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The political socialisation of schoolgirls in England, 1870-1914



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This thesis argues that the school was a key site for working and middle-class girls’ political socialisation in late Victorian and Edwardian England. It challenges conventional interpretations of the gendering of politics in the period by showcasing schoolgirls’ active participation in parliamentary, electoral, suffrage, and imperial politics. Educational histories have either focused on boys as future citizens or, more often, neglected juvenile politics altogether. Instead, this study positions girls as political actors and highlights the crucial role of the school both in their political instruction and their experiences of politics in the everyday.

Drawing on school records and magazines, teachers’ periodicals, educationalists’ writings, and autobiographies, the thesis highlights striking similarities between girls’ political experiences across elementary and secondary schools as well as pupil teacher centres. Schools trained some of the first generation of women voters for citizenship. Schoolgirls developed valuable political skills as the drive for more effective citizenship instruction and child-led pedagogical ideals converged. The school debating chamber offered girls new opportunities to appropriate ‘masculine’ political subjects and ways of speaking. Mock elections gave girls a participatory and embodied political education before women had the parliamentary vote. Schoolgirls’ visits to the Houses of Parliament show how school trips could have a political purpose, adding a new perspective to the complex gendering of parliament before 1919. Girls’ schools were intergenerational political communities where the political activities of teachers, old girls, and pupils intertwined, for example on women’s suffrage. The thesis also contextualises schoolgirls’ imperial instruction within a broader educational project to teach global politics. Rather than indoctrinating imperialist ideology, schools cultivated diverse and dynamic interactions with the British Empire via school museums, empire exhibitions, and pageants. Imaginative and creative work underpinned schoolgirls’ political socialisation. Girls used play and dramatic performance to interact with the institutions, issues, and material culture of late Victorian and Edwardian politics.





Griffin, Ben


education, girls' schools, citizenship, civics, political culture, political socialisation, history of childhood


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
AHRC (1953405)