes herself had to feel her way in designing a distinct approach through her first year in post.

Although the CTC pioneers never publicly alluded to the rebuff from Newnham, Dr Bryant would later acknowledge that "our chief stumbling-block lay in the distrust with which the ordinary academic mind was apt to look on the ideal of training." However, the Newnham Council were probably motivated by something more than an "unexamined fear" that all teacher training must be narrow and dreary.[85] A repeated argument for Newnham itself was that educating female teachers to something like degree standard made them more effective in the classroom. Put simply, higher education gave them something worthwhile to teach. Confronting Newnham students with the implication that they were not automatically qualified to handle the mechanics of transferring their newly acquired learning in the classroom might prove counter-productive.

The Newnham Council might also have asked why their college should have been approached by somebody who had been so enthusiastic a supporter of its rival: North London students had dominated some of the early Girton cohorts. There was a persistent undercurrent of denigration alleging that academic standards at Newnham were inferior to those of Girton, and this probably influenced the Council in deciding to steer clear of teacher training. Indeed, if the risks that the scheme might fail gave pause for thought, the dangers that it might succeed were if anything more alarming. Most young women made financial sacrifices to study in Cambridge. Girton students arrived committed to the Tripos marathon within the set three-year period; Newnham was much more flexible. Although CTC's first decade was to show that very few Cambridge-educated women would become Cambridge-trained teachers, most of the small number who did make the transition were Newnhamites who switched after a couple of years of study. It would not have been difficult to foresee in 1885 that if the Bryant-Buss hypothesis proved correct, launching a teacher-training programme within the college would encourage internal transfers and, in effect, academic Newnham would haemorrhage students to training Newnham. Moreover, it would not be long before the college encountered enthusiastic and plausible young women pleading their poverty and seeking permission to combine teacher training with degree studies. Acceptance of the well-meaning proposal from Frances Buss could be tantamount to determining that Girton would evolve as a degree factory while Newnham would subside into a higher-grade training college.[86]

Frances Buss had obviously not expected a negative response. As Dr Bryant recalled, "in her straightforward practical way," Miss Buss wondered why young women who planned to become teachers did not see the need for professional training: "she thought it so obvious that a person undertaking a delicate task ought to learn as much as possible about the ways in which it is and can be done."[87] However, while the Newnham Council was "friendly" to her point of view, they did not propose to get involved.

The Newnham No threw the project into temporary disarray, but Frances Buss was simply not a Plan B person. Fourteen years later, in a fruitless attempt to persuade Cardinal Vaughan that her college was not the catspaw of the deplorably Protestant University of Cambridge, Elizabeth Hughes recalled "we once thought of starting it elsewhere" but the founders "decided on Cambridge because of the educational advantages there." This suggests that the first response to the Newnham rebuff may have been to shift the project out of town altogether, but this reaction could hardly have lasted long, for Miss Buss was hustling for funds for a Cambridge-based project by early April.[88] The arguments for basing the project in the University town would have remained persuasive, and there was more to Cambridge than Newnham. The project's Newnhamite supporters, such as Margaret Verrall, perhaps argued that if the scheme went ahead anyway, Newnham would eventually take it aboard. One point seems clear: Frances Buss and Sophie Bryant were determined to press ahead.

On the afternoon of Saturday 9 May 1885, an ad hoc gathering (the formal record called it a "preliminary meeting") at 3 Newnham Terrace agreed to a motion proposed by Frances Buss and seconded by Sophie Bryant: "That the scheme be begun next September."[89] There was no charter, no deed of covenant, not even a mission statement, simply nine people gathered in a private house agreeing to launch a "scheme". Six of those present were Cambridge residents. The Reverend G.F. Browne was the only resident member of the University to attend. Kate Street and Margaret Verrall were involved in school-teaching. Fanny Hort and Augusta Burn were married to clerical dons. Fanny's husband, F.J.A. Hort, was a theologian who would become Professor of Divinity two years later. Robert Burn was a Fellow of Trinity who, like Browne, was a member of the Alpine Club – an enthusiasm shared with Sophie Bryant, who twice climbed the Matterhorn and died in the Swiss mountains when she was 72. Augusta Burn would become an active member of the CTC committee and was co-opted to its first formal Council when the College was officially incorporated in 1893. (She had the unusual distinction of being descended from Oliver Cromwell, who was at least a Cambridge man himself.) Both Mrs Burn and Mrs Hort belonged to the generation immediately before opportunities for higher education were opened to women. The remaining Cambridge resident was Constance Jones, who is important in the CTC story as representing the only substantial link with Girton its early years. Like Augusta Burn, she became one of the founder trustees in 1893, and her commitment to the project took an early practical form when she joined with Kate Street and Margaret Verrall to oversee the conversion of Crofton Cottages into student accommodation. She was a very efficient person who, as Mistress of Girton from 1903 to 1916, set the college on a firm financial footing. Like Elizabeth Hughes, she was Welsh and had taken a First in the Moral Sciences Tripos. Personal connections with the first Principal perhaps help to explain her role in the project: without her, there would have been virtually no input from Girton.

Three visitors from London made up the nine people present. Frances Buss and Sophie Bryant were of course the driving duo: ten years later, at the opening of the Wollaston Road building, it would be Dr Bryant who spoke, giving "some memories of the College before it existed, except in idea."[90] The third outsider, listed as "Mr Storr," was a master at Merchant Taylors' School. Francis Storr was also editor of the Journal of Education which, in those far-off days before such academic publications proliferated, was influential in the policy field. It was said of that "his amiable character and his readiness to help others made him greatly beloved,"[91] and his presence at the founding meeting would have represented a warming assurance that the small Cambridge group would not struggle entirely alone.

One aspect of that founding meeting is worth noting: seven of the nine participants were women. It would be pleasant to conclude that one by-product of the movement for female education was the increased tendency of women to take control of their own affairs with only minimal male input. Unfortunately, it was not easy to run any activity in late-Victorian England without involving men, and it would certainly have been impossible to get a project off the ground in Cambridge without their help. Five of the seven invitations to join the committee in succeeding months were issued to male academics. Some were "big names", such as G.D. Liveing, the Professor of Chemistry who would in fact become an active supporter of CTC, and Mandell Creighton, Professor of Ecclesiastical History and founder of the English Historical Review. Other men were recruited from among the University's work-horses, notably W.B. Bell of Trinity Hall, "an unflinching support of unpopular causes" who "did much useful and unostentatious work on the Teachers' Training Syndicate."[92] The two women were Eliza Rhodes, a Fellow of Newnham who took charge of the college's corresponding classes (distance learning programme) in 1887 and was presumably interested in educational matters, and Annette Peile, was married to a Fellow (and later Master) of Christ's, John Peile, whose fervent support for Newnham would earn him the memorial of a building named in his honour. (Mrs Peile was also a cousin of the future Lord Kitchener.) It is not entirely clear who convened the CTC committee in its earliest days, but its November 1885 meeting was chaired by Augusta Burn and appointed Margaret Verrall as treasurer. However, but the time CTC was first placed on a legal footing in 1893, six of the ten founding trustees were male Cambridge academics, including Liveing and Bell. It was not until the later nineteen-twenties – coinciding with Parliament's decision in 1928 to confer the right to vote upon women at the age of 21 – that the major Council offices of chair(person) and treasurer become routinely held by women.

Unfortunately, there is a great deal that we do not know about that crucial founding meeting. Even the tantalising detail, that it began at 3.30 in the afternoon – the hour when afternoon tea was served, according to the first CTC timetable – leaves us wondering whether it was accompanied by a clatter of crockery. Possibly not, for the bald record suggests that Frances Buss had the business sewn up in advance: unlike Anne Clough, she probably appreciated that committees worked more effectively that way. We do not know who compiled the record of the proceedings, which seems never to have been formally adopted as minutes. It is likely that 3 Newnham Terrace was the home of Arthur and Margaret Verrall. Newnham Terrace seems to have functioned as academic starter homes: the Verralls had married in 1882 and by 1888 were living in the more luxurious surroundings of Selwyn Road.[93] Thus it was that a tall, narrow, sombre terraced house close to the junction of Silver Street with the Backs should have acquired the distinction of hosting the foundation of a Cambridge college.

Although the gathering was described as a meeting of "those interested in the Education of Women for the Profession of Teaching," there were some notable absentees. James Ward did not attend, perhaps because his presence might have implied an unduly formal commitment to the project on the part of the Teachers' Training Syndicate. Anne Clough was not there either, even though the meeting was held just yards from Newnham College. In terms of modern values, her membership of the committee would have created a conflict of interests since she was also the project's landlady. However, nobody would have suggested that she had offered Crofton Cottages in order to make money. Indeed, when it was reported that the property "needs some repairing, painting, papering &c before it can be occupied," she was quick to offer £5 towards the cost, and she also allowed the committee to knock a communicating door through the dividing wall between the two houses. Whatever support Anne Clough could contribute in her personal capacity would continue to be forthcoming. Unfortunately, the attitude of the College Council made it impossible for her, as Newnham's chief employee, to associate herself formally with a project that had been so firmly rebuffed. She would never be officially involved with CTC.

However, the most notable absentee from the founding meeting was the woman who had been identified as the Principal-designate, Elizabeth Hughes herself. No doubt on that Saturday afternoon she was engaged in last-minute revision for her Historical Tripos. The fact that the meeting had been so obviously convened with the intention of appointing her was surely double-edged: it was an opportunity to discuss the project with her, and she could have been asked to withdraw while those present resolved to offer her the job. Presumably, most of them – indeed, all of them with the possible exception of Francis Storr – already knew Miss Hughes. However, there is some hint that she was experiencing a further outbreak of doubts about taking part in the project. In May 1885, she was facing a second round of exhausting examinations within twelve months, the interval having been punctuated by uncertainty about her future career. These pressures perhaps explain her narrow failure to secure a double First: in an era when candidates were not only classed but ranked, she came out in second place within Class Two, close enough to repeating her triumph in Moral Sciences the previous year.[94] Presumably, Frances Buss had initially dangled before her the prospect of heading a training department within Newnham, a post that would have been accompanied by the prestige, collegiality and administrative support of an established institution. Striking out into the unknown was a more daunting prospect. Furthermore, there were those who forewarned her that the headmistress of North London Collegiate School was not noted for her ability to delegate: "it was suggested to me," Elizabeth Hughes later recalled, "... that she was so accustomed to be responsible in her own large institution that she would probably wish to exercise the same management in our college." Hence Miss Hughes was having second thoughts. "When a beginning at last seemed possible my heart so failed me that I felt unfit for the post, and had almost decided not to apply for it." The meeting on 9 May empowered Miss Buss to offer her the post, but "immediate enquiries" were to be made to identify an alternative ion the event of her refusal. Once again, Miss Buss applied all the pressures that she so effectively mobilised. Elizabeth Hughes "realized how much her heart was set on the scheme" and resigned herself to her fate. To her credit, Miss Buss did not attempt to become a back-seat manager, confining her energetic support for CTC to raising morale and money, offering at most strategic guidance.[95]

Miss Hughes accepted the appointment for twelve months at a salary of £100. In February 1886, the committee acknowledged that this was "inadequate" and raised it by £30. This was soon increased again to £150 and by 1894, she was receiving £300 a year – and even then CTC salaries were still felt to be low. In accepting the appointment, she "kindly offered to furnish her own sitting room," but this was probably because colleges in those days did not provide furnished student accommodation, and undergraduates supplied their own chairs and tables. On clearing her effects out of Newnham, Elizabeth Hughes presumably decided to take them with her rather than sell to the next intake of freshers. (CTC, by the eighteen-nineties, was breaking new ground in providing furniture for student rooms itself.) At the close of CTC's first year, the founding class subscribed to present their Principal with an oak chest as a gesture of appreciation. She may not have been joking when she thanked them with the assurance "that that chest shall be the last thing that goes to the pawnshop." Revealingly, she called their gift "a memento of that happy year which I so much dreaded".[96]

With hindsight, we can identify the small gathering at 3 Newnham Terrace on 9 May 1885 as the place and date of the founding of the Cambridge Training College for Women Teachers. However, the terminology employed through the spring of 1885 indicates the indeterminate status of the project. It was variously referred to a class, an experiment or a scheme. As already noted, the brief record was headed: "A preliminary meeting of those interested in the Education of Women for the Profession of Teaching". The pre-packaged Buss-Bryant motion committed those present to launching "the scheme" in September, just four months away. Yet, thanks to its repudiation by Newnham, the project did not even have a name. The issue was not resolved until close of the third meeting of the committee, on 20 July when "it was agreed to call the scheme for the present the 'Cambridge Training College for Women'." (This was soon elaborated to "Women Teachers".) The fact that, even at such a late stage, the title was regarded as provisional suggests that Miss Buss had not given up hope that Newnham might still adopt the project. In the marked absence of an overwhelmingly wealthy benefactor, a locational name was the only possibility. However, "Newnham Croft College" would have been confusing, perhaps even provocative and, in any case, the lease on Crofton Cottages was only for twelve months. A Newnham newsletter in November 1885 roguishly reported that the new institution "rejoices in the somewhat ambitious name of the Cambridge Training College,"[97] but that was about the only imposing aspect of the project. Ten years later, Elizabeth Hughes was to remark that CTC had started with "a large capital, in the shape of Infinite Faith." More realistically, in 1892 she had recalled opening with "no library, and the staff consisting only of one over-worked Principal, badly prepared for her work".[98] All the same, by midsummer of 1885, the project had acquired a Principal, premises and a name. It had yet to demonstrate that it could also attract students.


