Blue plaque for pioneering sisters at York St John University
Winifred, Mary and Catherine Cruse have been recognised as pioneers of women’s education by York St John University and the York Civic Trust with a blue plaque on the University’s Quad building – part of the original Victorian college.
From 1846 the three sisters governed the York and Ripon Training College for Schoolmistresses, as it was then known. The College first opened in rooms vacated by the men's teacher training school on Monkgate before moving to the Lord Mayor's Walk site in 1852, where it remained until 1863. The college was established in response to a critical need for schoolmistresses at the time (The Ecclesiastical Gazette notes in 1847 that the 'demand for schoolmistresses is said to be greater than the supply in the ratio of ten to one'). Thanks to the work and dedication of the Cruse sisters, the college was notable for maintaining the same rigorous schedules and responsibilities for its female students as for male students.
Dr Elodie Duché, Lecturer in modern British and European history at York St John University researched the historical archives still held at the University to reveal the Cruse sisters’ legacy:
“The preserved records from the women’s Training College contain images, student work, records, and artefacts from the Ripon campus (where the college moved after 1863) which will be on display to the public during the Beyond the Vote festival. We’re delighted that the York Civic Trust plaque will acknowledge the work that the Cruse sisters did to encourage women to emerge from society’s sculleries and pantries and seek an education and a career in teaching.”
The permanent location of the plaque will serve to raise the profile of the sisters’ contribution to the history of the city and remind 21st Century students of the relatively recent inclusion of women in higher education and professions in the UK.
David Fraser, Chief Executive of York Civic Trust, said:
“We believe strongly that any place is a better and stronger place if we understand its roots – the society of today is founded on the activities of people in the past. That’s why we put up plaques to significant individuals who have shaped the City of York. It is a fact that men tend to be better-known and in the past this has been reflected in our plaques. So it was a joy when we became acquainted with Winifred, Mary and Catherine Cruse, and it is a pleasure to recognise their achievements today. These three remarkable women made a difference by simply assuming, and then making a reality, equal rights for women and men in the field of education. They are a proud addition to our historic plaques in the city.”
The plaque was unveiled by Vice Chancellor, Professor Karen Stanton at a ceremony attended by members of the York Civic Trust, invited guests and university staff. The occasion launched Beyond the Vote: a three day festival celebrating the centenary of women gaining the vote in 1918.