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  Katharine Talbot Wallas (1864–1944), by Mary Sargant, 1883 Katharine Talbot Wallas (1864–1944), by Mary Sargant, 1883
Wallas, Katharine Talbot (1864–1944), educationist and local government official, was born at the vicarage in Barnstaple, north Devon, on 11 April 1864, the eldest daughter of the Revd Gilbert Innes Wallas (1820–1890) and his wife, Frances Talbot Peacock. She had one brother, , the political scientist, and two sisters, Mary and Marion (the latter married the Revd P. J. Wodehouse, rector of Bratton Fleming, Barnstaple). She was educated at Maida Vale high school and Bedford College, London, before spending four years at Girton College, Cambridge (1883–7). She soon made her presence felt in college life, serving as president of the college amateur dramatic society; she played the part of Aegisthus ‘in a masterly way’ (Lady Nathan). She took the mathematical tripos in 1887 and was placed among the senior optimes. Twenty years later she crossed the Irish Sea as one of the so-called Steamboat Ladies to make use of the privilege extended by Trinity College when, for a period of three years from 1904 to 1907, women who had passed final examinations but were disqualified by their sex from graduating at Oxford or Cambridge universities could apply for Dublin degrees: she thus obtained her Dublin MA in 1907. In that year she edited with Robert Pickett Scott an anthology of English verse, The Call of the Homeland. A devoted member of Girton's old students' association, in 1908 she was elected a member of the college and of the executive committee and resigned in 1913 only because of the pressure of other work.

On leaving college Katharine Wallas began her teaching career as mathematics mistress at Notting Hill and Ealing high school (one of the group belonging to the Girls' Public Day School Company, founded in 1872) in 1888. Her sister Mary was already on the teaching staff but left in 1892 to marry the philosopher J. H. Muirhead, while her nieces Helen and Christine Wodehouse were sent to Notting Hill in 1893 and 1896 as boarders (Helen Wodehouse later became mistress of Girton College).

Leaving Notting Hill in 1898 Katharine Wallas devoted the rest of her life to the new education committee of the London county council, set up in 1904 when the council took over responsibility for education from the London school board. Initially she took the place of her brother Graham while he was away in America in 1909, but was co-opted onto the education committee in 1910 and was chosen as an alderman of the council in 1913, a position she retained until 1934, after which she served for a further three years as a co-opted member of the education committee. During the years 1918 to 1919 she became the first female deputy chair of the London county council, a significant achievement at a time when there were only eleven women members (including Henrietta Adler, Susan Lawrence, and Jessie Wilton Phipps) out of a total of 124 elected members and twenty aldermen. She also served on the finance and public control committees. During 1899–1900 Katharine Wallas was president of the Association of Assistant Mistresses, devoting her 1900 presidential address to the issue of women's work in local government, mindful of their recent exclusion from the London borough councils and the impending threat to the school board system with its inclusion of women as elected representatives. She herself accepted an invitation to serve on a special committee of the National Union of Women Workers to secure the presence of women on local authorities responsible for secondary education. She also became vice-president of the Teachers' Registration Council and later honorary treasurer of the Association of University Women Teachers. Her outstanding service on the London county council was in connection with the work of the teaching staff sub-committee, ‘where her unique knowledge of the members of the teaching staff, and their work and achievements, and her shrewd judgement of personality, made her exceptionally valuable when new appointments were to be made’ (Lady Nathan). For a considerable period up to 1934 she was one of the council's representatives on the Burnham committee to determine teachers' pay, and in 1933 she was appointed CBE in recognition of her work from 1920 to 1932 on the unemployment grants committee. Her ‘sound judgment, her high sense of duty, her keen sense of humour and undemonstrative affection for her friends’ (ibid.) made her a greatly respected ‘elder statesman’ at County Hall, whose opinion was greatly valued and constantly sought. Yet she could rarely be persuaded to speak at council meetings and regarded herself as an educational administrator rather than a party politician. Katharine Wallas, who was unmarried, died at her home, 34 Princes House, Kensington Park Road, London, on 14 April 1944.

Jane Martin


Lady Nathan, Girton Review, Easter term (1944) · J. E. Sayers, The fountain unsealed: a history of the Notting Hill and Ealing high school (privately printed, Broadwater Press, 1973) · WW · S. M. Parkes, ‘The Steamboat Ladies’, Girton College Newsletter (1994) · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1944)


Girton Cam., college register · LMA, London county council MSS · University of Warwick, Association of Assistant Mistresses


M. Sargant, portrait, 1883, Girton Cam. [see illus.] · photograph, 1890–92, repro. in Sayers, Fountain unsealed, pl. 18

Wealth at death  

£11,467 7s. 5d.: probate, 3 Aug 1944, CGPLA Eng. & Wales