The First Principal of Newnham College

A LITTLE more than a year ago, there passed away in Cambridge, England, in the fullness of an honored age, a woman who, in popular speech, was a leader of a cause, the cause of the higher education of women. There was, however, so complete an absence from her personality of aught that could suggest a departure from the most time-honored type of womanhood that it is only when reviewing and defining her life work that one would think of designating her thus. Then, even, one hesitates to include in the category to which also belong the noisy agitator and aggressive claimant of female rights the dignified and gentle lady who for nearly twenty years presided over Newnham Hall and College. Yet, in any attempt to give a true impression of Miss Clough, it must needs be said in clearest terms that she was above all things a reformer. Her life was passed in an earnest and untiring effort to bring a new order into the intellectual lives of other and younger women. Throughout a long and unbroken series of years her patience and courage in the service of her sex were never known to flag. Like too many of her fellow-workers, she may have brought away some ineradicable scars from the ungracious struggle with hostile conservative forces ; but in her case there were none that could mar the softness and serenity of her presence. She bore about her, indeed, most of the marks and tokens that, to the student of types of character, indicate a conservative temperament. Her movements were slow (too early made more so by feebleness of health) ; her voice was low, though forcible ; her speech deliberate. There was that in the atmosphere she created around her that sufficed to impart homelikeness to the bare and crude college halls, as yet unenriched by associations of a past.

The college owns two portraits of her: one hangs over the “ high ” table in Clough Hall; the other, by Richmond, is in Old Hall. The latter is the earlier taken, and the least characteristic ; yet the artist has presented vividly what must have first impressed those who met her, — the fire and glow of her large dark eyes. There are eyes, met with perhaps half a dozen times in a lifetime, that, once seen, are never forgotten. Miss Clough’s were of this kind. Their unusual size and darkness were made still more marked by the silvery whiteness of the hair above. This soft, lovely hair was parted in bands over the forehead and folded away beneath a lace cap. It is not too fanciful to say that the contrast between the keenness of the dusky eyes and the softness of the white hair typified outwardly the contrasts to be found in Miss Clough’s character and traits. Although she stood before the world at large as the representative of a newly recognized principle, it is more than doubtful if she could at any time have succeeded in holding the attention of an audience, or even so much as in making her voice heard from a public platform. The head of one of the two most important organized bodies of women in the kingdom, it would have been impossible to picture her as presiding actively over any numerous organized assembly; one no more formidable, even, than the Debating Society or House of Commons of her own college students. With those valiant and admirable women whose vocation it is to disseminate doctrine in conferences and councils, and to spread the catchwords of a new movement, she seemed, indeed, to have nothing in common ; yet of the number of persons of all sorts and conditions who were brought into personal contact with her, none, it is safe to say, were ever misled into doubting her single-minded devotion to an impersonal cause,—a devotion carried, as her friends knew, to the length of refusing to appropriate to individual use as much of the limited space of the college as they deemed her health required.

No practical detail that concerned the college or the students was too insignificant to engage Miss Clough’s attention. Curiously blended with this almost anxious care for small matters was an absence of mind that now and then lent an air of abstraction to what she might be saying or doing. Then, when one least expected it, came the swift flash of insight into character, the evidence of the shrewd instinct for business. Advancing years brought with them a number of small personal idiosyncrasies, — well remembered by friends, — all kindly and unselfish in nature, of the sort to bring a tender, involuntary smile to the lips of those who now recall them. The earnestness of her disposition was delightfully tempered by a sense of humor ; not the humor that sparkles or leaps out in witticism, but the quieter kind that finds its adequate expression in a gentle curve of the lips, a momentary flash of the eye. Joined with this, and no doubt in a measure due to it, was the sense of proportion so noticeable in her ideas in regard to her work. From the tendency, so conspicuous in many members of her sex, to exaggerate, to overestimate the relative importance of a new departure, Miss Clough was singularly free. Something of this rare appreciation of the relativity of things she doubtless owed to the circumstances and the sphere of her activity. Her college was not a pioneer institution, built where before only the growths of nature had flourished, but a follower and an imitator, a recipient of favors — at first somewhat niggardly bestowed, it must be confessed — at the hands of an august and immeasurably venerable benefactor. The mere external contrast between the modest red brick architecture of the halls, Old, Sidgwick, and Clough, that compose the new college and the splendid gateways and façades, the chapels, quadrangles, and gardens, the whole inexhaustible wealth of beauty of the old university, would seem sufficient in itself to impart a fit measure of humility to an aspiring feminine don. That it was innately natural, however, to Miss Clough to reverence the traditions of the past while zealously striving to promote the welfare of the future, the record of her active but quiet life can prove.

