Jellicoe, Anne (1823–1880)

views updated

Jellicoe, Anne (1823–1880)

Irish educationalist who improved the schooling and employment opportunities available to middle-class women. Born Anne Mullin in Mountmellick, County Laois, in 1823; died in Birmingham on October 18, 1880; daughter of William Mullin (a schoolmaster); mother's name unknown; probably educated at home; married John Jellicoe, in 1846 (died 1862); no children.

When Anne Jellicoe died suddenly in 1880, the movement to improve educational provision for middle-class Irish girls had already made a number of notable gains. Two years earlier, state-run examinations had been opened to girls as well as to boys, while at about the same time, the government established the Royal University of Ireland, whose degrees and scholarships were open to both men and women. Women's ability to take advantage of these opportunities, however, depended on the existence of secondary schools which would prepare girls for competitive examinations and for university entrance. While few contemporary girls' schools met these requirements, a few pioneering institutions had been established during the previous decade, of which one of the most celebrated and successful was Alexandra College in Dublin.

Founded in 1866, in order "to afford an education more sound and solid … and better tested, than is at present easily to be obtained by women of the middle and upper classes in this country," Alexandra College was the brainchild of Anne Jellicoe. As the daughter of a Quaker schoolmaster, the young Anne Mullin had grown up with a firm belief in the value of education for every individual, regardless of sex or social standing, and as a young woman was involved in a scheme to establish an embroidery industry for women in her native Mountmellick. In 1846, she married John Jellicoe, a flour miller, and two years later moved with him to Clara, County Offaly. Noting the extent of female unemployment in the town, she made use of her previous experience to set up embroidery and lace crochet schools, and when in 1858 the Jellicoes moved to Dublin she continued her interest in education by involving herself in the running of infant schools for poor children.

Philanthropic efforts of this kind were not uncommon among middle-class women of the time, but Jellicoe went further than most in her conviction that conditions could be improved by fundamental social change. In 1861, in a paper "On the conditions and prospects of young women employed in the manufactories in Dublin," she argued for the introduction of protective legislation and for the employment of female overseers in factories where women were employed. Also in 1861, she founded the Irish Society for Promoting the Training and Employment of Educated Women, later known as the Queen's Institute, which offered training in various skills to "distressed gentlewoman," with the objective of equipping them to support themselves. By 1870, the institute had found employment for 862 of its 1,786 pupils, had extended its syllabus from technical to academic subjects, and had, it claimed, played a part in removing the stigma on women working for pay.

Jellicoe soon discovered, however, that many of the women coming to the institute lacked even the most basic elementary education and, in order to tackle this problem, proposed the establishment of a training college for governesses. She found an influential ally in the new archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Trench, and together they drew up plans for a college which would offer a liberal education to university level, not merely to future governesses but to middle-class women in general. Subscriptions were solicited, a house was bought in Earlsfort Terrace, and Alexandra College opened in October 1866, with Jellicoe as Lady Superintendent, a position which she was to hold until her death.

Prior to the foundation of Alexandra, most girls' schools paid little attention to academic learning, and many of the college's new pupils were found to be in need of elementary classes in subjects such as English, history and mathematics. While tackling these difficulties, the college offered a wider range of subjects than its competitors, and to a much higher level. Lectures were given by professors from Dublin's Trinity College, and in 1869, at Jellicoe's suggestion, a course of Saturday lectures on astronomy, Greek literature, and English poetry was instituted in Trinity, with over 200 women attending each year. The college itself continued to expand, with the establishment in 1872 of Alexandra School for younger girls. This had the effect of improving the educational standard of college entrants, while the profits from the school ensured the survival of the college. Meantime, in founding the Governess Association of Ireland (1869), Jellicoe had taken steps to improve the training of women teachers, and thus to improve the standard of education in girls' schools throughout Ireland.

According to one of those who worked closely with her, Jellicoe took "no active part" in the women's rights movement of her time. The only "women's right" for which she contended was, to quote her own words, "their right to be educated." Aware that there was "opposition to be conciliated, prejudice to be overcome, and the fear of what is new to be soothed," her instinct was to seek consensus rather than confrontation. Yet her efforts put middle-class Irish women in a position to take advantage of the educational reforms of the 1870s, and to press for further improvements in the status of women generally.


Breathnach, Eibhlin. "Women and Higher Education in Ireland, 1879–1910," in Crane Bag. Vol. IV, 1980, pp. 47–54.

Luddy, M. Women in Ireland 1800–1918: A Documentary History. Cork University Press, 1995, pp. 137–138.

O'Connor, Anne V. "Anne Jellicoe." Women, Power and Consciousness in 19th-Century Ireland. Edited by M. Cullen and M. Luddy. Dublin: Attic Press, 1995, pp 125–159.

——. "Influences affecting girls' secondary education in Ireland, 1860–1910," in Archivium Hibernicum. Vol. XLI, 1986.

——, and Susan Parkes. Gladly Learn and Gladly Teach: A History of Alexandra College and School, Dublin, 1866–1966. Dublin: 1983.


Archives of Alexandra College and material in Friends' Historical Library, Dublin.

Rosemary Raughter , freelance writer in women's history, Dublin, Ireland