Appointing a Principal and securing accommodation made the College possible, but without students it would not operate. In its recruitment, CTC would face a chicken-and-egg, Catch-22 challenge. The aim of the college was to persuade educated women that it was worth undertaking formal training to enter the teaching profession. Unfortunately, educated women were not immediately attracted to the prospect, so how could the programme be launched with students in sufficient numbers and of adequate quality to prove the value of training? The prospects did not look good when only one student with experience of higher education came forward. As soon as the project was announced, a second-year Newnhamite, Mary Rogers "entered her name as a student" but she was for some time "the only one actually on the books." A native of Devon, the "large and genial" Miss Rogers was in her early twenties, although her university experience made her seem much more mature. She functioned as CTC's unofficial second-in-command and was known as "Miss Hughes's lamb" – the point of the joke being that she was double the size of the diminutive Principal.[99] Very late in the day, three more academic women were recruited. Ada Lyne had spent some time at Somerville Hall (later College) in Oxford, while the Conan sisters, Agnes and Josephine, were graduates of the Royal University of Ireland, an umbrella degree-granting institution which was the forerunner of the National University of Ireland. Agnes specialised in English, while Josephine had taken Honours in French. Receiving their BAs from the Royal University in the summer of 1885, they immediately proceeded to CTC where they were the only two genuine graduates among the fourteen-strong intake.[100]

Since the project had to be funded from its own fee income, there was not much scope for selectivity in the initial recruitment. Indeed, the need to operate as a free-standing institution probably required a larger enrolment than Miss Buss had originally envisaged for a training department attached to Newnham, where some overhead costs would have been shared with the established college. When the committee first considered formal admission of eleven students on 20 July (one of whom soon withdrew), it seems that the numbers had been made up by conscripting four North London school-leavers, whose names appear at the end of the list. The dynamic Buss-Bryant duo had no qualms about mobilising their own sixth-formers. As Sophie Bryant recalled: "we could convert and persuade the able North London girls, but ... after three years at college they were naturally not so docile to our ideas."[101] This latter concern was not universally the case: calendars of the Royal University of Ireland reveal that when the Conan sisters matriculated in 1882, they too were North Londoners. Thus six of the original fourteen entrants came from the Buss-Bryant stable, a measure of the vital importance of these two remarkable women to the launching of the venture. However, one disadvantage of admitting school-leavers was that several of the students were too young to sit for the Cambridge certificate, for which the minimum age was twenty. In fact, only five of the original fourteen took the examination in the summer of 1886, although this was partly because some had accepted summer-term jobs and could not get away. Not until the CTC's third student intake, in 1887, could Miss Hughes report that "we have now for the first time none except those who are duly qualified for the Teachers' Examination."


Molly Thomas was the last of the fourteen students to arrive as the new Cambridge Training College assembled on 14 September 1885. Hence Mary Rogers, who opened the front door, was able to greet her by name and introduce her to "a small crowd of earlier comers".[102] It was certainly important that this collection of quirky individuals should learn how to co-exist in their crowded space. Seven of them occupied Crofton Cottages, along with Miss Hughes, a resident housekeeper and a maid of all work. Two were Cambridge residents who lived at home with their families, and the remaining five boarded nearby. Wherever they resided, students were required to sign an attendance register to confirm their presence between 8 and 9 o'clock in the morning, the lunchtime hours of 12.30 and 2.30 and again between 6.30 and 7.30 in the evening. In a rare intervention to overrule their energetic Principal, the Committee shifted the evening signing-in period back one hour on Sundays, presumably to encourage students to attend Evensong. In true collegiate fashion, everyone was expected to eat together. The Principal banned "shop" at meal-times – students were not allowed to discuss teaching issues but were encouraged to broaden their minds in wider discussion.[103] Visitors were encouraged – the first set of rules went to the trouble of pricing guest meals, presumably in the hope that CTC students would bring in friends from Girton and Newnham – and Elizabeth Hughes herself often introduced her London or Cambridge associates to stimulate the table talk. All of this had to be squeezed into very limited space, and CTC memoirs emphasise the endless passing of plates up and down the table. One student managed to manoeuvre a piano into her room, and so music hours had to be set in stone as well.

There was little privacy, inside Crofton Cottages or out. The front door opened directly on to the street. The lack of a protective front garden was a disadvantage, as Molly Thomas discovered when she was allocated an uncurtained ground-floor front room. Waking on her first morning, she had a momentary impression that a policeman was standing next to her bed.[104] There were other problems in the crowding together of so many bodies of which the Victorians were very aware but which they generally preferred not to discuss. "Sanitary arrangements were of the most primitive, and a bathroom ... was unheard of."[105] Famously, ladies would neither sweat nor perspire, but even the feminine tendency to glow could be enough to force the CTC class sometimes to take a break in the middle of a lecture in order to air the room.[106]

Some of the fourteen young women were "temperamental". One was an aesthete whose idea of modelling herself on George Elliot was to wear green velvet dresses. Another talked a great deal about her love life although sensibly she did not reveal much detail. Sarah Hay from Leicester lived in a world of such humourless goodness that she was nicknamed "La Haye Sainte". One day, while explaining the mechanics of the water closet while teaching a lesson on hygiene at a girls' private school, she suddenly became overwhelmed by the absurdity of instructing a class of children about the mysteries of the U-bend and collapsed in helpless giggles. Miss Hughes, who was invigilating the lesson, intervened and sent her back to Crofton Cottages under the pretence of delivering an urgent message. On discovering that she was not going to be expelled, and that her fellow students saw the funny side of the episode, La Haye Sainte relaxed into a normal young woman, and it was generally felt that the U-bend had shaped her personality for the better. The Irish Conan sisters developed a vendetta against Cambridge butter. Local grocers practised the curious custom of rolling butter into thin cylinders, so that it was sold not by the pound but by the yard. Coming from a country that was rich in dairy produce, Agnes and Josephine objected to its anodyne taste. In fact they disliked local butter so much that they made a point of gobbling the four-inch chunks off the breakfast table, although whether to put the substance out of its misery or spare the stomachs of their fellow students was never resolved. For Molly Thomas, such behaviour confirmed the widespread English impression that Hibernian logic operated according to laws of its own.[107]

The most remarkable character of them all was Lilli Eisenschmidt, who was believed by her fellow students to be a Russian aristocrat. In 1881 census Miss Eisenschmidt was working in Knightsbridge as governess to the family of the Countess of Haddington: the census records her as being 34 years of age and born in Livonia, a Tsarist province later partitioned between Estonia and Latvia. Her family were probably Baltic Germans, an elite minority whose privileges were under challenge from Russian nationalists. This may explain why she came to England to work in the genteel but dead-end occupation of governessing, a role for which her "charmingly gracious manners" fitted her perfectly. When a CTC psychology class discussed the difference between exterior and interior sensations, she revealed that she had awoken on her first morning in England with an alarming feeling of vibration throughout her body, which she had later discovered was caused by the breakfast gong. In 1885, she was in her late thirties and working at Lutterworth in Leicestershire, sufficient combination perhaps to trigger a mid-life career review, and she seems to have been the second student to sign up for CTC. As she was older than the Principal, she was boarded out in nearby lodgings. At as time when vegetarianism was considered eccentric, she was doggedly principled in her repudiation of everything to do with meat, even crossing the road rather than pass a butcher's shop. She encountered some difficulty walking into town, as two such emporia faced one another on Silver Street, forcing her to walk down the middle of the road. Her heavily accented English made a memorable contribution to elocution lessons, and Molly Thomas never forgot her rich rendering of Portia's speech from The Merchant of Venice, "the quality of mercy is not strained".[108]

On top of her enormous workload of organising and teaching, Elizabeth Hughes set out to meld this disparate group of personalities into a functioning community. On Saturday nights, Principal and students gathered for a sewing and story-telling session, fuelled by a notorious source of Cambridge female dissipation, milky cocoa. Her charges gratefully remembered that they never encountered "a closed door or a weary eye" when they needed encouragement. To get to know them better, she escorted them one by one on long country walks – the footpath to Grantchester, Cambridge's celebrated Grantchester Grind, began just behind Crofton Cottages. She also invited them in twos to take coffee in her room, sometimes to meet distinguished visitors, but always with the aim of building their social confidence. "Miss Hughes's sitting-room counted perhaps for more than the lecture-room," recalled a student of 1891 when, even in the more spacious conditions of Queen Anne Terrace, students literally sat at her feet and discussed the world by firelight.[109] She even bravely took the class of 1885 on the river. This proved to be a risky excursion.

Although the college's location in Cambridge, Miss Hughes told the royal commission in 1894, was "an immense advantage in many ways,"[110] during CTC's first year it was possible to exaggerate the benefits of operating alongside an academic community. Socially, the North London girls had access to a network of school contemporaies at Girton and Newnham, and Miss Clough invited the entire CTC intake to tea on their first Sunday, but for a young woman coming from outside, Cambridge would have been a lonely place. Female students were virtually in purdah so far as young men were concerned. "Special permission must be obtained before a student can visit College Rooms, or go on the river," said the first set of CTC regulations. "Students are expected to consult with the Principal before accepting evening invitations." There was even an unwritten prohibition on taking a short cut through the same college on two consecutive days, for fear of appearing to bid for male attention.

In what seems an uncharacteristic gesture, Frances Buss organised a dance at a town venue, so that CTC students and her former pupils at Girton and Newnham could meet male undergraduates. The event was arranged for a January evening, not the best time of year for young women to parade in finery, but selected because the next date when Miss Buss could get to Cambridge would fall in Lent. In fact, the invitation caused some consternation in Crofton Cottages, where the impecunious inmates all wondered whether they could pass off their workaday dresses as ball gowns, and one feared that dancing was sinful. Despite fears "that it took four girls to extract a single word from an undergraduate," Molly Thomas fell into intense conversation with a Peterhouse man, Henry Marillier ("Mary" to his friends), to the immature and amused disapproval of their respective friends. Around forty undergraduates appeared from Girton and Newnham but, unfortunately, their college authorities refused to allow them late passes and they trooped off at the early hour of 10.30. Miss Hughes took the cue to march her contingent home too, ostensibly because they were now outnumbered about four to one by young men. The decision was probably also motivated by the Principal's desire to extricate Molly Thomas from her tête-à-tête. Mauled by much teasing in Crofton Cottages, Molly unexpectedly encountered Marillier in Trinity Street the following day, and thought it prudent to cut him dead.[111] Henry Marillier went on to manage the interior decoration company set up by William Morris, to publish on Beardsley and Rossetti and to become an authority on tapestries. The artistic and articulate Molly evidently had a great deal in common with this interesting young man and it seems perverse that Victorian propriety should have prevented them from becoming friends. For Molly it was a bruising and humiliating episode, and she never forgot the surprised look on the young man's face when she snubbed him in the street.

Intellectually, the benefits of co-existing with the world-famous University could also be exaggerated. Even the Teachers' Training Syndicate lecture programme left much to be desired. "The course on psychology from James Ward might as well have been delivered in Hindustani for anything I understood of it," Molly Thomas recalled. The other main offering was a course of lectures on the History of Education, delivered by Bass Mullinger, librarian of St John's and historian of mediaeval Cambridge University. In ten lectures, Mullinger ranged from classical antiquity to "Changes in Theory and Practice during the present century". Molly found them "intelligible, thorough, and dull; sufficient to make us feel that we never wanted to hear any more about Great Educators." [112] Elizabeth Hughes was even less impressed. "I do not consider that a short course of lectures on this subject is sufficient," she complained at the close of CTC's first year, while in 1887 she grumbled that Mullinger's decision to defer lecturing until the third term had cost her candidates marks on the History paper of their certificate examination. It was probably best not to confront Mullinger directly on these issues, for he was a notoriously unstable eccentric and in 1871 had served a twelve-month prison sentence for a knife attack on his sister-in-law.[113] On balance, and despite the addition to her own workload, Elizabeth Hughes attempted the best course when she decided to duplicate and anticipate Mullinger's teaching herself, and leave him to pursue his own sour course. Another reason why she had to provide the teaching herself was that "there are so few English books on the subject" and it could not be assumed that CTC students could read German, the language of the major tomes.

