Book of the week: Girls who came out on top

8th August 2003 at 01:00

Cheltenham Ladies: an illustrated history of the Cheltenham Ladies'
By Gillian Avery
James amp; James pound;35

Cheltenham Ladies' College. The very words are enough to prompt sniggers in the 99.99 per cent of us excluded from the world of posh girls' public schools. And there is plenty in this new history to turn those sniggers into guffaws.

There are the white nylon gloves girls were still wearing on Sundays, even in the 1980s, the rigorously enforced deportment, and the early emphasis on the school opening its doors only to girls of the right kind - the daughters of gentlemen, military officers, diplomats, and professional men.

There was the craze for eurhythmics, the girlhood "raves" on older pupils, and the unbelievable petty snobberies. In the 1960s, one girl was punished with extra tasks by her housemistress for accepting a place at New Hall, the newest and least prestigious Oxbridge women's college, instead of trying for a scholarship elsewhere.

But although this might seem like another world, every girl and woman in the UK owes a huge debt to the redoubtable Miss Beale, the college's first significant principal, who dedicated her life to pioneering girls' schooling.

Read the full review in this week's TES

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