Elizabeth Jesser Reid
Pioneering education for women
Elizabeth Jesser Reid, née Sturch, a pioneering social reformer, founded Bedford College (which later merged with Royal Holloway) in 1849. It was the first college in Great Britain for the higher education of women.
Reid was born in London on 25 December 1789 to a wealthy Unitarian ironmonger and his wife. In 1821, she married the physician John Reid who died 13 months later. After her husband’s death, Mrs Reid used her independent income to support benevolent schemes set up by women as well as anti-slavery campaigns in America.
A college for women had been Reid’s dream since childhood so she put up the money to found Bedford College in 1849. Expecting hundreds of applications, the College only received a dozen or so at first, mostly from Reid’s friends. Notable students of Bedford College in its early days included Sarah Parker Remond, the first black woman to undertake a lecture tour in Britain on the slavery question, artist Barbara Bodichon and novelist George Eliot.