Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Shirreff, Emily Anne Eliza

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SHIRREFF, EMILY ANNE ELIZA (1814–1897), pioneer in the cause of women's education, elder daughter of Rear-admiral William Henry Shirreff (1785–1847) and his wife, Elizabeth Anne, eldest daughter of the Hon. David Murray, was born on 3 Nov. 1814. In youth Miss Shirreff and her younger sister, Maria, who early became the wife of Mr. William Grey, perceived the want in England of an intelligent system of education for girls. But they contrived to educate themselves thoroughly, becoming good linguists and acquiring a good knowledge of history. Miss Shirreff resided for some years at Gibraltar, where her father held a government appointment. In 1835 or 1836 appeared ‘Letters from Spain and Barbary,’ written, like all her early literary work, in collaboration with her sister, Mrs. Grey. In 1841 they published a novel entitled ‘Passion and Principle,’ and in 1850 ‘Thoughts on Self-Culture, addressed to Women,’ in two volumes (second edition 1852). The purpose of the latter work was to show the value of self-training to women. Miss Shirreff's first independent work was ‘Intellectual Education, and its Influence on the Character and Happiness of Women,’ published in 1858 (2nd ed. 1862).

Wholly devoting herself to the improvement of women's education, Miss Shirreff warmly supported the establishment of Girton College, which commenced work at Hitchin in the Michaelmas term of 1869, and during the Lent and Easter terms of 1870 she held the post of honorary mistress. On accepting it she became a member of the executive committee, on which she sat until her death. In 1871 she helped her sister Mrs. Grey to found the National Union for improving the Education of Women of all Classes. The society owed its origin to the revelations of the schools inquiry commission, which proved the inadequate provision of good schools for girls above the elementary school class and of efficient women teachers. The main objects of the union were to provide satisfactory schools and trained teachers. Princess Louise was president, and Miss Shirreff acted as honorary secretary. She was also joint-editor with Mr. George C. Bartley, M.P., of the journal of the union until its cessation in 1883. Lady Stanley of Alderley, Lord Aberdare, Sir Douglas Galton, Joseph Payne [q. v.], and Mr. C. S. Roundell supported the scheme, and there grew out of it in 1872 the Girls' Public Day School Company. Miss Shirreff was one of the original members of the council, and remained an active worker on it until she was elected a vice-president within a few months of her death. The success of the schools fully justified the anticipations of the pioneers.

By way of fulfilling its second purpose of providing means of training for higher-grade women teachers, the union began modestly with evening lectures in subjects—science, for example—not then usually included in a woman's education. In 1877, however, the Teacher's Training and Registration Society was incorporated, and a college for training women teachers was opened. William Rogers [q. v.], rector of Bishopsgate, put a house at the disposal of the society, and provided practice in teaching for the students at the middle-class girls' school, Bishopsgate. The college thus established prospered; it is now called the Maria Grey Training College, after Miss Shirreff's sister, and ranks as the first institution of the kind in this country. Thus the objects for which the union had been formed were realised, and it was dissolved in 1883.

Miss Shirreff was also greatly interested in the education of little children, and was among the first to advocate the introduction of Froebel's system into this country. On the initiative of Miss Doreck, Miss Shirreff, and her sister, the society known as the Froebel Society, with Miss Doreck as president, began work in October 1875. On Miss Doreck's death, which took place soon afterwards, Miss Shirreff was elected president, and held the office for life. She constantly read at the society's annual and monthly meetings papers in which she expounded the theory of kindergarten teaching, and set forth its practical advantages. She impressed the public with the necessity for the proper training of kindergarten teachers, and took active interest in the examinations instituted by the Froebel Society. Her last paper was read to the annual meeting in March 1893, and was a sketch of the life of Baroness Marenholtz von Bülow, a firm adherent of Froebel. Miss Shirreff's unfailing generosity helped the society through some of its early difficulties. Many of her lectures and addresses were afterwards published in pamphlet form.

Miss Shirreff died, after some years' ill-health, on 20 March 1897, at 41 Stanhope Gardens, Queen's Gate, London, where she had resided with her sister, Mrs. Grey, since 1884. She was buried in Brompton cemetery on 24 March. The change in public opinion with regard to women's education and women's work since 1869 is largely due to her public-spirited action.

In addition to the works already mentioned, and many pamphlets on educational subjects, Miss Shirreff wrote: 1. ‘Principles of the Kindergarten System,’ 1876; new ed. 1880. 2. ‘The Work of the National Union,’ 1872. 3. ‘Friedrich Froebel: a Sketch of his Life,’ 1877, 8vo. 4. ‘The Kindergarten at Home,’ 1884; 2nd ed. 1890.

[Times, 24 March 1897; Journal of Education, April 1897; private information.]

E. L.