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Miss Beale
Miss Beale after award of Hon. LL.D (Edinburgh), 1902

© Cheltenham Ladies' College
Those who can’t, teach: Dorothea Beale & Cheltenham Ladies' College

The arrow takes flight

Dorothea Beale was born in London, 1831, to cultivated parents who encouraged their children to succeed. As the fourth of 11 siblings, home tutors were prone to a high turnover. Yet despite a haphazard introduction to schooling she acquired an early passion for mathematics. A short period at a boarding school in Stratford was followed by a sojourn in Paris, both of which depended greatly on the learning of lists that she would later so stoutly renounce.

Library wing
View to Library Wing, 1898
© Cheltenham Ladies' College
Her education now considered complete, Dorothea returned home to help school her younger brothers but soon enrolled as a pupil of Queen’s College – an institute that opened in with 1848 with the express purpose of educating young women, including would-be governesses. She and her sisters attended as many lectures as they could and within one year she was appointed the first lady mathematical tutor. For the next eight years, Dorothea Beale studied and excelled across a range of topics hitherto largely off-limits to her sex.

In 1854, she was granted the title of head of the younger school, followed in 1857 by head-teacher at the Clergy Daughters School in Casterton (the source material for the gloomy Lowood in ’Jane Eyre’). Although valuable appointments in themselves, neither allowed the full expression of her thoughts on how best to implement a diverse and worthwhile curriculum to ensure the intellectual, moral and spiritual welfare of her pupils. She resigned from Casterton after one year, a brave gamble that was to pay unexpected dividends.

Cheltenham College for Boys was founded in 1841 and in 1853 the Principal, Vice-Principal and four other gentlemen, having their own daughters to consider, resolved to create a similar institution for girls. On 13th February the following year, the first 82 pupils assembled under the care of inaugural headmistress Annie Procter. Following Miss Procter’s resignation four years later, a new principal was swiftly required.

Miss Beale was now twenty-seven years of age and had just completed her ‘Text Book of English and General History’. Keen, traditional in view and young enough to be settled into the role with some pliability, she seemed the perfect choice and was appointed principal thereafter. She was to devote the next forty-eight years to the development of Cheltenham Ladies' College, which at the time of her death in 1906 had grown to a community of some 1,000 pupils, famed the world over.

Words: Bren O’Callaghan

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