Maitland, Agnes Catherine (DNB12)

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MAITLAND, AGNES CATHERINE (1860–1906), principal of Somerville College, Oxford, born on 12 April 1850 at 12 Gloucester Terrace, Hyde Park, was second daughter of David John Maitland of Chipperkyle, Galloway, by his wife Matilda Leathes Mortlock. Her father settled as a merchant in Liverpool when Agnes was five years old, and she was educated at home there in a presbyterian atmosphere.

Between 1880 and 1885 she studied cookery at the Domestic science training school in Liverpool, and from 1885 to 1889 acted as an examiner in cookery in elementary schools, and of teachers trained by the 'Northern Union of Schools of Cookery.' She was soon recognised as an authority on domestic economy. She wrote several cookery books, of which the most important are 'The Rudiments of Cookery: a Manual for Use in Schools and Homes' (35th thousand, 1910); the 'Afternoon Tea Book' (1887; 3rd edit. 1905); 'What shall we have for Breakfast?' (1889; 2nd edit. 1901). She also published between 1875 and 1889 some educative novels and tales suited to young girls.

Miss Maitland, who was keenly interested in the higher education of women, left Liverpool in 1889 to succeed Miss Shaw Lefevre as principal of Somerville Hall, Oxford. Her experience of public work and talent for administration and organisation proved of value to Somerville, which, founded in 1879 and incorporated as a college in 1881, retained the style of 'Hall' until 1894. During Miss Maitland's tenure of the principalship the number of students rose from thirty-five to eighty-six, and the buildings were proportionately extended. She developed the tutorial system with a view to making Somerville a genuine college and no mere hall of residence, and she urged tho students to take the full degree course so as to prove their title to the degrees.

Although she was something of an autocrat, she worked in full harmony with her staff, won the complete confidence of the students, and showed faith in democratic principles. On her initiative a proportion of the council of the college was elected by duly qualified old students; while the latter were quite unfettered in their choice. Miss Maitland was always anxious that some of themselves should be on the council. A strong liberal in politics, and a broad-minded churchwoman (in spite of her presbyterian training), she preserved the undenominational atmosphere of the college.

To Miss Maitland the college owes the erection of its library, which contains 15,000 volumes and was opened in 1894 by Mr. John (afterwards Viscount) Morley. At Lord Morley's suggestion Helen Taylor [q. v. Suppl. II] presented to Somerville the library of John Stuart Mill, free of conditions.

She died after some two years' illness, on 19 Aug. 1906, at 12 Norham Road, Oxford, and was buried in Holywell cemetery, Oxford.

A portrait, a chalk drawing in three colours, made by William Strang, A.R.A., in 1905, is in the library at Somerville College. A memorial dining-hall, to be called after her, and panelled and furnished by the Maitland Memorial Fund, is in course of erection.

Besides the works cited. Miss Maitland published:

  1. 'Elsie, a Lowland Sketch,' 1875.
  2. 'Madge Hilton, or left to themselves,' 1884; 2nd edit. 1890.
  3. 'Rhoda,' a novel, 2 vols. 1886.
  4. 'Cookery Primer for School and Home Use,' 1888.
  5. 'Cottage Lectures,' 1889.
  6. 'Nellie O'Neil,' 1889; 2nd edit. 1910.

[The Times, 20, 23 Aug. 1906, not accurate in all details; Who's Who, 1906; private information.]

E. L.