A milestone anniversary for Harrogate Ladies' College

PUBLISHED: 13:31 04 April 2013 | UPDATED: 21:25 05 April 2013

THEN "“ Despite the demanding academic days, there's always been time for tea at Harrogate Ladies' College

THEN "“ Despite the demanding academic days, there's always been time for tea at Harrogate Ladies' College

A milestone anniversary for Harrogate Ladies' College puts principal Rhiannon Wilkinson in a reflective mood

We take equal opportunities for granted these days, but it was only 150 years ago that the majority of girls didnt go to school or university.

In 1869, pioneering womens rights campaigner Emily Davies become the co-founder and first mistress of Girton College at Cambridge University, the first in England to educate women. Other girls colleges followed in Cambridge and Oxford, then London University admitted women undergraduates on the same terms as men in 1880, followed in 1887 by Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool.

Despite the prejudice and immense personal sacrifices they faced, women from all backgrounds from well-read debutantes to hard-working servants persevered and paved the way for us, the generations who have followed.

Girls schools, like Harrogate Ladies College, which opened its doors to pupils for the first time in 1893, were part of this significant growth in girls education. Led by pioneers like Frances Buss, who founded North London Collegiate School, and Dorothea Beale of Cheltenham Ladies College, major girls schools were established in the late 19th century.

Our own pioneering headmistress, Elizabeth Wilhelmina Jones, was a worthy proponent of the revolution in girls education. Joining Harrogate Ladies College from Bradford Girls Grammar School, she continued forging our reputation as a leader amongst girls schools for 37 years.

These pioneering schools have provided young women with the knowledge, skills and confidence to achieve and excel in their chosen field. Their academic record is outstanding and their alumnae can be found in the majority of male-dominated professions. From scientists to engineers to surgeons, girls schools have pushed the boundaries for the last century and continue to do so today.

What of girls schools today? Although occasionally tarred as antiquated, Victorian throwbacks which fail to prepare girls for the real world, nothing could be further from the truth.

The reality is that girls are different from boys. Cognitive science and mature feminism allow us to acknowledge that girls learn and think differently from boys. They mature and develop at a faster rate. They are more cooperative and interactive in their development and, sometimes to their disadvantage, more willing to please.

Girls schools can focus on girl-centred education, enabling young women to attain the best qualifications they can, opening doors to leading universities and highly rated graduate employment in our increasingly competitive and globalised world.

In the absence of boys, girls can develop their identity, sense of ambition, self-confidence and cultural and intellectual awareness on their own terms.

Girls schools have come a long way, but the pioneering spirit of our founders remains strong. Schools like my own produce confident, successful, purposeful young women.

The guardians of modernity might believe single-sex education is an outdated learning environment. But I believe nothing could be further from the truth.
Share your views on single-sex schools and your memories of your own school days by emailing feedback@yorkshirelife.co.uk, tweeting @Yorkshire_LIFE or writing to Yorkshire Life, PO Box 163 Ripon, North Yorkshire, HG4 9AG.

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