She was born in Liverpool, in 1820, only a year after the birth of her more rarely gifted brother, Arthur Hugh. But the ugly commercial city, which offers to so many transatlantic descendants the first repellent glimpse of the mother country, was not the home that was hers by birthright. The Cloughs were Welsh. For many generations they had lived at “ Plas Clough,” in Denbighshire, the most northeasterly county of the land of the ancient bards. Miss Clough’s father, James Butler Clough, was the first of the family to emigrate from the vicinity of the old home. He established himself, at the outset, in the great importing mart as a cotton merchant; but when his only daughter, on whom had been bestowed the homely Christian names of Anne Jemima, was three years old, he embarked on a longer voyage than the passage of the Dee or Mersey, and came to Charleston, in this country. Here his daughter spent the next thirteen years of her life, living perhaps more merrily, and certainly with greater freedom from outward restraint, than she could have done in the northern English home. In the memoir written by her, in after years, for an edition of her brother’s poetical works, she gives pleasant glimpses of playtimes among the cotton heaps in their father’s office, near the wharves, and of still more delightful summer holidays on Sullivan Island, where there was paddling on the warm sands, with happy shelter among the myrtle groves, and where strange, fascinating birds haunted the lonely shore.

But the moulding influence of her early life was her mother. Mrs. Clough, whose charmingly quaint maiden name was Anne Perfect, was of Yorkshire birth, and was a mother to whom her children owed more than the gift of physical existence. Her daughter’s own words can best describe her. “ My mother,” Miss Clough writes, “ cared little for general society, but had a few fast friends to whom she was strongly attached. In her tastes and habits she was rigidly simple : this harmonized with the stern integrity which was the foundation of her character. She was very fond of reading, especially works on religious subjects, poetry, and history ; and she greatly enjoyed beautiful scenery, and visiting places which had any historical associations. She loved what was grand, noble, and enterprising, and was truly religious. She early taught us about God and duty, and, having such a loving earthly father, it was not difficult to look up to a Heavenly one. . . . But with all this love of the terrible and grand she was altogether a woman, clinging to and leaning on our father.”

When Miss Clough was sixteen the family returned to Liverpool, and there the next fourteen years of her life were passed. Her attractive and venturesome father died in 1843, leaving her to be thenceforth the companion and protector of her mother. Before this time, she had begun, in a small and tentative way, the less personal work which was to last as long as her life. As far as her own needs were concerned, the only existing means of supplementing her irregular and unsystematic education were such lessons as she could get from private masters. But then, as now, there was plentiful demand for help in the education of others, and she began to teach in a school for Welsh children. Not satisfied with the school curriculum of those days of unscientific pedagogy, she had the children in her own home, on Saturdays or in the evenings, and there taught them, among other subjects, the neglected one of geography. In a magazine article on better methods of teaching reading she embodied her educational theories, showing, youthful as she was, a thorough practical insight into the elementary school system that then existed.

In 1850, Liverpool was, on account of Mrs. Clough’s health, exchanged for Ambleside. There, in the heart of the beautiful lake scenery, and among the stimulating associations of Windermere and its neighboring hills, Miss Clough went on with her work. High up on the “ how,” or fell, above the village, in a small house dignified by the name of “ Eller How,” she opened a school for the children of the place. The school was for boys and girls alike; and it is interesting to know that Miss Clough continued always to approve this plan. There were other features peculiar to her school which, though equally in touch with modern sentiment, could not be carried out in larger places so thoroughly as in the little hillside academy. Thus, each child had its own time-table, suited to its individual needs, and drawn up in the careful mistress’s own way. Unnecessary restraint was banished, and lessons might be learned in window seats or corners, in postures of delicious comfort. It is pleasant to think how the small inhabitants of Wordsworth’s countryside must have delighted in a schoolmistress who, beside having marvelous stores of information which she loved to pour out to eager listeners, was also known on occasion to inquire, “ with admirable gravity and conviction, after the health of certain dolls who were supposed to be suffering from a severe attack of scarlet fever.” An appreciative pupil, now known to fame as Mrs. Humphry Ward, remembers that even as a little child she was impressed by “ the mixture of patience, common sense, and occasional humor with which she treated my troublesome temper.”

