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Malleson [née Whitehead], Elizabethlocked


Malleson [née Whitehead], Elizabeth (1828–1916), educationist and promoter of rural district nursing, was born on 29 October 1828 in Chelsea, London, the eldest of the eleven children of Henry Whitehead, solicitor, of Chelsea, and his wife, Frances Ann, youngest child of Francis Maguire, British army surgeon. She received a scrappy education at a dame-school near her grandmother's home in Northfleet, from governesses at home, and, for a year at the age of fourteen, at a Unitarian school in Clapton. She had an anxious childhood: her father had lost clients through becoming a Unitarian, the bailiff was a frequent caller, and both parents were often away attending political rallies. At fifteen she accepted responsibility for bringing up her brothers and sisters. Appalled by the poor quality of her own education, she was determined to do better by her siblings, and worked out her own teaching methods from studying everything available on educational theory.

By the age of twenty-four Whitehead was free to seek work outside the home, and she found temporary positions as amanuensis and governess. In 1854 she was appointed teacher at the experimental Portman Hall School endowed by Barbara Leigh Smith (later Barbara Bodichon). She accepted enthusiastically the school's principles of non-sectarianism, co-education up to the age of eleven, mixing middle- and artisan-class children, and making lessons short and pleasurable, and she threw herself wholeheartedly into the teaching until she was forced to resign through ill health.

In May 1857 Whitehead married Frank Rodbard Malleson (d. 1903), son of a Unitarian minister, and partner in a Holborn firm of vintners. They lived in St John's Wood and later in Wimbledon, and had three daughters and a son. After becoming involved with the Working Men's College, established by Frederick Maurice in 1854, Elizabeth Malleson was inspired to found a counterpart for women. Her Working Women's College opened in Queen Square, Bloomsbury, in 1864, offering tuition in a wide range of subjects at very low fees. Malleson personally recruited university-trained teachers, who were prepared not only to provide their services free but also to participate in the social life of the college. Although the enterprise flourished, she remained convinced that adult education ought not to be organized on a single-sex basis, and, after failing to persuade the Men's College to merge, converted the Women's College to co-education in 1874. While still in London she worked for many other causes, campaigning from 1869 for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts and organizing relief for the refugees from Turkish atrocities against the Bulgars in 1876.

After moving to Dixton Manor, near Winchcombe, in 1882, Malleson continued her educational work, helping to set up workers' colleges in Cheltenham and organizing technical education in the Winchcombe district on behalf of Gloucestershire county council. She published Notes on the Early Training of Children in 1884 and, with her husband, started reading-rooms and libraries in nearby villages. But she recognized that the most urgent problem in the countryside was the lack of trained district nurses. When her first attempt to sustain a local nursing service failed, she decided that the first essential was a national organization to provide loans, train nurses, and monitor standards. She launched her Rural Nursing Association in August 1889, after securing backing from many doctors and nurses—and overriding opposition from Florence Nightingale. Finding that the recently established Queen Victoria's Jubilee Institute of Nursing concentrated on urban areas, Malleson persuaded its council to accept her association as its rural district branch. She effectively ran this autonomous branch from the position of secretary until 1894, and remained as consultant until it was fully absorbed into the institute in 1897. She also managed a local nursing association from 1889 until 1916. She died on 27 December 1916, from influenza, at home at Dixton Manor.


  • O. Stinchcombe, Elizabeth Malleson (1828–1916): pioneer of rural district nursing (1989)
  • Elizabeth Malleson, 1828–1916, autobiographical notes and letters, with a memoir by Hope Malleson, ed. H. Malleson (privately printed, 1926)
  • The Times (6 Jan 1917), 10d

Wealth at Death

£1537 0s. 9d.: probate, 21 Feb 1917, CGPLA Eng. & Wales