Constance Maynard was the first Mistress of Westfield College and a pioneer of women’s education. She was a prolific writer, keeping multiple diaries and an autobiography, as well as self-publishing many books and articles on education and religion. Her ‘Green Book’ diaries and unpublished autobiography have been digitised by the Archives at Queen Mary, University of London and are available to view online: http://www.library.qmul.ac.uk/archives/digital/constance_maynard
Maynard’s ‘Green Book’ diaries detail her ‘inner life’, her emotional response to events in her life and date from 1866 to 1934. Her unpublished autobiography was written between 1915 and 1933, and covers her life from 1849-1927. It is written in the style of a reflective diary, and in it she explains her reactions to the events detailed in her diaries, and is open and candid about her private life.
Maynard’s personal writings provide a unique insight into the influence of religion, and attitudes towards women’s education and sexuality in the Victorian and Edwardian periods. The writings reveal her devout faith, her experiences of joining the first generation of women students at Girton College, her role in the formation and early years of Westfield College, and her ‘romantic friendships’ with women.
The impact of being brought up in a deeply religious household is reflected in Maynard’s diaries, which detail the sermons she attended, her favourite psalms and bible passages, and her constant quest to be ‘good enough’ for God’s love. Her religious conviction and reasoning continued throughout her life.
Maynard looked towards her faith to rationalise her decision to further herself through higher education at a time when only a handful of women had done so before, and noted in her diary:
‘… and it must be right to educate & use any powers God has given me to the very best I can.[i][i]
In her autobiography she recalled beginning her University studies, ‘Liberty, heresy, opposition, argument, new thought, new attraction, all had there been laid before me in sample, but now came “the real thing”, & I attacked the position with the courage of ignorance.’[ii][ii]
In leaving her sheltered domestic life to join the first wave of women entering higher education Maynard was taking a radical step[iii][iii]. She described in her autobiography the stir caused at Cambridge by the presence of women students.
‘We were determined to preserve sweet & genuine womanliness amid all our experiences, to be unobtrusive in dress, and scrupulously modest & polite in manner, & looking back I think it was all rather wonderful that a dozen energetic lively creatures should, without the least external guidance, have been so thoroughly aware that the whole of this vast experiment depended on their corporate conduct.’[iv][iv]
Reflecting upon the beginnings of women’s higher education, she noted passionately.
‘…[we] asked for nothing more but that women should be freed from the single disability of sex, & that English girls should be free, if they both could and would, to receive the same mental training as English lads had always had.’[v][v]
Constance Maynard was first woman to read Moral Sciences at Cambridge completing her studies in 1875. But she had to wait 53 years to formally receive her degree from Girton College, in 1933. In 1948 the University of Cambridge finally began to admit women to full university membership.
Faith was the driving force for Constance and inspired the Christian ethos of Westfield College. The College opened on 2nd October 1882 with just 5 students and 2 members of staff, including Constance Maynard as Mistress, and was founded upon ‘…a Scriptural basis, and conducted on distinctly religious principles…’.[vi][vi]
The first Annual Report for Westfield College proclaimed “Knowledge is power” and that the higher education of women would be a benefit to all society.[vii][vii]
One aspect of Constance Maynard’s life which still intrigues researchers and is the subject of on-going research today is her close relationships with women[viii][viii]. As female sexuality was not discussed or understood in the Victorian period, interpreting Maynard’s words requires an appreciation of the context and time in which they were written. Her diary entries detail intimate encounters with students and friends.
Recalling the prayer offered to her by ‘Lizzie’, a student at Westfield:
‘Dear, Dear Father, we must part- do make the parting easy – I thank Thee, oh so much, for this treasure. Thou hast let me love so that I think I never loved any one so much before, but Thou canst be still more to me, dear Saviour, Give her some fresh work to do; make her to others just what she has been to me – light and love & support & patience all, all pointing to Thee.’[ix][ix]
Maynard in 1926 writes candidly in her autobiography about her close relationships, showing her awareness of theories by psychoanalysts such as Freud:
‘And yet, yet, – I loathe to write it down, – the whole was spoilt and devastated by love, by what psychoanalysts call by highly disagreeable names, such as a “thwarted sex-instinct”. There was something within me which seemed to have a foremost & impervious claim, a hunger which must be satisfied, whatever food was on offer.’[x][x]
Highlights from the Constance Maynard archives are available in on online exhibition:
Full details of the content of Maynard’s archives can be found in the Archives Catalogue:
The Archives at Queen Mary also holds other significant collections relating to women’s education including the archives of WestfieldCollege, Caroline Skeel and Ellen Delf Smith. For further information can be found on the website: http://www.library.qmul.ac.uk/archives The Archives can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
ByLorraine Screene, College Archivist, and Bryony Hooper, Project Archivist