Although Elizabeth Hughes continued to insist that the Teachers' Training Syndicate lecture courses were "not nearly enough,"[114] by 1890 the Syndicate had come to see that the Training College provided it with a guaranteed audience. The previous arrangement of charging each CTC student one guinea per lecture course was replaced by the single payment of a £40 composition fee to cover them all. Administratively, this was a simpler arrangement and one that implied at least some form of grudging recognition of CTC's existence.[115]

Miss Hughes sought to ensure that her students benefited from the Cambridge intellectual environment in other ways. They attended lectures by the distinguished Biblical scholar Brooke Foss Westcott who radiantly resembled the Hebrew prophets about whom he discoursed. A visit to the annual Greek play was markedly unsuccessful, as none of the CTC students knew the language and consequently they were unable to comprehend why the chorus of Furies displaced so much energy in rushing around the stage. The CTC contingent did notice, however, that the chorus was fourteen-strong, and decided that their own frenetic lifestyle justified calling themselves "Furies" as well. Some of the college chapels were open to visitors, a delight and a surprise to Molly Thomas who had conjured visions of the gaunt Wesleyan boxes she had encountered in Cornwall when she heard her Cambridge-educated brother speak of them. The choral service at King's she found magical, but Trinity College chapel seemed alarmingly production-line and she was disturbed to learn that attendance was compulsory for undergraduates.[116]

Back at Crofton Cottages, Elizabeth Hughes "could persuade anybody to do anything, and sometimes she would induce a real live don to come and give us a short course of lectures in our own college." One of her victims was William Cunningham, a genial Scotsman who doubled as a theologian and pioneer economic historian. He and his audience enjoyed his light-hearted course on "a kind of historical political economy," probably a dry run for his 1887 published syllabus, Political Economy Treated as an Empirical Science. Molly Thomas was one of the CTC students whom Cunningham invited to take tea in his rooms in Trinity and, brightly, she seized the opportunity to ask him what had really happened at the Resurrection. The awkward silence that followed taught her that there were limits to the scope of intellectual enquiry, even in Cambridge. Cunningham had recently delivered the University's Hulsean Lectures, on the reasonably safe subject of St Augustine, but he was also co-author of the revised translation of the New Testament that had attempted to take account of the new Germanic Biblical criticism, and he was not to be drawn on the literal truth of Scripture.[117]

However, guest lectures of a mind-improving nature were at most icing on a stodgy cake. As Elizabeth Hughes put it in her first report, "the special object of our College was not so much to increase the information of the students, as to enable them to teach what they already knew." Central to the training process during that first year was the ordeal of the criticism lesson, which began with the CTC students taking turns to face a class of stonily unresponsive children, while their fellow students and Miss Hughes looked on. Phase two, the criticism, took place in Crofton Cottages and had all the charm and some of the efficacy of a Soviet show trial. Molly Thomas never forgot the disaster of her first classroom outing, a demonstration class on 'The Noun'. With hindsight, Molly should have set out to engage the children, on the principle: "Never tell a class what you can get them to tell you."[118] She might have encouraged her charges to contribute the words they used to describe the people around them – girl, teacher, friend – and then move on to the physical environment – desk, door, window. At that point, Miss Thomas could have explored their common role as naming words, before triumphantly unveiling the concept of 'The Noun'. Instead, she prepared a lecture, failing to take account of "the immense space of time that half an hour can be" in the face of staring mass of youngsters who evidently had been warned to behave but were not inspired to interact. Back at Crofton Cottages, the students crammed into their tiny lecture room and gently dissected the performance "with the leniency one would expect from a condemned man for a fellow criminal." Elizabeth Hughes regretfully summed up the discussion by pronouncing the lesson "a failure". Molly retreated to her room, which she had nicknamed "the Growlery," where she certainly growled and probably howled. To her surprise, a knock at the door revealed Miss Hughes in reassuring mode. She was pleased Molly had "made a mess" of her first lesson. People who were going to do well at something generally began with a failure, she pronounced. Indeed, she had known Molly's lesson would crash as soon as she had checked her teaching notes. Understandably, Molly asked why Miss Hughes had not warned her of impending disaster. The Principal replied that, had she intervened, the lesson would not have been Molly's own work. "Success so gained would have been very bad for you."[119]

This was a philosophy that was remarkably close to the public school belief that a master could learn his craft on the job and at the expense of his pupils. In those early days at Crofton Cottages, Elizabeth Hughes was feeling her way towards determining how best to organise the CTC programme and this required rapid modification of established training college practices. "Notes were given in, and examined by me before each lesson," she explained in her first report. "As it was of special importance that there should be as few failures as possible ... I made all the lessons, criticism lessons, and I think the plan has answered well." However, after a few weeks of these mass ritual humiliations, she split the student body into two so that the panel of censorious peers was reduced to just six assessors, and in time the inquisition was replaced by a one-to-one confessional. "We have no criticism lessons in the technical sense," Miss Hughes explained to the 1894 royal commission; "... the students are not collected together once a week to have two or three students give a lesson in front of them." The appraisal system was "much more general and much more informal, and very often the person who is giving the lesson criticises herself to begin with."[120]

Providing a lecture room was one of the many challenges for which Crofton Cottages had not been designed. Presumably, in targeting Newnham to sponsor the scheme, Miss Buss had assumed that college rooms would be available for training course lectures, with the two small houses in Newnham Croft functioning merely as a student residence. Instead, an attic had to be pressed into service. It was just large enough to squeeze in a table, fourteen students, a lecturer and a blackboard. Poorly ventilated, it was also unheated and Mary Rogers endured the winter only by wrapping a muff around her feet. So cramped were the conditions that some visiting lecturers could not even stand upright.[121] Fortunately, several foundries specialised in manufacturing prefabricated cast-iron mission churches for erection in growing working-class urban areas, and mass production actually made these cheaper than an equivalent timber building. In March 1886, the committee agreed to incur the expense of about £100 to erect what became known as the "Tin Tabernacle" on a tennis court adjoining Crofton Cottages, the owner agreeing on condition that her tennis court would be restored when the College eventually moved on.[122] The new lecture room was almost ready for the start of the September term of 1886, but the start of the session only had to be postponed for three days. It was, reported Miss Hughes, "most convenient and comfortable, and a great boon."

A deficiency that was harder to remedy was the lack of a college library. On accepting appointment, Elizabeth Hughes "kindly offered ... to allow the students the use of her books," and during that first year scarce volumes were passed from hand to hand. "We have suffered considerably from want of books," the Principal informed the committee at the end of the first year, and a library was assembled very slowly from depressingly small sums of money. The initial book grant had been just £6, to which Miss Buss typically added £5, and there were two other cash donations, one of £2 and the other of ten shillings (50 pence). The Principal seemed conscious of her own boldness when she asked for a further £10 in November 1886, but as Miss Buss had donated a further £5, the committee granted only half the sum requested. In the first year, Miss Beale of Cheltenham Ladies College presented two titles, while the Professor of Latin, J.E.B. Mayor, donated what the hard-pressed Principal reported as "a Germ. Dict. in 4 vols". In 1886, Miss Hughes sent a begging letter to leading publishers which secured 250 titles, "most of which will be of use to us," and a further appeal yielded 150 books in 1888. Early in 1887, it was agreed "that a list of books wanted should be drawn up and circulated privately among members of the Committee, in the hope that by such means some of the books required might be obtained." The following year, "a box of school books" unexpectedly arrived from a master at Harrow. The College remained "constantly in want of books of reference" but somehow a working library was assembled, with over 2,000 titles by 1891.[123] CTC students were not allowed to use the local public library until 1889, and admission to Cambridge University Library was only conceded in 1941. Molly Thomas wondered whether the absence of a library was really such a handicap. In her opinion, most educational textbooks contained "a lot of earnest rubbish" which aroused the mockery even of callow students. One tome solemnly enjoined teachers to "avoid unconscious humour" – but how could you avoid being funny if you were not even aware of it?[124] In any case, there could hardly have been space in Crofton Cottages for more than a shelf or two of books.

More to the point, Miss Hughes trained her students how to use the books they did possess, encouraging them to develop the sixth sense that would distinguish between those that would repay careful study and logical summary, and those that could be disposed of through cursory inspection. Her own lectures took the form of what we would now call seminar teaching. Her spirit of classroom discovery infused informal discussions over the cocoa cups as the young women gathered in each others' rooms to relax in the evening. Their total absence of any training in philosophy did not prevent them from debating the nature of Evil. Did the clothes brush possess a soul, and was its tendency to hide at precisely the time it was urgently needed a sign of innate depravity? One evening the CTC students persuaded themselves that time did not exist: the past had vanished, the future had not arrived and the present was ephemeral.[125] It was all very exhilarating, and no sillier than the discourse in many an academic classroom to this day. A rare dissenting view of Elizabeth Hughes intriguingly commented that her influence was "intensely stimulating – almost too stimulating, especially for some of the younger students."[126] Certainly she occasionally engaged in gestures that might be regarded as dangerously provocative in the politically correct world of modern academe. On Friday 9 April 1886, the very last day of that first, abbreviated two-term CTC academic year, Miss Hughes cancelled classes so that Mary Rogers could read from The Times the speech Mr Gladstone had delivered the previous evening as he introduced the Irish Home Rule Bill.[127]

            It was not quite true, as Molly Thomas recalled, that Miss Hughes "had to create the whole curriculum along new lines,"[128] for its structure was determined in some detail, by the syllabus of the Cambridge University Teachers' Training Syndicate. Nor was she entirely without support even during that first frantic year. Sophie Bryant travelled from London each week to deliver a seven-lecture course on the Ethical End of Education in first term, followed by eight lectures in second term on the Logical End of Education. It was decided to hire a room in town for the first course, provide the initial lecture free to all comers and then charge for the rest. This was a bold foray into the heartland of masculine academe, but the subsequent absence of any report on attendance suggests that the citadel was unshaken by the highly unusual phenomenon of a woman holding forth from a Cambridge podium. Dr Bryant engaged directly with her lecture class, setting and marking papers, but even this welcome contribution involved some additional work for Miss Hughes, who felt compelled to supply a course on Elementary Logic in first term to equip the students to benefit from the lectures to be delivered after Christmas.

Given her responsibilities at North London Collegiate, it would have been unreasonable to hope for a continuing commitment from Sophie Bryant, but in January 1886 the CTC committee was informed of the possibility of recruiting a lecturer for the second year, Miss Ida Freund, a Girtonian who had taken First Class Honours in the Natural Sciences Tripos. Another thread in the international tapestry, Miss Freund was an Austrian who brought with her a European perspective on teacher education. "Miss Freund was four years in a Training College in Germany, & holds a certificate of the Training College at Vienna," the committee was told. They would almost certainly have known Miss Freund, if only by sight: she had lost a leg in a childhood accident, and moved around in Cambridge on a specially adapted tricycle which she operated with her arms. She was duly appointed from September 1886, although her input was limited to nine hours a week. The precise nature of Miss Freund's teaching contribution does not seem to have been recorded, but as an extra she generously gave optional lessons "on the teaching of needlework according to German methods". At the close of the second year she moved to Newnham to head its science programme, and was replaced by a London University graduate, Susan Wood who, in 1891, was promoted to Vice-Principal. As CTC grew and perforce had to occupy additional houses, so the need grew not just for more lecturers but for resident staff who could share the burden of administration and supervision. Elizabeth Hughes was torn between her need for support and her reluctance to share control. Writing of the need to recruit a resident lecturer in 1890, she bemoaned the shortage of qualified women who might be considered. "The post is an exceedingly difficult one to fill, as the tone of the college has always been most satisfactory, & I should be exceedingly sorry to introduce an element which would destroy our present harmony." All the same, the college had to grow. By 1897, CTC had a Principal and three full-time lecturers, and this remained the basic staff complement in future years.

            Hughes Hall historian Margaret Bottrall noted how often Elizabeth Hughes used first-person pronouns when she gave evidence to a royal commission on education in 1894 – "my students", "the students who come to me".[129] The syllabus might be externally determined, the teaching shared with others, but the spirit that animated the work of CTC proceeded directly from its Principal. As a basic requirement, Miss Hughes stressed the teaching of elocution, "the training of the voice for speaking and singing." Addressing a teachers' conference in 1888, she pointed out that many women spent hundreds of hours learning to master the expensive and cumbersome pianoforte, "while neglecting one musical instrument which nature had given to all free of charge – an instrument that was always with us and was easily kept in tune."[130] An inexperienced young man might or might not radiate the indefinable quality of character that could inspire schoolboys when he first walked into a class, but he would probably possess a voice capable of reaching the farthest corners of the room. A female teacher needed training to make herself heard and establish control. Hence, "one characteristic of our college is to pay special attention to elocution." In Crofton Cottages, students tested their ability to project their voices by taking turns to leave the attic lecture room and declaim poetry from the head of the narrow stairs through a closed door: hence, mercifully, Lilli Eisenschmidt could not see her fellow-students "doubled with laughter" at her rendering of Portia.[131]

The Principal's determination to obtain the best for her students can be seen in one delightful episode. Her first report to the CTC committee noted that illness had prevented an outside lecturer from providing speech coaching, but that she had managed to arrange "three lessons in Elocution from ladies who happened to be staying in Cambridge for a few days." As Molly Thomas revealed, the "ladies" were members of the D'Oyly Carte touring company, and their star was Lucy Shaw, who played the title role of Princess Ida. Miss Shaw shared with them some of the tricks of acting trade: how to look both relaxed and impressive, how to use pauses and silences to dramatise a point. "If you want to make anything emphatic," she advised, "you must do as a good actor does – change your voice. No need to raise your voice, it's often far more striking to lower it, but change is essential."[132]

A related requirement was the Principal's insistence that "every student has to give one lecture to the college, and if there is any probability that she will have to lecture after she leaves, she will have to give several lectures." One hour in length, delivered entirely without notes and subjected to dissection by the audience, the lecture was "a severe ordeal" for the student, "but it is very good for her". The rationale was not entirely clear for, as Molly Thomas had so humiliatingly discovered, lecturing to children was not good classroom technique. When Miss Hughes identified the career paths of around 200 former students in 1894, only nineteen had gone into lecturing posts, mainly in teacher training. She seems to have had in mind the ability to provide speakers for "workmen's clubs and societies of that kind," as well as functioning as a general confidence-booster. Students could choose their own topic for the show lecture , and their projects required detailed research. As a result of the exercise, Molly Thomas remained a life-long authority on the Eleven Years' Tyranny of Charles I.[133]

            While any educational innovator must be prepared to risk an occasional silly idea, Elizabeth Hughes does seem to have lacked a sense of the ridiculous in some of the schemes she embraced. (One of her mottoes, "we work not for time but for eternity," seems resoundingly devoid of intelligible meaning.) In the summer of 1886, she visited Germany, where the "most important" idea she picked up was "the use that can be made of classes of students acting as if they were children of a given age, and being taught by the students." Pretending to be, say, twelve years old gave students "an insight into the mental capacities of children of the age which they are representing". The creation of a virtual classroom also made it possible for the supervisor to intervene "to point out an error in method, or obtain the opinion of the class on the subject [presumably in their adult capacities], without the danger of affecting the discipline of the class." For Miss Hughes, the main risk in this approach was that it "could very easily degenerate into a very mechanical operation". Rather, as a student account of 1888 indicates, its major weakness was that it required levels of seriousness perhaps more characteristic of German classrooms to overcome its innate absurdity. CTC students cast in the role of adolescents "sometimes think it is their duty to be more irrepressible than any future pupils could possibly be, in order, as they kindly say, to give us plenty of practice."[134]

            The CTC committee might well have been startled when their Principal reported that she had spent part of the summer of 1887 taking "a course of scientific carpentering," believing that it was "probable that this kind of manual work will be introduced into English schools & it will doubtless be an advantage to our students to know something of it." A well-wisher had presented a "Swedish bench" and the students were devoting Friday afternoons to woodwork lessons. Ten years later, there was even a Swedish lecturer (probably part-time) helping with the training. This startling experiment formed part of wider agenda of the subversion of gender roles. Miss Hughes wanted her students to be equipped to teach both sexes, and secured the committee's permission to seek opportunities to give practice lessons to boys. The flaw in the strategy was that while boys' schools might appoint women to teach academic subjects to junior classes, they were surely far less likely to hire them to teach craft subjects. Furthermore, compulsory woodwork, along with class drawing and calisthenics (rhythmic gymnastics), presumably did not make CTC an attractive prospect for Girtonian bluestockings. However, in fairness to Elizabeth Hughes, it must be conceded that she was open to European ideas about education at a time when Cambridge University was smugly narcissistic. Woodwork might have been an eccentric blind alley, but it did stimulate her into visiting a training college in Stockholm in the summer of 1889, reporting that she "brought back many new ideas to be used in Cambridge." Intellectually, CTC was international when the University was profoundly insular.

