Victorian Views of Coeducation



In 1847 Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote a poem entitled” The Princess” which featured as its main character Princess Ida. The heroine decided to eschew the company of men and begin a women’s college, entirely staffed by women. The purpose of the poem was” to exhibit the mental relation of woman to man” and to provide a satirical look at the movement for women’s admission to colleges and universities in the United Kingdom.1 After he became Poet Laureate in 1850, Tennyson’s words held more weight than the average writer, and his use of the phrase” sweet girl graduates” in the poem created a sort of new classification of women and resonated in a time when the higher education of women was debated regularly.2 The illustration on the preceding page is from the 1894 publication Songs of a Savoyard that included the lyrics of a number of Gilbert and Sullivan productions including” Princess Ida” which was based on Tennyson’s poem.3 In it we see Ida refusing the entreaties of her male suitors, as she chose independence over marriage. The possibility that giving women too much education would make them not want to marry or indeed make them unmarrìageable was an enduring cause of anxiety during the nineteenth century. The fascination with the story presented by Tennyson and its implications for gender relations in society over the whole of the Victorian Era are unmistakable, and they were present not only in the United Kingdom but also in the United States.4


High Education Nineteenth Century Young Lady Woman Student Separate Sphere 
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© Christine D. Myers 2010

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