Annie Eddison (1845-1916)
Pioneering campaigner for women’s education in Leeds


Annie Eddison (1845-1916)Annie Eddison arrived in Leeds from America in 1862 as a young bride, just eighteen years old. Her arrival coincided with a forceful movement across the country to open up women’s opportunities for higher education – this was a time when there were almost no secondary schools for girls and women were debarred from university study. Annie was to become a significant leading figure in fighting the campaign for change in Leeds. 

Annie – nee Anna Tatham – was born in Philadelphia, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. In 1861, just 17, she was introduced to her cousin, a young English engineer called Robert William Eddison, from John Fowler’s Steam Plough Works in Leeds. He had come to America to explore potential new markets. The Civil War had plunged the country into chaos, but he got to see Annie’s father – later to play a major role in the development of Fowler’s business in the States – and so met and fell in love with Annie. They married, and she accompanied him back to the unknown world of Leeds. They came to live on Headingley Lane, where Robert’s family home was, and they lived there until around 1880, when he inherited a farm at Adel, ‘The Willows’, a house with 150 acres of land, where Robert could pursue his farming interests as well as managing the hugely successful Steam Plough Works, its business now extending all over the world.

Annie meanwhile eagerly joined a group of women from the leading families of Leeds who were pressing for the improvement of facilities for women’s education, inspired by the national campaign led by Emily Davies (the founding Principal of Girton College) who came to Leeds to speak to them in 1866. Fired with enthusiasm, they formed the Leeds Ladies’ Educational Association, and later the Yorkshire Ladies’ Council of Education. These far-sighted, forceful women did not just talk – they ran courses in cookery, health and childcare for women in the mills, arranged lectures, organised Oxford and Cambridge Local Examinations for girls, and kept up the pressure for women to be granted the same opportunities for education as men, in the face of apathy and active opposition.

Annie took an energetic, vital role as long-serving Secretary of the Ladies’ Association from 1872 and later of the Yorkshire Council too. Above all she was a dynamic leader in the campaign to provide a school in Leeds which could offer girls a route into higher education, to match the long-established Boys’ Grammar School. Her efforts, along with a group of other committed people (including several men), led to the founding in 1876 of the Leeds Girls’ High School, the first school in Leeds to offer girls the chance of secondary education and access to university study (though it took many years before women were admitted on equal terms in the older universities). She was Secretary to the School’s governing body for 40 years until her death in 1916, and was its much-loved mainstay – ‘a rock of support...a fount of sympathy’.

Her exceptional contribution was recognised in 1912, when she became the first woman to be awarded an honorary degree of LL.D. by Leeds University. Almost a century later she is not forgotten: following the recent merger of the Girls’ High School with the Grammar School, one of the Houses has been named Eddison House, a fitting tribute to this outstanding woman and her work for women’s education.

Eveleigh Bradford
June 2010