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The girls who attended the Episcopal Middle School in the early years of the 20th century would have considered themselves to be fortunate to be there. They would have compared their lot with that of the majority of their contemporaries who, at the age of 12, were sent out  into the adult world to do hard, unskilled work for a pittance, their brief childhoods cut short for ever. Indiscipline was unheard of in this school and Dr Sadler wrote that the tone and  behaviour was excellent. In the corridors, talking was forbidden at all times and the girls were required always to move around the building in single file with  any attempt to run being checked immediately. Each morning, girls changed into what were called "house shoes" which had soft canvas soles so that all movement was silent. A former pupil described how a member of staff kept vigil by the entrance door at home time, checking that each girl had correctly buttoned her coat and was wearing both of her gloves.

 

The girls who came through the doors of the Episcopal Middle School glimpsed another world - a world which did not end in drudgery when schooldays were over - a future which offered meaningful occupations for women for which they would require skills. Perhaps they would never earn as much as men but, with application, girls were shown ways of  earning enough to maintain themselves, should their parents fall ill or die or there was a gap before Mr Right came along.

 

Dr Sadler attempted to research what kind of career the girls of the school followed when they left but was hampered by the local custom of girls spending at least a year "helping mother" after their schooldays were over, thus ensuring that their domestic skills were thoroughly polished.  Even so, he discovered that 20% of them eventually became Elementary School Teachers, training on the job as was then the custom. Some became clerks - an opportunity that was just beginning to arise for women; others went into good class local stores as shop assistants - posts in which they were supervised carefully after, as well as during, work and where they were required to live in accommodation provided by the store owner and abide by the rules he or she laid down. A girl with ladylike manners who could speak French was a great asset in the worlds of dressmaking and millinery and over 7% of the pupils were accepted for apprenticeships with leading tailoring firms in the city.

 

Just 8% attempted to go on to higher education and it must be admitted that the cards were stacked against them when they did. Perhaps the greatest deterrent was the knowledge that however much success they gathered, if they married, they would be required to leave their employment immediately. The acquisition of a degree was still not an easy path in spite of there being women-only colleges such as Royal Holloway and Girton - there were no grants and a female student needed considerable financial support behind her to stay the course.

 

Jessie Headridge
Jessie Headridge, the Episcopal Modern School's headmistress at this time, had been born in Manchester  in 1872. Her father was a dentist with a thriving practice and she grew up in a comfortable and well-staffed home. She was educated at Manchester High School then gained a Mathematical Tripos at Cambridge, finally obtaining her Master's Degree at Trinity College, Dublin and throughout this period of her life was supported and encouraged by her parents. She remained at the Episcopal Modern School as its headmistress until her retirement in 1932.

Jessie Headridge

Headmistress 1901 - 1932

 

 

When she was appointed in 1901, she was the only Graduate on the staff - she made two further graduate appointments before 1905 but was unable to keep these teachers in post because the school did not have the financial backing to pay them decent salaries. Jessie Headridge herself earned £100 per annum while her opposite number at the corresponding boys' school earned more than twice that sum.

 

Without recourse to its student teachers, the school could not have functioned. These were drawn from the most able of former pupils who remained on site after they were 18. They received some training from Miss Headridge and were paid £6 in their first year and £10 in their second. The bulk of their training was hands-on, in the classroom. At the end of their second year, if  there was a vacancy, they became Assistant Mistresses and were paid £24 in their first year - about the same salary a cook-general could command.

 

CONTINUED

 

 

 
 
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