BUSS, Frances Mary (1827-1894)
Plaque erected in 2000 by English Heritage at Camden School for Girls, Sandall Road, Kentish Town, London NW5 2DB, London Borough of Camden
Education, Philanthropy and Reform
FRANCES MARY BUSS 1827-1894 Pioneer of Education for Women was Headmistress here 1879-1894
Frances Mary Buss was the founder of the first modern girls’ secondary school and a campaigner for women’s rights. Her blue plaque can be found on Sandall Road in Camden at Camden School for Girls, which was the second school she founded.
DAUGHTERS OF LIMITED MEANS
In 1850 Buss opened the North London Collegiate School, the first day school to offer girls an academic education. It catered specifically for middle-class girls whose families were not wealthy enough to afford a governess but not poor enough for their children to be sent to a charity school. Buss aimed to offer these ‘daughters of limited means’ an intellectual education at an affordable price. The school was initially private, but in 1871, and at no small personal financial loss, Buss sought funding to change it into an endowed grammar school.
PREPARING GIRLS FOR THE WORLD
At that time, a girl’s education tended to be social rather than intellectual: boys were educated ‘for the world’, and girls ‘for the drawing room’. But Buss wanted her school to prepare girls ‘for any position in life which they may be called upon to occupy’.
Although some mothers withdrew their daughters in horror when they realised Latin and mathematics (subjects considered dangerous for girls) were included on the curriculum, Buss’s school soon gained a reputation for providing an excellent education. By 1900 almost every town had a school modelled on the prototype she had created.
The school moved premises several times. Starting out at Buss’s family home at 46 Camden Street, Camden Town, it moved first to Camden Road and then to Sandall Road, where her plaque can now be found. It is unusual for a plaque to mark a school premises, but the building was chosen as none of Buss’s former homes are still standing. The red brick premises, designed by a specialist school architect, were purpose-built in 1880 with the money raised through her tireless fundraising.
Buss opened her second school, the Camden School for Girls, in Kentish Town in 1871. This school was aimed specifically at girls from lower middle-class families and charged less than the North London Collegiate. The Camden School for Girls took over the Sandall Road premises in 1965 following the relocation of the North London Collegiate to Edgware in 1940. Both schools continue their work to this day.
Buss’s broad interest in education made her an important figure in 19th-century education. She successfully campaigned for public examinations to be opened to girls and was an early supporter of Girton College. Founded by Emily Davies, the Cambridge college was the first to give women access to higher education and many of its first students came from the North London Collegiate School. Buss and Davies also campaigned for women’s access to Cambridge University (finally granted in 1948), and Buss later launched a training college in Cambridge to draw female graduates into teaching.
Towards the end of her life, she wondered what future she and her fellow campaigners were creating:
I should like to revisit the earth at the end of the twentieth century to see the result of the great revolution of the nineteenth – the women’s rights movement.
She died on Christmas Eve 1894.