It would be unfair to Elizabeth Hughes to concentrate either on the marginal eccentricities of her programme, nor should her work be assessed by the improvised expedients of the experimental early years in Crofton Cottages. While it is fortunate that we can reconstruct the opening months of CTC from the recollections of Molly Thomas, it is a disadvantage that we have no detailed counterbalancing account for the sessions that followed.[135] CTC made rapid progress both in quantity and quality, in recruitment and in training. In February 1887 she had mildly suggested to the Committee that "we ought to take more steps to make our College better known". In fact, its reputation spread and its standing increased on the back of its own achievements. "They may fairly claim this year to have beaten all the other Training Colleges of England and Scotland," the Journal of Education remarked of the performance of CTC students in certificate examinations in 1890.[136] The September 1891 student intake, Miss Hughes commented, were "more intelligent and more mature than any previous set." The increasing quality meant that a wider range of schools welcomed her students. By 1891, they were even teaching Greek at "Mr Goodchild's Preparatory School," nicknamed 'Goody's' and later known as St Faith's, where the offspring of donnish families were marinated in ancient languages before being despatched to public schools. CTC students also infiltrated the lower classes of the Perse School for Boys. "In fact Forms 1 and 2 are now staffed by us," Miss Hughes proudly claimed in 1894, "and are to some extent under my control."[137]

By the time she gave her evidence to the 1894-95 royal commission, Elizabeth Hughes had evolved a sophisticated programme in which students made a considerable input into designing their own training. On admission to the college, each student supplied "a detailed list of what she has done in the way of examinations, and what subjects she feels she can teach." Students were not required to teach subjects they knew little about: "even in their first term the students decide themselves to some extent what lessons they shall give and in what schools they shall teach." The aim of the college was to explain to students "what we are trying to do in training them, and as far as possible we put the training into their own hands." She illustrated the uniqueness of the CTC approach by contrasting its methods with those of other training colleges, where students were required to write out "laboriously" a fair copy of notes taken in each lecture, and submit them for correction. In short, her students were treated as mature individuals, and invited to share in their own education. "If, at the end of the second term, a student does not know what she wants, I feel that we have somehow failed in her training."[138] The tailoring of study programmes to individual talents also made possible a January entry – to meet the needs of London University students who graduated too late in the calendar year to start in September. This arrangement, which continued until 1947, contributed an element of overlapping continuity to the CTC community. The January entrants, called "Bs", learned from the existing students and could be gradually phased into activities such as teaching practice. Students were also attracted from much further afield by the personalised care the College offered. Tetsu Yasui came from Japan in 1896: later she became one of the founders of the Tokyo Woman's Christian University. Elizabeth Hughes took her on a walking tour in the Alps; five years later, Miss Hughes began an extended visit to Japan and Miss Yasui took her to Mount Fuji.[139]

For all the emphasis upon seemingly dilettante activities such as elocution, singing and drawing, a year at CTC was an intensive experience. From the second year, the original two-term, 24-week course of 1885-6 was extended to three terms, covering thirty weeks.[140] Vacation dates were adjusted to overlap with schools and other training colleges, which students were required to visit when they went home, so that they might report back their observations. "The students are supposed to work each day from six to seven hours," Elizabeth Hughes explained to the royal commission. That daily schedule covered all their assignments, lectures and teaching practice included. "I do not wish them to do more," and she evidently hoped that they did not.[141] However, she set her face against any notion that students might finance their CTC studies by taking paid work. "Very often educated women write to me to say, 'Is there nothing that we can do to earn money at Cambridge, so that we might be trained.' I say, 'No, as I only have you for 30 weeks, I must have all your energies.'"[142] Nor were the vacations pure holidays. "I arrange for my students to go to the high schools near their homes, and hear teachers under more natural conditions."[143] Molly Thomas was despatched on an excruciating Christmas visit to a London training college where she squirmed as she witnessed the full horror of the traditional 'Criticism Lesson', students taking turns to dissect the performance of a hapless probationer, all of them coming under the verbal lash of the lecturer in charge. "It was bad enough for the poor young teacher, but it was almost worse for the critics whose merciful little remarks were held up to scorn."[144] Molly blessed her good fortune at having encountered the gentler methods of Miss Hughes. However, it appears that CTC students relaxed, insofar as they were permitted, by singing about their workload. A student song from 1892, "Ten Little C.T.Cs", was based on the ditty "Ten Green Bottles", and chronicled various fates that eliminated students until only two were left:

2 little students looking out for fun

Were too severely criticised, and then there was one.

1 little student, when the term was done –

Succumbed to the 'Vacation work', & then there were none.[145]

            One reason why it was feasible to structure training to respond to individual needs was that a majority of the students were already practising teachers. Of 283 students who entered CTC by 1894, 133 had taught before, some for as long as ten years, and a further 27 were former student teachers, with at least some classroom experience. Miss Hughes insisted that "those who have come to us who have taught before have been more or less failures, and they have been more or less damaged by their failure." She regarded them as "disheartened," which hardly squares with their decision to invest £60-£70 (depending on whether they opted for shared or single accommodation) in a training course. Miss Buss and the CTC pioneers had not foreseen that this substantial recruitment of working teachers anxious to unlearn "bad habits" would become the mainstay of the project.[146]

            By contrast, the educated women whom CTC had been established to target were slow to come forward, although the percentages slightly increased through the early years. In November 1887, at the start of the third year, Miss Hughes could report that of the 41 students who had entered CTC, just four were from Cambridge, and three of those "have only spent 2 years at Newnham". By March 1890, fifteen of the 33 students in residence had some experience of higher education, most of them coming from London University or the growing range of provincial colleges. Elizabeth Hughes remained defiantly optimistic. "I have always considered that the special object of our college is to provide a training adequate & appropriate for university women," she reminded the Committee in 1891, "and it seems as if we are gradually attracting the kind of student we want." But that same year she also acknowledged that "the support we have hoped to gain from Girton and Newnham students has to a great extent failed us."[147] It was something of an event when she was able to report in 1892 that "for the first time we have a student direct from Girton." Statistics supplied by Newnham College to the 1894-95 royal commission drive home the failure of CTC to recruit Cambridge women. Since its foundation in 1871, Newnham had educated 683 British students, 667 of whom were still alive. The college had grown rapidly throughout the eighteen-eighties, making it likely that the majority of Newnhamites had left after 1885, the year of CTC's foundation. More than half of them, 374 in all, were working in the field of education, 254 of them as classroom teachers, with a further 23 employed as governesses, plus 21 who were seeking posts or engaged in further study.[148] Yet CTC had attracted only ten Cambridge-educated women, and two of those were from Girton.[149] Characteristically, it was Miss Buss who provided money to help finance at least university woman to train at CTC each year, but scholarship funds remained very limited: in 1894, there was just one £25 exhibition, which was reserved for a high-flying graduate. By 1894, 86 of the 283 students had "received something like a college education," but only 52 of these had qualified for degrees (a figure that included the ten from Cambridge and one from Oxford who had passed final examinations but were still excluded from the formal award of the BA on gender grounds). "I should prefer that the college were entirely limited to university graduates," Miss Hughes told the royal commission. "It is not limited at present, but that is certainly what I hope we shall come to in due time." She was philosophical about the reluctance of women graduates to come forward for training. "Those who have been trying to win university education for us in Cambridge and elsewhere, have been trying to get for us something good, that men only have hitherto been enjoying." But teacher training was "something that men have not been enjoying, and do not appreciate," so – she argued – it was unreasonable to expect it to have an immediate appeal to educated women.[150] It was a robust argument but, even so, it did not fully explain why CTC training seems to have attracted perhaps as few as five percent of Newnhamite teachers.

            Although CTC issued no formal diploma of its own, Miss Hughes operated as an unofficial employment bureau for her students, noting with pleasure in 1891 that "each year I seem to have less difficulty in finding for them the exact kind of posts they require." "Three or four years after we started, we did what I thought at the time was a very dangerous thing," she told the royal commission. "I was asked by my council ... to write to every headmistress who had ever had a student from us, and inquire as to their success." With two or three exceptions, the answers proved to be "exceedingly encouraging," although some unregenerate headmistresses took the opportunity to insist that employees would have been effective teachers without training.[151] In its early years, CTC's undoubted success rate probably owed a great deal to the fact that it was tapping in to a reservoir of partly experienced and potentially talented teachers. Although Miss Hughes estimated that no more than half a dozen students from each intake were innately gifted for teaching, at the other extreme only six in the whole decade had been counselled to abandon their intention to enter the profession, and four of those were advised to withdraw on health grounds.[152]

On the other hand, it can hardly be said that CTC products had grabbed the educational world by the scruff of its neck. In 1894 Elizabeth Hughes was able to supply information about 188 of the 235 students who had completed the course. Of these one was dead, while "nine have married, and have therefore passed out of the profession." Two were "not able to leave home for private reasons," while a further handful were studying, travelling or, in one case, "preparing to be a missionary". It was to CTC's credit that seventeen of its alumnae were themselves engaged in training teachers. As was to be expected, the largest category, 142, held various kinds of teaching posts, and only two were known to be unemployed. There were two surprising aspects of the 1894 statistics. One was that, in a profession that was still relatively small and compactly networked, Elizabeth Hughes appears to have lost touch with 47 of her 235 products – precisely one ex-student in five. This may well be a harbinger of CTC's subsequent twentieth-century difficulties in maintaining effective contact with Old Students. The other notable feature of the 1894 figures was that only four ex-students had become headmistresses.[153] One explanation for the small number of headships achieved would lay in the age profile: by 1907, the figure had risen to 27, three of them overseas. Perhaps, more broadly, there was less of an ambitious sense of career progression among the pioneer cohorts of women teachers. "Our old students are gradually being appointed to positions of considerable importance," Miss Hughes had reported in 1891, and she told the royal commission three years later CTC students "will probably take prominent positions in the educational world."[154] Some, it is true, were moving into other training colleges, but the comment suggests an assumption that classroom teaching itself represented a worthwhile and responsible career. By contrast, in 1894, Newnham, which had of course been operating for longer than CTC, reported 75 headmistresses out of the 374 of its products who had gone into careers in teaching – almost exactly one fifth. Book learning rather than classroom training was evidently the key to getting to the top in the world of girls' schools.[155]

            "Considering the many difficulties of our first year, I think there is some cause for satisfaction that we have succeeded fairly," Elizabeth Hughes wrote in November 1886. The fourteen pioneers had received training which "deficient as we know it was in many respects, has been, and will be, of considerable service to them." A year later, she felt "that however small, & imperfect our work has been, we have still had some manner of success." She was heartened by positive feedback from the women who had already passed through CTC, as she reported in March 1889. "I often wish the Committee could read some of the letters I receive from old students expressing their heartfelt gratitude for the training which we have given them." They key to CTC's rapid success was the imaginative achievement of Elizabeth Hughes in breaking away from the arid regime of rote-learning that had characterised teacher training in order to shape a creative and student-centred programme. As always, Miss Hughes put the matter with the insight of simple clarity. "Under our somewhat democratic form of government it depended largely upon the students to make or mar the college," she wrote in 1891, "and it is they chiefly who have made it."[156]


"I cannot help being discouraged sometimes that during the 3rd year of the existence of our College, we are still offering to our students such unsatisfactory accommodations," Elizabeth Hughes complained in March 1888. The pressure on Crofton Cottages was relieved at the end of the initial year, first by the erection of the Tin Tabernacle to provide classroom space and, second, by leasing additional accommodation apparently nearby.[157] "The new house which we have taken and furnished is comfortable & satisfactory," Miss Hughes reported in February 1887. However, with nineteen students in residence during the third year, four still had to be exiled to lodgings. Increased numbers placed a strain on the catering facilities of Crofton Cottages, where the students continued to gather for meals, and by 1888 Miss Hughes was warning that a new kitchen range would have to be installed.

