Leeds School Board, Leeds LS1 3DR
Leeds School Board(George Corson, 1878-81)

School Boards were established to oversee the management of local schools in the wake of the 1870 education act, framed by the Bradford MP W. E. Forster.  This established the first system of national education in Britain.  Boards were elected bodies of local citizens who oversaw the administration of the act.  They were also one of the first representative bodies to which women could be elected.  Dr Heaton was elected to the first Leeds School Board in December 1870. 

After the failure of an attempt to simply nominate a board of local worthies, an open election was forced.  Heaton came forward on the Church of England ticket, and therefore found himself having to appeal for popular support – a novel position for someone used to working behind the scenes. 

As his journal records:  ‘I was now, for some days, immersed in the bustle and excitement of an electioneering contest, a position entirely novel to me, and in opposition to my natural disposition.  I saw my name, associated with those of my colleagues, in letters of the largest type, on placards as large as a house door, posted all over the town; I had to attend committee meetings, and to make speeches; and to popularize myself so far as my constitutional reticence would allow.’ (Journal, iii. p. 138).

Dr Heaton’s wife, Fanny, was also keenly interested in educational matters.  She was instrumental in the creation of the Leeds Ladies Educational Association in 1869,  which campaigned for greater educational opportunities for girls, including access to Higher Education.  She also served on the Ladies’ Committee of the Yorkshire Board of Education (of which J. D. Heaton was the treasurer).

Fanny’s educational work brought her into contact with major national figures including Josephine Butler and Emily Davies, the founder of Girton College, Cambridge.  Heaton's journal records several visits from Davies, often attending meetings to promote female education.  On one of these, in 1865, she brought with her Elizabeth Garret: ‘a lady who has recently been ... the first female who has passed the examination of the Apothecaries’ Co. and obtained their licence with the intention of practising [medicine], after the fashion which seems to be gaining ground in America’ (Journal,  12 Oct. 1865).  Garret went on to found the New Hospital for Women in London (1871), and was elected mayor of Aldeburgh in 1908, the first woman to become an elected mayor in England.

For an image of the School Board building from the 1970s, click here.

Further reading:

Hollis, Patricia (1989), Ladies Elect: Women in English Local Government, 1865-1914. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jenkins, Isobel (1978), 'The Yorkshire Ladies Council of Education, 1871-91', Thoresby Society Publications, LVI, 27-71.

Webster,  Margaret H. (1972) The Early years of the Yorkshire Ladies’ Council of Education.    The Stanley Press.