A woman of charm and determination (...and a brilliant teacher)

THIS year, England's second oldest university – Cambridge – celebrates its 800th anniversary yet it is only for the last 60 years that women have been recognised as graduates.

And they would not have been recognised at all had it not been for the devotion of the bluestockings – the nickname given to the first women who fought for a university education.

This group, under the leadership of Emily Davies, paved the way for their fellow females to go to university with their persistence eventually leading to the founding of Girton College, Cambridge.

Their story is now recounted in a new book, Bluestockings: The Remarkable Story of the First Women to Fight For An Education and, as a result of the book being featured in the Courier, a Calderdale connection has now been unearthed.

"I was really interested to read the piece about the book, which led me to make a connection with a remarkable lady who was born in Calderdale and whose family emigrated to New Zealand where she became a noted pioneer in the education of women," says Halifax historian and genealogist David Glover.

"In fact, she founded two schools, both of them named Girton College."

David recounts the story of Caroline Free-man, born on August 13 1852, and baptised at St Anne's Church, Southowram.

She was the younger daughter of William Freeman of Bank Top, and his second wife, Ann Holden. The Freeman family emigrated to New Zealand in 1858, on board the Nourmahal, settling near Dunedin, Otago Province, where William began farming. He named his farm after Abbots Royd in Barkis-land, where he had worked for a time.

Caroline became an outstanding pupil at her new school, Green Island Primary, later becoming a pupil teacher before being appointed infants' mistress at the more prestigious Caversham School.

"Encouraged by the school's progressive head, William Milne, Caroline studied for the matriculation exam required for university admission," explains David.

"She passed the exam in 1877 and enrolled at the University of Otago the following year – but her progress was not easy. The male students and staff were mostly hostile and she had a seven-mile walk to and from college each day, while supporting herself by teaching."

But after seven years' hard work she graduated as a Bachelor of Arts on August 27 1885, the institute's first female graduate. She crowned her achievement by winning an essay prize open to all New Zealand undergraduates.

Caroline went on to found her own private secondary schools in Dunedin and Christchurch – both named Girton College.

"Though little known in England, Caroline was an inspiration to generations of New Zealand girls, who were encouraged to follow in her footsteps, using education to broaden their opportunities," says David.

An entry in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography records: "Her brilliance as a teacher and gifts as a public speaker were long remembered by her pupils who erected a tombstone to 'the beloved teacher and guide of many of New Zealand's girls.' She was a woman of both charm and determination who, having struggled for her own education, devoted her talents to providing its benefits for others of her sex."

Caroline never married and died of a heart attack in August 1914.

On May 23, this year, her great-great-great niece, Claire Steele, of Wellington, New Zealand, graduated from the University of Otago, the same establishment attended by her ancestor more than a century earlier.

On that day she told the press that she had concealed the fact she was related to Caroline Freeman during her five years of study.

"I didn't bring it up then, but I have now that I am graduating. It makes it all the more special to have gone to the same university as she did," she said. She crowned her achievement by winning an essay prize open to all New Zealand undergraduates.

Caroline went on to found her own private secondary schools in Dunedin and Christchurch – both named Girton College.

“Though little known in England, Caroline was an inspiration to generations of New Zealand girls, who were encouraged to follow in her footsteps, using education to broaden their opportunities,” says David.

An entry in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography records: “Her brilliance as a teacher and gifts as a public speaker were long remembered by her pupils who erected a tombstone to ‘the beloved teacher and guide of many of New Zealand’s girls.’ She was a woman of both charm and determination who, having struggled for her own education, devoted her talents to providing its benefits for others of her sex.”

Caroline never married and died of a heart attack in August 1914.

On May 23, this year, her great-great-great niece, Claire Steele, of Wellington, New Zealand, graduated from the University of Otago, the same establishment attended by her ancestor more than a century earlier.

On that day she told the press that she had concealed the fact she was related to Caroline Freeman during her five years of study.

“I didn’t bring it up then, but I have now that I am graduating. It makes it all the more special to have gone to the same university as she did,” she said.