            The location of the college on the urban frontier of Cambridge, amidst "the pools and mud of Newnham Croft,"[158] was unappealing in itself, but far more inconvenient was the distance from the schools where students delivered their practice lessons. From the outset, CTC found itself torn between its intended academic orientation, on the west side of Cambridge, and its working environment, away to the east. "I am sorry to be obliged to call the attention of the committee once more to the great inconvenience of living at a distance from the schools," wrote Miss Hughes in February 1887. "If a student is not strong, the exertion of a walk of 20 minutes or more to a school, the ordeal of giving a lesson & probably hearing two other lessons, & then a second walk of 20 minutes is often found very trying. I am myself sometimes unable to attend lessons in the schools because I can spare neither the time nor the energy for the long walk." Later in the year, she applied to the committee for money to cover cab fares "to take the students to the schools in bad weather. During the winter months we are frequently obliged to drive, & I scarcely ever feel justified in asking the students to contribute to the expense, as many of them are very poor, & several have had to borrow money to be trained."

            The mirage of an affiliation with Newnham College having dissipated, it was obvious that the college had to look for "a house or houses ... in a situation more convenient than the present one for visiting the schools in which the students practise." In 1887, the committee took a close look at two houses that were being built on Caius College land in Mortimer Road, around the corner from today's Hughes Hall location. If "thrown into one," they might accommodate the Principal and up to twenty students, provided rooms were shared. Annual rent and rates would cost £210, not massively greater than the £159 CTC was paying to squelch around Newnham Croft. However, the one-off cost of removal (presumably including the re-erection of the Tin Tabernacle) and of furnishing the premises was estimated at £350, and the Treasurer only had a balance of £90 on hand. There was talk of raising £300, but the proposal lapsed.

As late as May 1888, it was decided "to retain Crofton Cottages" and keep the overflow property, Beddington Villa, for a further year, even though this would still require lodgings for seven students. However, at relatively short notice the prospect opened up of renting two houses on Queen Anne Terrace, on the east side of the town's largest open space, Parker's Piece. The larger of them, number 12, subsequently demolished to make way for Cambridge's multi-storey car park, had previously housed Ayerst's Hostel, a project launched by the Reverend William Ayerst to encourage trainee clergymen of the Church of England to study in Cambridge. (The words "coals" and "Newcastle" come to mind.) In addition to running his hostel, William Ayerst also sought to convert British Jews to Christianity: did Elizabeth Hughes perhaps mention her own Jewish heritage to build bridges for the transfer of the premises? Ayerst's was moving to a new home, where it later went bankrupt, its Mount Pleasant premises becoming the nucleus of St Edmund's College.

"The numbers of the Cambridge Training College have steadily grown and there are this term twenty-three students," the Journal of Education reported in December 1888. "Hitherto the chief drawback to success has been the limited accommodation, but the College has now secured two commodious and in every way suitable houses by Parker's Piece." CTC was managing to break even despite charging low fees, but it was now appealing to well-wishers "for contributions to meet the extraordinary expense of moving." Ten pounds, it was said, would furnish a student room.[159] Rented for £185 a year, the two houses on Queen Anne Terrace could accommodate 24 students; Miss Hughes pronounced them "comfortable and convenient". Comfortable they may have been, but convenient was perhaps an exaggeration. Classes were held and meals taken in number 12, the larger of the two properties, where the Principal resided. Number 6 was the overflow, policed by a housekeeper who locked her charges in at night. But by day, they had to run the gauntlet of a wicked world to reach number 12 – a world made all the more dangerous by the complication that the intervening properties were occupied by an undergraduate hostel. An unspecified "irregularity" occurred early in 1889, but the warden of the men's hostel rejected a remonstrance from Miss Hughes, blaming her for intruding temptation into a male world.[160]

It soon became clear that the two houses on Queen Anne Terrace were not large enough. Student applications were rising and Elizabeth Hughes calculated that if she could raise the intake to 35, the fee income might pay for an additional lecturer. She proposed to take an additional house for six students in Warkworth Street, diagonally across Parker's Piece, and place it under the supervision of "an old student who has a small private income" and who had agreed to work as her secretary. Soon, other houses nearby were also leased. In 1892, Miss Hughes reported that "the students who live in Warkworth Street have to suffer many inconveniences" and "we occasionally lose students because we cannot give them room in Queen Anne Terrace." By 1894, CTC was "doing things very extravagantly with seven different houses" along the Queen Anne Terrace-Warkworth Street axis. The administrative burden was indefensible, and the rent payments, £470 a year, were heavy.[161] The case for permanent buildings had become overwhelming.

            For Elizabeth Hughes, the failure to move forward, "to dabble wildly in red bricks and mortar," as one student roguishly put it in 1888,[162] would have been doubly disappointing. First of all, her hopes would have been raised by an over-optimistic building sub-committee which examined possible options during the first winter of CTC's existence, and produced a highly sanguine report to the Committee on 6 February 1886. It recommended building on land belonging to Caius College, either to the south or east of the University Cricket Ground. While the committee preferred the south side, "where the ground is as yet unbroken by buildings," it considered that it might be quicker and simpler to build to the east, "immediately behind the gardens at the back of Mortimer Villas," where land could be leased for £25 a year.

An approach had also been made to a local architect, W.M. Fawcett, whose design was available for inspection at the February 1886 meeting. The great architectural historian, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, dismissed Fawcett as the "successful local boy" and "not a man of much talent."[163] Real colleges called in major architects from London, but with mixed results: it is only necessary to compare the gloomy buildings that Alfred Waterhouse inflicted upon the Cambridge scene to appreciate the merits of Fawcett's work. It seems likely that the building that CTC eventually erected in 1895 was the one he designed nine years previously, for the College hardly had the cash to commission a second set of plans. Now known as the Margaret Wileman Building, it bears a stylistic resemblance to the Local Examinations Syndicate building in Mill Lane that Fawcett was building in 1886.[164] Backdating Fawcett's plans for the 1895 building to 1886 invites further speculation about the context in which they were designed. Pevsner assumed that Fawcett's use of Dutch gables for the CTC building represented the influence of Norman Shaw, the architect who pioneered the Queen Anne Revival style of domestic architecture. However, it is more likely that Fawcett was echoing the work of another practitioner, Basil Champneys, who used a similar style for the buildings of Newnham College. When the buildings sub-committee started to search for a site, they perhaps looked first to the still-open ground to the west of the town, where Ridley Hall and Selwyn College had recently become Newnham's neighbours. Fawcett must have been commissioned late in 1885. Perhaps he was encouraged to design a building that would fit in with the work of Basil Champneys, which would suggest that there were still hopes that Newnham College might absorb CTC. In the event, the Wollaston Road building would make its architectural statement – that CTC was Newnham rather than Girton in spirit – a decade after the issue had ceased to matter.

Commissioning Fawcett would have been in line with the sub-committee's bullish opinion "that the buildings could be ready for occupation in September 1887." That would certainly have sweetened the pill of having to spend a second year in Crofton Cottages, but the optimism was short-lived. A notice in the Cambridge Review, the University's unofficial house journal, in May 1886 announced that the CTC committee proposed "to erect a collegiate building" to accommodate its Principal and 25 students, and invited contributions to the estimated £7,000 cost. The claim that CTC was "very successful" – a claim that was perhaps also a little premature – was not enough to unlock Cambridge purses.[165] The Association of Schoolmistresses, the professional body that Elizabeth Hughes had helped to create, supported CTC's claim to "better premises" when it met in 1887, but could vote only £10 to the building fund.[166] Reality dawned: purpose-built collegiate buildings were not going to sprout overnight. By the time sufficient money was collected, in 1894, housing had taken root in the Glisson Road area south of Fenner's cricket ground, and CTC had to squeeze itself into the restricted Wollaston Road site behind Mortimer Villas.[167]

            As she looked around her, Elizabeth Hughes was bound to feel frustrated that her college was so slow in being translated into bricks and mortar. In 1881, Evangelical Anglicans had opened Ridley Hall right next to Newnham College when eight students moved into partly erected accommodation on the two and a half acre site. The following year, the "large and handsome structure of brick in the Tudor-Gothic style" was completed for fourteen students. By 1887, there were 26 of them: Ridley Hall was growing more slowly than CTC in everything except bricks and mortar. Downriver at Ely, a diocesan theological college had been founded in 1876, and in 1881 had acquired its own premises, another "handsome building of red brick ... in the Gothic style", sufficient to house twenty students. Across the Cam from Newnham Croft, the Leys School, Cambridge's Methodist public school for boys, had been energetically taking shape between 1875 and 1883. Back in 1869, Cambridge had decided to admit "non-collegiate" students, a device for widening access to the University by sparing impecunious undergraduates the burden of college fees. In 1886, supporters of the scheme managed to scrape together enough cash to buy two houses in Trumpington Street as a headquarters – the origin of Fitzwilliam House, which in due course relocated and became a full college. True, the project had been slow to develop, but it achieved bricks and mortar thanks to a £1,000 loan from the University. Miss Hughes might well have asked why money was forthcoming to train clergymen and educate male adolescents, but the financial well seemed to dry up when funds were sought for a modest building in which to train women teachers. Within the University, three new projects were moving forward in the form of hostels, each designed to bring access to higher education to a wider range of boys and men. Cavendish College had been built in 1876, beyond the railway station, to offer a cut-price university education to undergraduates of schoolboy age. In July 1878 a public meeting in London had decided to establish an Anglican college in Cambridge in memory of the first bishop of New Zealand. Selwyn College opened in its own buildings in October 1882, and its imposing courtyard was mainly completed by 1889. The third, Ayerst Hall, had followed in 1884. Even though Ayerst's did not erect its own building, it did not was symbolic that when the hostel traded up from Queen Anne Terrace, CTC was the next in the institutional pecking order to take over its premises. Although Cavendish and Ayerst's went out of business in the next decade, both had University recognition, while Selwyn was positively fast-tracked to everything short of full collegiate status.[168]

            In fact the years immediately after 1885 were a time of great financial pressure for Cambridge University and its traditional colleges. Cheap grain from North America and frozen meat from the southern hemisphere flooded into British markets, causing a major agricultural depression. Farmers in many parts of England found it literally impossible to pay their rents, and in some areas farms were abandoned altogether. When the Marquess of Ripon, a Yorkshire landowner, formerly opened CTC's Wollaston Road building in 1895, he praised Elizabeth Hughes for "carrying on a public institution so successfully without capital, and said he wished she would take on one of his farms and carry that on without capital."[169] The agricultural crisis hit college incomes very hard, since much of their endowment was tied up in land. College Fellows were generally paid not a fixed stipend, but a dividend proportional to annual income. Their incomes nosedived through the eighteen-eighties. Fellows of St John's had received £300 in 1872, but by 1894 this was down to £80. At King's, the dividend had hovered above £250, but declined to less than £100 – maybe one reason why Oscar Browning limited his contribution to the CTC building fund to the sum of one pound. At its Christmas pantomime in 1895, the Amateur Dramatic Club cast the Forty Thieves as Cambridge academics driven to desperation by hard times.[170]

One of the few counter-strategies open to colleges was to increase admissions, student fees replacing farm rents: in the years 1887 and 1890 new entrants to the University topped the thousand mark. Rising numbers caused pressure on accommodation, and some colleges managed to build in response, although – not surprisingly – late Victorian Cambridge offers little of architectural value. Christ's, Emmanuel, King's and St John's each managed to erect new courts or hostels, and naturally they were on the look-out for any available funds.[171] Even without external benefactions, the established colleges could tap resources far beyond the fantasies of Elizabeth Hughes. When Trinity considered crossing the Cam to erect a new court on the Backs (happily, the scheme was abandoned), the Master and twenty senior Fellows pledged themselves to contribute £6,000.[172] Had it secured access to that sort of cash, CTC would have built far sooner, "but the Cambridge people are poor," as Miss Buss remarked of CTC's supporters in 1891, "... they are given to plain living and high thinking rather than to money making!" As it was, the College was reduced to appealing to its alumnae to save a penny a week out of their teaching salaries, and remit the proceeds to the CTC Building Fund in the form of postage stamps.[173]

However, the most direct competition faced by CTC came not from the established men's colleges but Girton and Newnham. The two women's colleges possessed the fund-raising advantage that they were more likely to appeal to sophisticated urban benefactors and so were less liable to be affected by the agricultural depression. Both were completing their initial phase of building in the later eighteen-eighties, and a project that is visible but half-complete will always be more appealing to benefactors than one that exists only in the dreams of a few projectors. In 1887, Girton completed its main courtyard with its trademark entrance tower, largely paid for by a single donation. Newnham constructed Clough Hall in 1888. In both cases, the buildings were a culmination of a steady onward march, for both colleges had in fact started to move into the permanent homes within four years of their first stirrings. Lack of a permanent home created an air of insecurity about the CTC project. In 1892, a well-wisher donated a collection of stuffed birds, but with the condition that it should "be returned to her, if at any time the college ceases to exist."[174]

Evidently, CTC was not moving so rapidly forward as Girton and Newnham in their early days. In April 1891, the indefatigable Frances Buss was shaking the tree to locate a benefactor who might finance a secure home for the College. "Do you know of any one who, for the sake of education, would buy a house in Cambridge, and let it at once to the committee of the Teachers' Training College?," she implored a friend. "It would be a safe investment, and the committee could certainly pay four per cent." Miss Buss had her eye on three adjoining houses in Cambridge, which could be purchased at £1200 each, one of which could be bought outright and the other two secured through a mortgage. It would have been a solution of a kind to the CTC accommodation problem, but evidently nothing came of it.[175] By June 1891, almost six years after she had opened CTC, Elizabeth Hughes had endured enough.