After ten years of life at Ambleside, Miss Clough lost the mother she had tenderly cared for, amid her other occupations, and one year later her brother, the poet, Arthur Hugh, died in Florence. With his loss, in 1861, the period of her active teaching came to an end. For the ten succeeding years her home was with his widow and children at Combe Hurst, near Kingston-on-Thames. It was during this time that broader fields of usefulness opened before her; the history of her life is henceforth one with the history of the progress of the higher education of women in England. The first important step actually taken in this far-reaching movement was suggested by her in an article published in Macmillan’s Magazine, advocating the establishment in the large provincial towns of courses of lectures for the “ elder girls from the various schools,” and for teachers who “ desired to improve themselves.” This scheme, which was to he “ by way of experiment, as a means of creating a taste for higher studies and collective instruction,” was embodied by the formation, in 1867, of the “North of England Council for Promoting the Higher Education of Women.” Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, and Sheffield were the four towns represented in the Council, which had for its president Mrs. Butler, wife of the Principal of Liverpool College, with Miss Clough as secretary.

In October and November of this same year, the Council provided its first course of lectures, — the forerunner of the University Extension courses. Astronomy was the somewhat ambitious subject of the course, which was repeated in each of the four towns in succession by Professor (then Mr.) Stuart, of Trinity College, Cambridge. It is needless to say, in the light of succeeding events, that this and the other courses quickly following proved, by their popularity, that the Council had taken at the flood a tide that was to lead to great developments. The next step in advance was but the logical outcome of the first. This was the presentation by the Council to the University of Cambridge of a numerously signed petition for the establishment of an examination for women over eighteen. The immediate result of this petition was the holding in June, 1869, of the first of the long series of the Cambridge Higher Local Examinations ; the ultimate result has been the gradual revolutionizing of the education of English girls. Miss Clough’s services in the Council, of which she became president in 1873, were gratefully acknowledged in the Clough Scholarship, an exhibition of fifty pounds a year for two years to Newnham College, awarded to the candidate who stands highest in the Cambridge Higher Local Examination in the Liverpool Centre; and by the presentation, on the final dissolution of the Council, of the balance of its funds to the library of Newnham College.

Newnham College may be said to have practically, though namelessly, entered the first stage of its existence in October, 1871, when Miss Clough, with five women students, began her residence in a house in Regent Street, Cambridge. She was invited thither by Professor Henry Sidgwick, “ the moving spirit of tlie Cambridge Lecture Committee.” An epitome of the history of this action, the type of others in our own country, is to be found in an address given in Liverpool at the sixth meeting of the North of England Council by Professor Sidgwick, who said: “ A strong feeling had grown up among the residents in Cambridge that examination, however searching and complete, was an inadequate means of improvement, and that something should be done to extend the advantage of academic instruction to women. This had led to the commencement, in January, 1870, of a system of lectures in the different subjects of the examination. These comprised a certain portion of all the branches of study pursued at Cambridge ; and, as the education of girls improved, they would naturally be extended, until the whole field of academic instruction was thrown open. The lectures in the higher subjects were at present only partially operative, as Cambridge alone did not supply a sufficient number of students. In order that they might achieve the end aimed at, the most intelligent girls from different parts of the country must be enabled to take advantage of them.”

Miss Clough was thus in her fifty-second year when she came, with ripened mind and tempered judgment, to the work that was to crown her days with honored and prominent activity. By rapid stages the house in Regent Street grew into Merton, and Merton into Newnham Hall, and this into Newnham College, with its spacious grounds and proud record of triumphs scored in the triposes. Some years of waiting, however, still remained to the friends and promoters of the college before official recognition of their students’ work was secured from the University. It was not until 1881 that the University of Cambridge, after a debate in the Senate, the warmth and excitement of which have become matter of tradition, decided to formally open its examinations to students of Newnham and Girton colleges ; while still — of so slow growth is the ideal justice in even a republic of letters — the University’s final stamp of success in the examinations, the degree, is withheld from women students, who must perforce content themselves with the posting of their names in the tripos lists on the doors of the Senate House, and with the knowledge that they have, in more than one examination, distanced in marks the men who have a lawful claim to the degree.

