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Education and Careers

From its earliest existence, Guildford High School aimed to instil a motivation and belief in young women that they could achieve more and forge careers for themselves.  In the 1880s, women were expected to prepare themselves for maternal roles and girls at schools were not typically prepared for university entrance.

However, times were gradually changing and, from the 1870s, colleges for women were opened at Oxford and Cambridge.  New universities, such as London (1836) and Manchester (1880), allowed women to take degrees, as well as do the necessary work to pass them. Girls at Guildford High School were entered for public examinations as soon as this was possible and increasing numbers went on to university. Dora Abdy , the school’s first Oxford entrant took a first in English Language and Literature and devoted a long career to the Universities Mission to Central Africa.  Dora was friendly with Lewis Carroll, who visited the school to read stories in 1894. 

These early steps into the female education of the highest standards paved the way for modern pupils, who now go on to study a breadth of subjects at university with between 25 and 30 per cent of Sixth Formers securing places at Oxford or Cambridge each year. At the turn of the 20th century, more and more women were seeking paid employment, at least before marriage.  Changing attitudes to work and careers appear in Guildford High School’s own records. In December 1894 a former pupil wrote from the London School of Medicine and recommended medicine as a career, but for personal rather than economic reasons: “there will be no necessity for you to work after you leave school”.

By 1918 this situation had changed considerably, partly as a result of the dramatic social changes brought about by WWI. Former pupils by then were in banks, dentistry and nursing. Two were driving trucks for the armed services and one was in the Intelligence Department of the War Office.1918 was also the year in which women were given the vote (if over 30, ratepayers or married). An early issue of the Guildford High School magazine argued that women should indeed vote, but drew the line at women in parliament for fear that the leader of the opposition might develop a romantic attachment to a female prime minister (a point of view which is not held by today’s A Level Politics students!).

Over the decades, former pupils achieved public distinction. One student from the 1920s became a Keeper at the British Museum.  Another made her name as a film producer and associate of Hitchcock during the 1940s and 1950s. Other girls have become successful actresses and playwrights. Nonetheless, for every former pupil who became a public name there have been hundreds for whom Guildford High School proved a spring-board into a profession: the civil service, law, teaching and medicine.