"The present accommodation for the college," she told the Committee, referring to its scattering of rented houses, "is inconvenient & uncomfortable for the students, adds very greatly to my work & anxieties, & is very extravagant." There was nothing new in her complaint, but it was followed by a bombshell. "I am afraid, if during the course of the next 12 months nothing is done to provide a suitable home for the college, I shall reluctantly have to give up the struggle at the end of next year." To drive home her threat, she added that it was only fair to make her intentions clear for the sake of intending students. Of course, CTC would start to fall apart well before her threatened departure date of June 1892. The "B" entry in January 1892 would obviously wish to know whether teaching was guaranteed for their third term, while autumn admissions would probably collapse altogether. In 1893, CTC itself had managed to transfer £150 to its building fund, its operating surplus for the previous year, but in other years the need to purchase additional furniture swallowed up any surplus cash.[176] With a permanent building estimated to cost around £9000, it would be decades before the first brick could be laid. We do not know what inducements were offered to persuade Miss Hughes to change her mind but, somehow, a corner was turned.

It helped that a major charitable fund became available for competitive application. The account offered here of the Pfeiffer bequest is based on research by Basil Herbertson, a former President of Hughes Hall, although my interpretation differs in arguing that it was a slightly troubling, saga.[177] Jürgen Edward Pfeiffer was born in Holstein, a German-speaking duchy under the personal rule of the king of Denmark until Bismarck seized it in 1864. He settled in England and made a fortune in the City. He and his wife Emily had no children. They died in 1889 and 1890. In his Will, Pfeiffer had left everything to Emily without any conditions, adding that he had "full confidence" that she would carry out his intentions for the distribution of their property which he would leave in writing at the time of his death. This document was emphatic that he wished the bulk of his property to be used "for charitable and educational purposes in favour of women" although, more generally, he was prepared to have part of his estate "divided as endowments among Charities or education establishments on behalf of women, I repeat, women solely." To ensure that the money was properly allocated, and not frittered away on minor projects, he nominated three friends to act as consultants for the distribution of funds. One was A.J. Mundella, a Liberal politician who served as Vice-President of the Council between 1880 and 1885, effectively Minister of Education although the title had not yet come into use. The second was Miss Anna Swanwick, a long-time supporter of women's education and the third was J.G. Fitch, the influential Inspector of Schools whose role in the planning of CTC has already been explored.

Jürgen Edward Pfeiffer died in January 1889 and, a few weeks later, his widow signed a simple Will directing her executors to give effect to her late husband's wishes. However, in May of that year, Emily added a codicil specifying that the estate was to be used to purchase land and build cottage homes "for the training of destitute girls (preferably Orphans)". It was subsequently suggested that she had been influenced by the Jack the Ripper murders in Whitechapel, which had revealed the dangers faced by young working class women. The

Pfeiffers' long marriage had evidently been a close and happy partnership, and Emily apparently evidently regarded her amended scheme as in keeping with his wishes, even decreeing that the homes were to be named in his honour. She died in January 1890, and for the next two years the lawyers picked over the paperwork.

            The key issue was the concept of mortmain, which dated back at least to a statute of 1279. Mortmain was originally a device to prevent land passing into the dead hand of the Church, responding to the fear that unscrupulous death-bed pressure would eventually make priests the owners of the whole of England. In fact Emily's Will was declared invalid under an updated law on charitable bequests passed in 1888, which made it illegal not merely to bequeath land for charitable purposes but to leave money for the purchase of such land, as Emily had specified as the necessary preliminary to building her cottage homes. To salvage the Pfeiffers' intentions and put their money to good use, the courts appointed trustees who sought the advice of the three consultant. The upshot was a scheme to divide the capital into grants for women's organisations, most of them colleges. Viewed from over a century later, it is a disturbing transaction on both gender and class grounds. There was an unstated assumption that Emily Pfeiffer was incapable of rationally interpretating her husband's wishes, while money that she wished to utilise for the physical security of young working-class women was transferred instead to predominantly middle-class institutions. In the event, half the twenty organisation that received Pfeiffer grants used the money for building, as much a permanent arrangement as anything barred by mortmain legislation. CTC, for instance, had to acquire land on which to build, originally by leasehold but converted in the 1930s into outright purchase. The amended Pfeiffer scheme was crucial in permitting CTC to erect its own permanent building. Whether it represented a fair interpretation of Emily Pfeiffer's wishes is open to doubt.

The Pfeiffer money proved crucial for CTC, which secured a grant of £3000.[178]  It also represented a landmark in the college's institutional development. To become eligible for Pfeiffer money, or indeed any grant funding on that scale, CTC had to move beyond its embryo committee stage and be placed on a recognised legal basis. In January 1893 the College was registered with the Board of Trade as an association limited by guarantee, a form of not-for-profit limited liability company. CTC was now administered by Council that was answerable through an annual general meeting to a 50-member Association, to which the Cambridge University was invited to nominate a representative.[179] The University appointed representatives to many organisations, so its acceptance of the offer did not amount to serious recognition, and Miss Hughes was to insist in 1899 that they contributed very little to the running of CTC even when they troubled to turn up.[180] Another institutional innovation was the formation, in 1891, of an Old Students Gild to mobilise the alumnae in support of the building project.

An approach to City livery companies from Dr Bryant produced disappointing results, but individual benefactors boosted the Pfeiffer money: for instance, the Eaden Lilley family, who ran Cambridge's leading store, donated £100, as did Alfred Rose of Emmanuel. The early death of Laura Soames, Brighton-based and a long-time supporter of women's education, produced a legacy of £500, perhaps unexpected as Miss Soames was a strong champion of religious education for women. In all, around £2000 of non-Pfeiffer money was collected. This left £4000, which CTC raised through the issue of debentures. Issued at four percent interest, their annual cost of £160 represented a considerable saving on the £470 outlay for rent. CTC would have to cover the maintenance of its new building, but it was already budgeting £100 a year for repairs on its rented properties.[181] The debentures were redeemed by the end of the nineteen-twenties, and subsequently CTC resorted to a building society mortgage for upgrade work and a bank loan to finance the construction of an extension in 1938.

The permanent building was constructed on one of the sites considered back in 1886, on the east side of Fenner's, the University cricket ground. It was leased from Gonville and Caius College, which had laid out a short street preparatory to building development, and named the cul-de-sac after William Hyde Wollaston, one of its distinguished early nineteenth-century members. As with most building projects, there were problems. There was a dispute with the contractors over rising in costs, which forced the CTC Council to curtail the planned size of the building: this may explain why the porch and some of the Dutch-style gables were completed in a different shade of brick. Pevsner dismissed Fawcett's building as "in the neo-Dutch-Norman-Shaw-London-Board-School style."[182] "London Board School" probably referred to the high windows at the north end of the building, in the section named the Pfeiffer Wing, for it was a condition of all Pfeiffer grants that the name should be attached in some way. Lord Ripon, who performed the opening ceremony, was more impressed by the fenestration, praising the "singular brightness" of the building.[183] Pevsner's comment perhaps also hinted at a slight sneer against the unglamorous task of training female teachers .

Discouragements notwithstanding, the building was ready for the new academic session of 1895, and CTC celebrated its formal opening en fête on 19 October. The opening ceremony was reported in the national press, securing useful publicity and a measure of public recognition for the college.[184] "The movement began about ten years ago in a modest way, with two cottages in Newnham Croft, where fourteen students went through the course of training," explained The Times. The College was "only ten years old," remarked the Manchester Guardian, "and ten years are as but a day in the slow gestation of modern institutions on the banks of the Cam." So many people turned up – including hundreds from out of town, presumably including former students and educational luminaries -- that the planned ceremonial, which was minimal enough, collapsed utterly. The official party was to progress through a marquee which had been erected behind the building to accommodate the guests, before speeches were delivered and the building formally inaugurated. In the event, a dense crowd blocked the entrance and Miss Hughes had to persuade the platform party to scramble down a steep bank and creep into the tent through a flap at the back. Afternoon tea had been laid out in the new Library to entertain the distinguished guests after the ceremony, but the cakes and scones were appropriated by the surging throng of sightseers.

The subsequent estimate by Miss Hughes, of an attendance of one thousand people, was probably an exaggeration. By 1893, CTC had almost three hundred alumnae, but no report specifically alludes to the festival as a reunion. "The University, the town of Cambridge and the educational world generally were well represented," said one account, while another described the throng as "a large and distinguished gathering of ladies and gentlemen interested in education." There were so many "visitors from a distance" that two friendly colleges, Christ's and Emmanuel, were pressed into service to provide lunches. The Vice-Chancellor, Charles Smith of Sidney Sussex, attended in a dual capacity, since he had been a committed supporter of the college from its earliest days, even attending weekly sessions to provide mathematics coaching. He spoke briefly "of the need for professional training of teachers, and the value which experience shows it to have, although that value is not as fully recognised as it deserves." Miss Clough's successor as principal of Newnham, Eleanor Sidgwick, was similarly low key. "Teaching was numerically the most important profession in which women were engaged and she hoped that a far larger number of Newnham and Girton students might pass on to the Training College than had hitherto done so."[185] Oscar Browning was there, although he did not speak. Sir John Gorst, member of parliament for the University, was not only a prominent representative of the Cambridge official community, but had recently been appointed Vice-President of the Committee on Education -- in effect, schools minster, in Lord Salisbury's Conservative government. Miss Buss had died a few months before, too weak in her last days to come and inspect the building that she had worked so hard to bring about, but Dr Sophie Bryant, her chief ally and successor as headmistress of North London Collegiate School, spoke about the origins of the CTC project.

However, it was probably the two star invited speakers whom most of the crowd wished to see and hear, although neither of them could have been selected with a view to ingratiating CTC with the more hidebound of Cambridge dons. No doubt many people turned out to look with awe upon a real-live Marquess who had served as Viceroy of India, but Lord Ripon was an unusual figure. In every generation of British public life there seems to be a niche for the radical aristocrat, the man from the very innermost circle of privilege who challenges the very values that he seems to personify. The Marquess of Ripon had been born in Number Ten Downing Street when his father was serving a brief term as prime minister. He had served in Liberal governments for a quarter of a century, and had steered the 1870 Education Act through the upper house. Lord Ripon acknowledged that CTC was "non-sectarian" but, on the basis of a brief tour of the new building earlier in the day, "he rejoiced to know that there did prevail a distinctly religious feeling – a feeling that religion was the foundation and crown of all education." Since he was one of the highest profile converts to Catholicism in Victorian England – a controversial leap between faiths in those days – many Cambridge dons would have spluttered over their copy of The Times when they read those words on Monday morning. His friendly and informal response to the chaotic opening ceremony made a positive impression on the CTC people, but he was a controversial figure.[186]

The Honourable and Reverend Edward Lyttelton, headmaster of Haileybury, who featured in a supporting role, was also less of an establishment figure than his resounding name might suggest. Nephew of Mr Gladstone, he belonged to a family who were widely regarded as nakedly ambitious. Lyttelton had recently served as a member of the royal commission on secondary education to which Elizabeth Hughes had given extensive evidence. It is likely that he already had his eye on the biggest prize in the public school world, the headmastership of Eton, which he would secure in 1905. Lyttelton's detractors regarded him as a faddist who was too ready to jump on every passing bandwagon. "He goes to conferences, he makes speeches," one schoolmaster contemporary wrote of him, disapproving words that implied a cutting denigration of any man's judgement.[187] Unlike Lord Ripon, who had been privately educated, dodging both schools and universities, Lyttelton was a Cambridge product. Indeed, his presence at Wollaston Road was a return to a scene of past glory, for as an undergraduate in 1878 he had captained the University cricket team which had beaten the Australian tourists at Fenner's, and by the sweeping margin of an innings and 72 runs.

For both Ripon and Lyttelton, the inauguration of CTC's permanent home was an occasion to demonstrate their support for a public system of secondary education, which the forthcoming royal commission report was expected to place firmly on the political agenda. Both generously praised the innovative Principal. In a "short but very keen and humorous speech," Lyttelton "sang the praises" of the visionaries who had selected Elizabeth Hughes, while Lord Ripon also spoke of "the great skill and energy shown by the Principal, not only educationally but also financially". Despite some organisational disarray, 19 October 1895 was pre-eminently her personal career triumph. Tired but intensely happy at the end of an exhausting day, she was Victorian enough to wonder whether she had done her duty on this important occasion when she had so obviously enjoyed herself and had even succumbed to the undignified temptation to run across the grass. With ten years of successful experimentation behind her, at 44 she was younger than most male Heads of Houses (as College Masters were collectively known) at the time of their first election to office. Almost single-handedly, she had created the Cambridge Training College and could look forward to moving the cause of the teacher training of women into a new dimension. Yet, within four years, she had gone.

[The story continues in Hughes Hall Cambridge, 1885-2010 (London, Third Millennium international, 2011]


The early years of the Cambridge Training College for Women Teachers have been principally reconstructed from two Minute Books, compiled in longhand, in Box A7 of the Hughes Hall Cambridge Archives. These are the Minutes of the First Committee (1885-1890) and "Reports of C.T.C.", January 1886 to February 1893, in reality the twice-yearly report by the Principal to the committee. The reports for 1885-86 printed, presumably for circulation to supporters, but no copies are known to survive outside the Hughes Hall Archives. To simplify the Endnotes, references to these sources are omitted as dates are indicated in the text.