Miss Clough died in the college she loved. In the presence of the great change awaiting her, her thoughts kept the current of their simple unselfishness. Her last words were about the building of the wall along the new road behind the college, and the last message she sent, not many hours before her death, was of love to the students. It was her wish that the college life should be as little interrupted as possible by her death ; and when it was made known that the final summons had come, the word was received with awed and reverent sorrow by the students who were in residence. Throughout Cambridge the tidings were met with grief. The Provost and Fellows of King’s College expressed their sympathy by the offer of their chapel for the funeral services. Cambridge has witnessed few more impressive scenes than here took place on March 5, 1892. The stately Tudor chapel, under whose soaring roof Miss Clough had worshiped Sunday after Sunday, was crowded with students from all parts of the kingdom, and with members of the University ; all gathered together in a common act of honor to one who, in words spoken in the chapel the following Sunday, had just closed “ her life of devotion to the cause to which she gave herself, amid the reverent admiration of the whole University.” “Neither country nor University,” the speaker added, “ will ever be unmindful of her whose noble work is now done, and who bequeaths to others the heritage of her gentle power and the memory of the riches of her unerring sympathy.”

How penetrating and how practical this sympathy was, as shown in the paths of daily life, there are women scattered all over the world whose memories gratefully bear witness. It is remembered that on one occasion, when Miss Clough was to go to London for the day in company with one of her students, it was proposed, in accordance with the economical fashion of Cambridge dons, that the two should travel third class. “ I may have to come back second class, though,” Miss Clough remarked, remembering the long day’s occupation that would tax her strength, and probably make a more comfortably cushioned carriage a necessity in returning. Then, mindful of the oftentimes sad limitations of the purses of the students, “ But I will pay the difference for both, my dear,” she added quickly, in an undertone. The same student also cherishes the recollection of a certain night in the spring term, when, having gone to London in the morning with Miss Clough, and returned alone early in the evening, according to arrangement, a voice was heard, after she had gone to bed, softly calling her name outside her closed door. It was Miss Clough, just back from her long day’s outing, not too wearied to mount to the second floor to ask how her companion of the morning had fared.

There are few who have enjoyed its quiet hospitality who will be likely to forget the aspect of her own particular room in the Old Hall, at the corner of the ground-floor corridor. It was a large square room, with low ceiling, and woodwork and walls of a soft olive tint. There was a delightful high recessed window, with a cushioned seat beneath it, reached by a step from the floor, and there was a fire of coals in the grate, with the busily used desk on one side, and an armchair on the other; there were books and pictures and flowers, all merged in that quiet decorativeness of effect which is peculiar to an exquisitely refined English room. From this sittingroom to the garden there was but a single step, through one of the long windows ; and in the garden, in old days, was to be found in the spring the culminating charm of Newnham. The cuckoos were heard calling across the fields all day, and at night a nightingale sang on the branches of a slender poplar. Laburnums drooped under their golden chains, and the hawthorns were powdered with white or crimson blossoms. Daisies sprang up in the turf, and under the high brick wall grew cowslips and primroses, beloved alike of students and Principal, who might often be met strolling along the paths, in serene enjoyment of the scene.

These are some of the valued though minor associations that cluster around the memory of an acquaintanceship with Miss Clough. But there are also more strenuous thoughts that belong to her memory. She stands forth in one’s mind as a rebuke to whatever is harsh or discordant or unfeminine in the minds and manners of the advocates of the cause she served. As has already been said, she had in her own personality nothing in common with the women who repel even while they stimulate. In the transition of her sex from a stunted to a freely developed intellectual life, much that is unlovely and ungracious has been called into evidence. There are repeated reminders that sacrifices to the graces may not be ceased with impunity. In the midst of a generation not yet sure of the range of its possibilities, Miss Clough presented the spectacle of an essentially mellow nature. Hers was the force that worked slowly, silently, and irresistibly, without explosions or ungainly contortions. Her friendships were of the same nature, undemonstrative and lasting; her generosity of temper towards those who shared her work was unstinted, her religious faith secure and unostentatious.

Miss Clough is buried, as she had expressed a wish to be, in a country churchyard. To reach her grave needs but a brief walk from the college, past an avenue of ancient elms, through meadows where a stream flows and skylarks sing overhead, to the little village of Grantchester. The Grantchester church, with square gray tower and walls overgrown with ivy, is one of which hundreds more are to be found in scattered country parishes. In a corner of its graveyard, somewhat apart from the older barrows and moss-grown headstones, rises the pure white slab that marks her resting-place. On it is inscribed




Born at Liverpool, January 20th, 1820.

Died at Newnham College, Cambridge, Feb.

27th, 1892.

“ After that she bad served her own generation by the will of God, she fell on sleep.”

As one stands in silence beside her grave, one thinks involuntarily of the far different scene in the Florentine cemetery, where, " under the flowery oleanders pale, " the brother she so dearly loved sleeps with her “ the morningless and unawakening sleep.”

Eugenia Skelding.