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Maitland [née Rees], Emma Knox (1844–1923), suffragist and educationist, was born on 17 May 1844 at 7 Croft Terrace, Tenby, Pembrokeshire, the only child of John Rees JP, gentleman, and his wife, Emma Brown. Her father died when she was young; her mother was a strong Liberal and she shared her political convictions. Little else is known of her early life other than that she was educated by governesses until she was twelve and then went to a boarding-school. Aged eighteen, she married in Cheltenham, on 22 July 1862, Frederick Maitland (1822/3–1902), a retired clerk at East India House, the son of Joseph Maitland. They settled in London, first in Kensington, then in Hampstead, and had a family of three sons and three daughters.

Emma Maitland had little time for public work until her children were grown up, by which time her eldest daughter ran the family home at 18 Primrose Hill, Hampstead, during her absence. None the less, she did attend one of the first drawing-room meetings to discuss the issue of women's suffrage, held by Mrs Riley Taylor in 1866. A firm believer that the vote should be extended to married women, she refused to join the Women's Suffrage Society (which had sanctioned a partial measure of franchise on the grounds of political expediency). Interviewed by the feminist Women's Penny Paper in 1890, she referred to her strong belief that women should work with men, another reason for her refusal to join a women's suffrage society. Three years later she joined the executive of the Women's Local Government Society, a non-party feminist group established to promote the eligibility of women to serve on all local government bodies, serving from 1893 to 1904 and again from 1910 to 1914. She also served as convenor and chair of the organization committee for a three-year period from 1910. A hard-working Liberal Party worker, Emma was president of the women's branch of the Hampstead Liberal and Radical Association and went on to represent that body on the National Liberal Federation and the London Liberal and Radical Union. Finally, by 1890 she was vice-president of the Women's Liberal Federation, formed at the home of Sophia Fry in 1886.

Mrs Maitland always took a keen interest in education, canvassing for Elizabeth Garrett at Marylebone in 1870 during the first triennial election for the London school board. She was also a school manager in the early years of the board and took a practical interest in the administration of a college for working women. Asked to stand as a candidate for Marylebone in 1888, she consented to do so, and was returned in third place (behind Edward Barnes and Lyulph Stanley) with 17,790 votes. Her chief demands were for free education, a more generous curriculum, and simplification of the needlework requirements for girls in order to leave more time for Slojd hand and eye training and Swedish exercises to aid the children's physical development. Unlike her colleagues Margaret Eve (represented Finsbury, 1891–1904) and Rosamond Davenport Hill (longest serving female member, represented the City between 1879 and 1897), who gave special interest to girls' subjects, Emma Maitland spread her work over a larger sphere so that she might offer a female perspective on all aspects of the board's work.

Displaced by the moderate faction, headed by the Revd Joseph Diggle, in 1891, during the furore over the purchase of pianos for board schools, in 1894 Mrs Maitland was returned head of the poll in Chelsea and held the seat until her retirement in January 1903. By 1896 she was responsible for nine schools in Kilburn and Shepherd's Bush and took a keen interest in the education of blind and deaf children, which had been placed under the control of the school board rather than the poor-law guardians in 1893. Like Ruth Homan (represented Tower Hamlets, 1891–1904), Emma Maitland acted on the principle of finding blind children foster homes near their school centres, widening their curriculum, and sending the most able on to training colleges. Mrs Maitland usually spent three days a week at the board's headquarters on the Embankment, as well as alternate Wednesdays, while the rest of the week was devoted to constituency work. Further, she even took advantage of visits to the continent to investigate German and Austrian methods of caring for deaf and deaf mute children.

Elected by her peers to represent the London board on the Association of School Boards (alongside Dr T. J. Macnamara, Mr Thompson, and Graham Wallas), in February 1901 Mrs Maitland attended a special meeting called to discuss the developing crisis over secondary education, after Lord Justice Cockerton ruled that much of the school board's work in this area was unsanctioned and illegal. By the turn of the century education reform was moving up the political agenda and both Mrs Maitland and the Women's Local Government Society played a key role in the campaign to protect the position of women, likely to be disqualified by sex for election to the new local education authorities. As a token of their esteem, her colleagues presented Mrs Maitland with a pair of silver candlesticks on the occasion of her retirement from the board. The chairman, Lord Reay, hoped they ‘would help to spread the light around them upon her dining table, as she had spread the light around her’ (School Board Chronicle, 31 Jan 1901, 86). Although the feminists won a concession enabling women to be co-opted as specialists onto the new institutions, female exclusion from elected office ended with the Qualification of Women (County and Borough Councils) Act, 1907. Emma Knox Maitland, who was widowed in 1902, died at her home 43 Howitt Road, Hampstead, on 13 June 1923.

Jane Martin


F. Dolman, ‘Lady members of the London school board’, Young Woman, 4 (1895–6), 129–32 · interview, Women's Penny Paper (23 Aug 1890) · reports of the Women's Local Government Society, 1896–1923, LMA · School Board Chronicle (1888–1904) · b. cert. · m. cert. · d. cert. · census returns, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901


LMA, Women's Local Government Society MSS


photograph, 1890, repro. in Women's Penny Paper · Russell & Sons, photograph, Jan 1896, repro. in Dolman, ‘Lady members of the London school board’

Wealth at death  

£3824 12s. 3d.: probate, 26 July 1923, CGPLA Eng. & Wales