            At various phases, CTC issued annual reports, usually addressed to former students. In the early years these were called the Leaflet (not a very accurate title), and, again, copies seem mainly to have survived only at Hughes Hall. They are cited as AR [Annual Report], by year and without page numbers.

Many of the major personalities encountered in this study are included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [ODNB] (2004). Outline biographical information on male Cambridge figures who matriculated before 1900 is given J.A. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigensis ... from 1752 to 1900 (6 volumes, 1940-54). Venn is now being made available on-line through the ACAD project (A Cambridge Alumni Database, which is being expanded to identify members of Girton and Newnham Colleges. Endnote references are normally not supplied for information from ODNB, Venn and ACAD. References are given for obituaries, especially from The Times, as these normally include personalia and comment.

Special mention should be made of two academic works that are of central importance to this study. The first is the collaborative work by Pam Hirsch and Marc McBeth, Teacher Training at Cambridge: The Initiatives of Oscar Browning and Elizabeth Hughes (London, 2004). Chapters 7-14, by Dr Hirsch, focus upon the first Principal of CTC, Elizabeth Hughes, and are cited as Hirsch. Dr Hirsch's research is of particular value in reconstructing the early years of CTC, and especially in clarifying the relationship (and, in some aspects, the lack of one) between Elizabeth Hughes and Newnham College. The centenary of the CTC / Hughes Hall was marked by the publication of Margaret Bottrall, Hughes Hall 1885-1985 (Cambridge, 1985). A discreetly written "insider" account, Mrs Bottrall's volume combined historical analysis with an informative chronicle of the College's first hundred years. The frequency of the Endnote formula "Bottrall" testifies to its continuing value.



Annual Reports to Old Members, issued under various titles, identified by year.


Margaret Bottrall, Hughes Hall 1885-1985 (Cambridge, 1985)


Annie E. Ridley, Frances Mary Buss and Her Work for Education (London, 1895)


Blanche Athena Clough, A Memoir of Anne Jemima Clough (London, 1897)


Pam Hirsch and Marc McBeth, Teacher Training at Cambridge: The Initiatives of Oscar Browning and Elizabeth Hughes (London, 2004). Chapters 7-14 (pp. 105-206) are by Dr Hirsch.

London Girl

M.V. Hughes (née Thomas), A London Girl of the 1880s (Oxford, 1978 ed.)


Pam Hirsch and Marc McBeth, Teacher Training at Cambridge: The Initiatives of Oscar Browning and Elizabeth Hughes (London, 2004). Chapters 1-6 (pp. 3-101) are by Dr McBeth.


Rita McWilliams-Tullberg, Women at Cambridge: A Men's University – Though of a Mixed Type (London, 1975)

RC 1895

House of Commons Papers, 1895 [C.7862-1] Royal Commission on Secondary Education, Vol. 2, Minutes of Evidence. (Elizabeth Hughes gave evidence on XXXX)


R.W. Rich, The Training of Teachers in England and Wales During the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1933)


Peter Searby, The Training of Teachers in Cambridge University: The First Sixty Years 1879-1939 (Cambridge University Department of Education, 1982)



[1] For Molly's cab ride, London Girl, pp. 94-5.

[2] London Girl, p. 89.

[3] Buss, p. 268.

[4] Buss, p. 341.

[5] London Girl, p. 91.

[6] London Girl, p. 94.

[7] AR 1952.

[8] London Girl, pp. 18-90 (chs 2-5) for Molly Thomas's view of North London Collegiate School; Buss, pp. 87-272 for the authorised version.

[9] London Girl, p. 38.

[10] Buss, p. 202.

[11] Buss, pp. 218-19.

[12] London Girl, p. 22.

[13] Buss, p. 260.

[14] London Girl, p. 35.

[15] Buss, p. 215.

[16] RC 1895, p. 484.

[17] London Girl, p. 37.

[18] Buss, p. 114.

[19] Parents complained in 1871 when she hired "a governess not trained in our school. She does not therefore understand our ways, and causes me much worry; but she is really a good Christian girl, one who will do well in time. But ... I have to suffer during the process of her instruction." Buss, pp. 114-15.

[20] The Times, 21 April 1879.

[21] The Times, 8 April 1887, and response by Oscar Browning, 13 April 1887.

[22] The Times, 25 October 1902.

[23] Rich, pp. 1-220 remains a useful overview of teacher training in the 19th century.

[24] Rich, p. 185.

[25] Rich, p. 204.

[26] Buss, p. 283.

[27] Buss, p. 273.

[28] Buss, p.280, the discreetly worded comment of Miss Agnes Ward, who was appointed Principal of Bishopsgate in 1880. It was probably a Bishopsgate student whom Molly Thomas had watched blinking back tears of humiliation as she worked through the wrong pack of class cards attempting to generate feedback from her test lesson.

[29] Buss, p. 281, letter of 6 April 1885.

[30] McWT, pp. 19-35.

[31] Searby, pp. 1-11; McBeth, pp. 67-71.

[32] For Browning, see McBeth , pp. 3-101, and Ian Anstruther, Oscar Browning: A Biography (London, 1983).

[33] The Times, 4 June 1879 for the 1880 syllabus. For the 1882 syllabus, House of Commons Papers, 1890-91 (335), Special Report from the Select Committee on Teachers' Registration and Organization Bill, pp. 332-33.

[34] House of Commons Papers, 1886 [C.4863], Royal Commission on Elementary Education Acts, p. 446.

[35] J.G. Fitch, Lectures on Teaching Delivered in the University of Cambridge During the Lent Term 1880 (Cambridge 1881), p. 15.

[36] London Girl, p. 100.

[37] Buss, p. 284.

[38] P. Levy, Moore: G.E. Moore and the Cambridge Apostles (Oxford, 1981), p. 59.

[39] The Times, 21 April 1879.

[40] The Times, 2 April 1887.

[41] The replies were summarised in House of Commons Papers, 1890-91 (335), Special Report from the Select Committee on Teachers' Registration and Organization Bill, p. 334.

[42] The Times, 8 April 1887. Since Herbert Kynaston had made up his mind on the subject, it would have been both irrelevant and disrespectful to point out that chapter 4 of Fitch's Lectures on Teaching constituted a very sensible discussion of the objects and methods of classroom discipline.

[43] The Times, 2 April 1887.

[44] RC 1895, p. 479.

[45] Gwen Raverat, Period Piece: A Cambridge Childhood (London, 1960 ed.), p. 61. For the history of schools in Cambridge, Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire, ii, pp. 341-47, iii, pp. 141-45. Some building dates are given in Kelly's Directory for Cambridgeshire, 1888.

[46] RC 1895, p. 479.

[47] The Victoria County History comments (ii, p. 341): "the continuity of the 'Old Schools of Cambridge' owed something to their link with the permanent academic body". T.D. Atkinson, Cambridge Described & Illustrated (London, 1897), p. 224: "abundant facilities are offered to students for exercise in the practice of teaching. Fifteen schools of all kinds in Cambridge welcome the students as temporary unpaid teachers."

[48] The Times, 2 June 1930. Unfortunately, Browne does not mention CTC in his Recollections of a Bishop (London, 1915).

[49] D.A.Winstanley, Later Victorian Cambridge (Cambridge, 1947), pp. 1-19.

[50] Buss, p. 284.

[51] McWT, pp. 50-84. See also Gillian Sutherland, "Emily Davies, the Sidgwicks and the Education of Women in Cambridge" in R. Mason, ed., Cambridge Minds (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 34-47. For a brief overview, E. Leedham-Green, A Concise History of the University of Cambridge (Cambridge, 1996), pp. 175-78.

[52] Impropriety could lurk even in the study of dead languages. Cambridge classicists favoured the purified pronunciation of Latin, in which V was rendered as W, C was articulated as K and I could sometimes indicate a long E. G.F. Browne, who travelled to Hitchin to teach the first proto-Girtonians, recalled "some little hesitancy" when the women encountered the adverb "vicissim". Browne, Recollections of a Bishop (London, 1915), pp. 126-7.

[53] Ged Martin, The Cambridge Union and Ireland, 1815-1914 (Edinburgh, 2000), pp. 60-63.

[54] Cambridge building dates taken from N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire (Harmondsworth, 1970 ed.)

[55] The Times, 25 February 1881. The division was reported to be the largest vote that had ever taken place in the Senate House. However, opponents clung to the belief that the concession was ultra vires.

[56] For a rounded assessment of Anne Jemima Clough and her family background, Gillian Sutherland, Faith, Duty and the Power of Mind: The Cloughs and Their Circle, 1820-1960 (Cambridge, 2006).

[57] The Girton mission statement is found in an unlikely place: Kelly's Directory for Cambridgeshire, 1888, p. 87.

[58] The first major research project to be sponsored by Hughes Hall, in its transition to a graduate college in the nineteen-seventies, was an attempt to find new ways of teaching Greek in order to prevent it from dying out of the English school system altogether.

[59] L. and T. Fowler, eds, Cambridge Commemorated: An Anthology of University Life (Cambridge, 1989 ed.), p. 239.

[60] Kelly's Directory for Cambridgeshire, 1888, p. 30.

[61] AR, 1892, quoted Hirsch, p. 128, Bottrall, p. 5.

[62] Hirsch, pp. 118-27.

[63] D.P. Hughes, The Life of Hugh Price Hughes (London, 1907), p. 4.

[64] Hughes, Life of Hughes, p. 145.

[65] "I am not afraid of any one of you," he told the Methodist Conference as he accepted their presidential nomination. Hughes, Life of Hughes, pp. 82, 510.

[66] RC 1895, p. 482.

[67] Hughes, Life of Hughes, p. 34; Bottrall, p. 30.

[68] Hirsch, p. 119.

[69] Hughes, Life of Hughes, p. 34.

[70] Buss, p. 311.

[71] The Times, 16 January 1888.

[72] RC 1895, p. 474.

[73] Hirsch, pp. 125-26.

[74] AR, 1998.

[75] The Times, 2 June 1884.

[76] RC 1895, p. 470.

[77] Buss, p. 284 (Dr Bryant).

[78] Hirsch, pp. 122-26. In 1912, Oscar Browning recalled hearing Elizabeth Hughes deliver an address at the Social Science Congress at Birmingham in 1884. Browning was notoriously casual about facts, and it seems likely that he confused her with Sarah Harland, who lectured at Newnham and was in charge of a college hostel. In 1885, she married W.N. Shaw of Emmanuel College and in 1893 was one of the founding signatories to the CTC Articles of Association. Hirsch, p. 172; The Times, 24 September 1884.

[79] London Girl, p. 98

[80] Buss, pp. 281-82.

[81] Hirsch, pp. 128-30.

[82] For those present, Hirsch, p. 143.

[83] Clough, p. 227.

[84] Hirsch, p. 129.

[85] Buss, p. 283.

[86] Newnham had to combat an impression that it was a college for governesses, Gillian Sutherland in Mason, ed., Cambridge Minds, p. 38.

[87] Buss, p. 283.

[88] Hirsch, p. 167; Buss, pp. 281-82.

[89] From this point until Chapter 4, quotations are made from two longhand notebooks in Box A7 of the Hughes Hall Archives, the Minutes of the First Committee (1885-1890) and "Reports of C.T.C.", January 1886 to February 1893, in reality the twice-yearly report by the Principal to the committee. To simplify the Endnotes, individual references to these sources are omitted.

[90] Bottrall, p. 22.

[91] The Times, 11 April 1919.

[92] The Times, 13 May 1925.

[93] It was given as her address in an appeal for funds in Cambridge Review, 19 May 1886, p. 328. By 1888, 3 Newnham Terrace was occupied by the Reverend Charles Moule of Corpus, who had married in December 1886. Arthur Verrall was a member of the Newnham College Council and had been present at the meeting on 21 February 1885 that had rejected Miss Buss's plea for affiliation.

[94] The Times, 19 June 1885.

[95] Buss, pp. 285-86.

[96] London Girl, p. 127.

[97] Hirsch, p. 136.

[98] Bottrall, p. 7; Hirsch, p. 148.

[99] London Girl, p. 94.

[100] Eleven students were formally admitted by the Committee at its meeting on 20 July 1885, when a limit of twelve was set for the initial class. One of the initial cohort withdrew during the summer, and four more applicants were accepted, two of them – presumably the Conan sisters – were approved by a sub-committee which met after the Committee meeting of 3 October 1885. The Calendars of the Royal University of Ireland, consulted in the James Hardiman Library at Galway University, record their academic careers. A Newnham newsletter of November 1885 quoted by Dr Hirsch (Hirsch, p. 136) confirms that there were by then fourteen students at CTC. The Committee meeting of 3 October resolved that in future Miss Hughes should be invited to attend its deliberations. Since CTC had commenced operations on 14 September, it seems that some informal last-minute recruitment had been in process, perhaps with the Principal taking decisions on her own initiative.

[101] Buss, p. 283.

[102] London Girl, p. 95.

[103] London Girl, p. 109.

[104]Victorian policing did emphasise the bobby on the beat, although it may not have been a coincidence that the chief constable of Cambridgeshire lived around the corner.

[105] London Girl, p. 95. An Anglican archdeacon at that time angrily denounced an Inspector who had insisted on the installation of baths at a women's training college. "Now these girls will never see a bath ... in their future life. It is accustoming them to luxuries and creating a taste which they will not be able to gratify afterwards." (Rich, p. 207) In Cambridge, Oscar Browning was unusual in having a private bathroom attached to his rooms, a symbol of his sybaritic lifestyle. He was also fond of bathing in public. This "gave youthful artists opportunities for studies in the nude of which full advantage was taken." A.C. Benson, Memories and Friends (London, 1924), p. 152.

[106] Hirsch, p. 134.

