• Kay WhiteheadEmail author
Living reference work entry
Part of the Springer International Handbooks of Education book series (SIHE)


Drawing on research published in English which is mostly oriented towards the English-speaking world, this chapter focuses on headmistresses as a subset of women educators. A headmistress is defined as a woman educator whose multifaceted role extended beyond classroom teaching into school leadership and/or administration in the domains of early childhood, elementary, or secondary education. Headmistresses were administrative directors of their sponsors’ policies, be they the educational state, religious, or secular organizations. They were building managers, supervisors, professional figureheads, leaders of staff and students, and the first point of contact with their local communities. The category of headmistress includes women who led and taught in preschool situations and one-room rural schools, along with headmistresses in larger urban coeducational and girls’ schools during the last two centuries. In addition to discussing the expansion and contraction of career paths for middle-class white headmistresses who are most often represented in the current scholarship, the chapter identifies some new directions for research in the history of education which will reinstate and explore the diverse lives and work of headmistresses in hitherto neglected contexts and eras. These include headmistresses in the African, Asian, and Pacific nations of the former British Empire both before and during campaigns for independence. Likewise there is significant potential for comparative studies of headmistresses in different sectors and nations.


Headmistresses Class, race, and gender Marriage bar Leadership Educational state 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Flinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia

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