[107] London Girl, pp. 98, 96, 105-6, 109-10. La Haye Sainte was a farmhouse on the battlefield of Waterloo, still a powerful memory seventy years later.

[108] London Girl, pp. 96, 98-99. I am grateful to Gail Wood for information regarding the 1881 census. Lilli Eisenschmidt was highly entrepreneurial. After her CTC course, she enrolled for one year to study at Newnham. In May 1887, she placed a series of advertisements in the Education column of The Times. "A highly-educated and cultured woman seeks pupils. Has had many years' experience as governess in the best families (ten years on one). Has spent the last two years at Cambridge; one at the Training College for teachers of higher education to make herself acquainted with the now most approved methods of teaching, and one in studying moral science. Has travelled a great deal. Teaches thoroughly the literature of France, Germany, and Italy, in addition to English in all its branches. Is much interested in music, art, and archaeology. Most anxious to co-operate with a mother who desires real moral and intellectual training for her daughters. Address, L.E., The Cambridge Training College, Cambridge." The advertisement appeared in at least six editions of The Times between 6 and 30 May 1887. According to Newnham records, she died in 1919 (My thanks to Anne Thomson, College Archivist.)

[109] Bottrall, pp. 8, 33.

[110] RC 1895, p. 484. She added: "it is becoming an increasing advantage now that one is getting to know more people, and finding out how university men can help us. Of course, there are some ways in which their ignorance of school teaching would prevent them from helping us."

[111] Buss, p. 344; London Girl, pp. 111-12.

[112] London Girl, p. 101.

[113] His defenders portrayed him as "a person of singularly quiet habits" and argued "that too close an application to the history of the University, upon which he was engaged, combined with an unfortunate lameness which precluded him from taking active exercise, produced a sudden morbid feeling of mental irritability". Slashing a woman's throat eighteen times seems more than a momentary impulse. Luckily he had used a blunt knife, so he escaped the gallows, and his physical handicap saved him from hard labour. It is to the credit of St John's College that he was readmitted to his Fellowship. The Times, 2 October, 6 December 1871.

[114] RC 1895, p. 475.

[115] Bottrall, p. 15.

[116] London Girl, pp. 101-2, 112-13, 120-21, 91. The Eumenides by Aeschylus was staged at the Theatre Royal Cambridge from 1-5 December 1885. A.W. Verrall of Trinity, whose wife was one of the founders of CTC, produced an edited script, and C.V. Stanford wrote and conducted specially commissioned music. There was one woman, Janet Case of Girton, in the cast. Charles Platts, one of the leading players, taught elocution part-time at CTC in 1887-88. The Times, 5 November 1885. The CTC students may have found Westcott difficult to follow. During his subsequent career he was briefly a Canon of Westminster Abbey. When London was enveloped in an unusually severe fog, a cruel commentator suggested that Westcott had opened his study window.

[117] London Girl, pp. 102-3.

[118] London Girl, p. 100. One exasperated Inspector complained that this approach was like expecting to get water from the Sahara desert.

[119] London Girl, pp. 103-5.

[120] RC 1895, p. 479. "Public criticism lessons are not held," stated the 1907 CTC Prospectus, "but the lessons given in school are first prepared by the student and then talked over the Lecturer responsible for the subject." Ten years later, however, CTC had reverted to mass humiliation and minute dissection. Mary Hay Wood, Principal from 1908 to 1933, probably brought the practice with her from her previous post at St Mary's College, Paddington, and it may also have crept back in response to CTC's need to secure government funding by meeting government requirements. Bottrall, pp. 46, 60-1.

[121] London Girl, pp. 98, 102.

[122] It is not clear whether the Tin Tabernacle was erected behind Crofton Cottages (the site of the later Eltisley Avenue) or on a plot alongside which was not permanently built on until 1898.

[123] Bottrall, p. 13. A visiting scholar in 1991 found the Hughes Hall Library "a rich source of late nineteenth and early twentieth century educational literature." AR 1991. Some historical material had been transferred to the Department of Education library after the College became part of the University in 1949.

[124] London Girl, pp. 99-100.

[125] London Girl, pp. 100-1, 99, 114-15.

[126] Bottrall, p. 33.

[127] London Girl, pp. 115-16. Elizabeth Hughes was a fervent Home Ruler, perhaps a by-product of her Welsh identity. Sophie Bryant and Frances Buss both supported Irish Home Rule. Buss, p. 301.

[128] London Girl, p. 98.

[129] Bottrall, p. 127. In addition to her exhausting term-time lifestyle, Elizabeth Hughes travelled energetically in the vacations: in the summer of 1893 she even crossed the Atlantic, as part of an official delegation to the Chicago World's Fair. She also led continental study tours. In 1891, a CTC group spent a whole month in Switzerland. It was the year that Sherlock Holmes went missing in a struggle with Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls, but Miss Hughes and her charges were innocent of any involvement in the episode.

[130] Address to the Teachers' Guild, The Times, 16 January 1888.

[131] RC 1895, p. 479; London Girl, p. 99.

[132] London Girl, p. 103. Lucy Shaw came from a Dublin professional family and was a near-contemporary of Sophie Bryant. Her mother taught music at North London Collegiate. The CTC students would not have known that Miss Shaw had a younger brother, George Bernard, who was then a struggling novelist. Molly Thomas may not have made the connection between the glamorous visiting lecturer and the subsequently famous dramatist, but perhaps she set her face against defining a woman in terms of a male relative.

[133] RC 1895, p. 478; London Girl, p. 108.

[134] Hirsch, p. 142.

[135] Hirsch, pp. 141-42 quotes a short account by Annie Read, a student in 1887-88, from the North London Collegiate school magazine. This suggests that the outlines of the student-centred teaching programme described by Elizabeth Hughes to the Royal Commission in 1894 were already in place.

[136] Journal of Education, September 1890, p. 463.

[137] RC 1895, p. 478.

[138] RC 1895, p. 472, and p. 478 for point that CTC students enjoyed "a considerable amount of liberty" including exemption from copying out lecture notes. Cf. Annie Read's account of CTC in 1887-88: "At the beginning of each Term, a list of all lessons to be given is put up, and each student writes her name under those subjects she wishes most to teach." (Hirsch, p. 142).

[139] AR 1998 and 1999 for the Japan connection.

[140] "Our first course consisted of 24 weeks, but we found that too short." RC 1895, p. 471. The decision to switch to 30 weeks was taken at a committee meeting on 26 January 1886, little more than half way through the first academic year.

[141] RC 1895, p. 475.

[142] RC 1895, p. 480.

[143] RC 1895, p. 479.

[144] London Girl, p. 122.

[145] "Original Verses", Hughes Hall Archives, probably dating from November 1892.

[146] RC 1895, pp. 482, 474.

[147] Bottrall, p. 11.

[148] House of Commons Papers, 1895, C.7862-IV], Table submitted by Marion G. Kennedy.

[149] According to Rita McWilliams-Tullberg, in 1897, 220 Girtonians were teaching out of a total of 490. Information in M. Vicinus, ed., A Widening Sphere: Changing Roles of Victorian Women (London, 1980 ed.), p. 299.

[150] RC 1895, pp. 478, 481, 486. On p. 481, Miss Hughes gave a slightly different figure ("There are only 11 who took a tripos, and one came from Oxford.")

[151] RC 1895, p. 481.

[152] RC 1895, pp. 474, 472

[153] RC, p. 481. Presumably the four who had risen to headships included "a successful headmistress" of a private school who enrolled because she "felt she was getting into a groove." Elizabeth Hughes cited her as an "extreme case" demonstrating the flexibility of CTC's policy of student-centred training. "In her case it would obviously have been a waste of time for her to do the same practical work which the other students would have to do." RC 1895, p. 475.

[154] RC 1895, p. 470.

[155] Bottrall, p. 45; House of Commons Papers, 1895, C.7862-IV], Table submitted by Marion G. Kennedy. Three of the 27 CTC headmistresses of 1907 were working overseas.

[156] Hirsch, p. 148. A pleasant sentiment, but note that it was contained in "Letter to My Students".

[157] Its name, "Beddington Villa", suggests a property too grand for the terraced enclave of Newnham Croft, but attempts to identify it have failed.

[158] Miss Hughes's 1891 recollection, Hirsch, p. 148.

[159] Journal of Education, December 1888, p. 561.

[160] Howard Bradley, Hughes Hall: A Short History (Cambridge, 1995), p. 4.

[161] RC 1895, p. 477.

[162] Hirsch, p. 141.

[163] Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire, p. 37.

[164] Now the Board of Graduate Studies.

[165] Cambridge Review, 19 May 1886, p. 328. The Treasurer was Mrs A.W. Verrall.

[166] The Times, 14 June 1887.

[167] In the interval, semi-detached houses had been built at 1 and 2 Wollaston Road, restricting the possible site. Now part of Hughes Hall and known as Wollaston Lodge, their architectural importance was described by Jon Harris in News from Hughes, Michaelmas 2010, p. 4. The work of E.S. Prior, an influential member of the Arts and Crafts movement, its box-like quality reflects the neo-Georgian enthusiasms of Norman Shaw's disciples. Prior's favourite house design came to include "butterfly" (oblique) wings but there was no room for these in Wollaston Road. Prior's technical triumph was to use engineering arches to provide unusually large basement windows, very useful for the provision of modern-day student accommodation. Wollaston Lodge was the subject of costly refurbishment in 2009.

[168] Building information from Pevsner, Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire, Kelly's Directory (1888) and Leedham-Green, Concise History of the University of Cambridge.

[169] Cambridge Review, 24 October 1895, pp. 22-23.

[170] Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire, iii, p. 270.

[171] Leedham-Green, Concise History of the University of Cambridge, p. 181 and Pevsner, Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire, pp. 35-6 for the link with building.

[172] J.R.M. Butler, Henry Montagu Butler: Master of Trinity College Cambridge 1886-1918 (London, 1925), p. 47-52.

[173] Buss, p. 282; Bottrall, p. 19. A monogrammed CTC Gild badge was produced in December 1893, partly to raise funds but also to identify alumnae at educational gatherings. Note by Jean Lambert, Hughes, 22 (2015), pp. 22-23.

[174] In the event, the College did continue and, over the decades, it was the birds that disintegrated. They were quietly disposed of in the 1930s.

[175] Buss, p. 282.

[176] RC 1895, p. 477.

[177] Basil Herbertson, The Pfeiffer Bequest and the Education of Women: A Centenary Review (Hughes Hall, Cambridge, 1993). The interpretation of the transaction offered here differs from that of Dr Herbertson, but his point (p. 8) that Emily Pfeiffer's Will was legally invalid is accepted.

[178] This placed it ahead of the Association of German Governesses and the College for Working Women, which both received £2,000, but behind the Royal School of Art Needlework and the Maria Grey College, which netted £4,000 apiece and, in the Cambridge pecking order, well behind the £5,000 apiece allocated to Girton and Newnham, the one for scholarships, the other for buildings. According to Fitch, Miss Swanwick was particularly "scrupulous" in weighing the merits of the various applications, and the amounts granted probably reflect the relative standing of the applicant institutions. Herbertson, Pfeiffer Bequest, pp. 9-10, 19-22.

[179] Bottrall, pp. 16-18.

[180] Hirsch, pp. 166-67. In 1894, the University appointed J.N. Keynes, secretary of the Local Examinations Syndicate and father of the famous economist. He was succeeded by Henry Sidgwick in 1896. The Master of Downing, Alexander Hill, was appointed in 1898 and reappointed in 1901. A would-be college reformer (the Fellows of Downing did not share his enthusiasm), in 1912 he became first Principal of Southampton University College. The University appears to have chosen men who combined a safe pair of hands with interests that indicated a measure of support for the work of CTC. The Times, 2 May 1894, 28 April 1896, 17 March 1898, 1 May 1901.

[181] Bottrall, pp. 18-19.

[182]Pevsner, Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire, p. 192. Although unfair, Pevsner's "London-Board-School" gibe was not unfounded. Some elementary schools in the capital were built in red brick. The Victorians liked high windows, while Dutch gables are almost a cliché in brick construction. As already argued, the inspiration was probably less Norman Shaw than Basil Champneys, an echo of those early days when the project hoped to attach itself to Newnham College.

[183] Bottrall, p. 22.

[184] For reports of the opening ceremony, Bottrall, pp. 21-23; AR, 1995, reprinting the report from The Queen: The Lady's Newspaper; The Times, 21 October 1895; Manchester Guardian, 19 October 1895; Daily News, 21 October 1895, Leeds Mercury, 21 October 1895, Cambridge Review, 24 October 1895, pp. 22-23.

[185] The Vice-Chancellor's comment was reported by the Cambridge Review; The Queen picked up Eleanor Sidgwick's remark.

[186] In 1894, Mr Gladstone had told Queen Victoria's private secretary that Lord Ripon "was one of the quietest and most able men in the Cabinet." Peter Stansky, Ambitions and Strategies (Oxford, 1964), p. 87.

[187] D. Newsome, On the Edge of Paradise. A.C. Benson: The Diarist (London, 1980), p. 158. Another public school headmaster described Lyttelton's conversation as "lively and continuous" but added that his ideas "mostly consisted of things he had seen in the papers". Of course we need to remember that the educational world has always been noted for put-downs. Lyttelton's later career was to take an unexpected twist that suggests there was more sincerity in his stance than his detractors might allow. In 1916, he experienced a spiritual crisis, probably triggered by the First World War, and resigned his post at Eton to undertake humble parish work. Four years later, he was appointed chaplain and Biblical lecturer at Whitelands College, a teacher training college for women in Chelsea.

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