Show Summary Details

Page of
PRINTED FROM Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single article in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

Maynard, Constance Louisafree

  • Janet Sondheimer

Constance Louisa Maynard (1849–1935)

by unknown photographer, c. 1897

courtesy of Queen Mary, University of London archives

Maynard, Constance Louisa (1849–1935), college head, was born on 19 February 1849 at 17 Park Terrace, Highbury, Middlesex, the youngest of the four surviving daughters (there were also two surviving sons and two children who died in infancy) of Henry Maynard (1800–1888), South Africa merchant, and his wife, Louisa (1806–1878), née Hillyard, who was of Huguenot descent. She grew up in the Kent village of Hawkhurst, in the house, Oakfield, set in spacious surroundings to which the family moved in 1854, and was educated at home, apart from one year at Belstead School in Suffolk. The lives of Constance and her sisters were regulated by their mother in accordance with strongly held evangelical principles. Worldly amusements, dancing, novel reading, and the like were banned, but so was idleness. When her formal education was deemed complete, Constance took up astronomy and New Testament Greek, developed the artistic skills which produced her clear, unmistakable handwriting, and endeavoured to bring material and spiritual comfort to the neighbouring poor.

At the age of twenty-three, still dutiful but inwardly dissatisfied with the life prescribed for her (to be varied, if at all, only by marriage), Constance Maynard heard while visiting cousins in St Andrews much talk of the Cambridge education for women and in particular of a college for women at Hitchin. The whole notion came as a revelation, filling her with 'an overwhelming desire' to enrol as a student. Brushing aside her mother's fears that the college might be worldly, filled with people 'not at all our sort' (Maynard MS autobiography, bundle 8, 1915, Westfield College Archives) and undeterred by her father's insistence that paid employment must not be the outcome, Constance Maynard entered Hitchin in the autumn of 1872, moved with the college to Girton in 1873, and became the first Girtonian to sit for the moral sciences tripos, in which she achieved in 1875 the equivalent of a second-class honours degree. At Girton, her intellectual powers were at last fully engaged and her social horizons expanded by daily contact with women contemporaries who were indeed 'not of our own sort', in the sense that they dismissed, some casually, some scornfully, the truths she held sacred; still more disturbing, the most outspoken were also the students she most admired. She came away from Girton cherishing the vision of a college 'just like it in the scope and energy of learning, the freedom of action in the present and high aims for the future, but where the Name of Christ should be loved and honoured' (The Inception of Westfield College, 1927, Westfield College Archives).

Back at Oakfield, trying to readjust to the old routines, Constance Maynard responded with alacrity to an invitation to join the staff of Cheltenham Ladies' College which, because of a temporary crisis in her father's business affairs, she had a valid reason to accept. Her immediate superior there was Louisa Innes Lumsden, a fellow Girtonian with whom she departed in 1877 to start up St Leonards School, St Andrews, where her older and more experienced friend had been appointed head. Three unsatisfying years (1877–80) at St Leonards convinced Constance Maynard that her vocation did not lie in schools, and offers of headships were steadfastly declined. She also rejected, with some hesitation, an offer of marriage from a Scots minister, being unwilling, as she told her eldest sister, to take an 'irretrievable step into bondage' (Firth, 162). Moving in 1880 to London, where she shared lodgings with her younger brother and enrolled as a part-time student at the Slade School of Art, she focused more sharply than before on the idea of a ‘Christian college’ and began to promote it in the evangelical circles whose support would be essential to success. Introduced via this network to Ann Dudin Brown, an elderly spinster of independent means interested in starting a training college for women missionaries, Constance Maynard persuaded this virtual stranger to adopt instead her own plan, which was now geared on the academic side to preparation for London University degrees, open since 1878 to women on equal terms with men; the life of the collegiate household was to be governed by 'the truths of living Christianity', but the future vocation of the students was left open. Events moved fast. Constance Maynard had her first formal meeting with Ann Dudin Brown and her advisers (shortly to become founding members of the college council) in February 1882; in May she was appointed mistress, a title borrowed from Girton. In October, with one lecturer and five students, Westfield College opened in two private houses in Hampstead, just off the Finchley Road.

Constance Maynard, mistress of Westfield for thirty-three years, made the title so much her own that it did not pass to her successors. When first appointed she appeared little older than her students; yet she rarely found it necessary to stand on her dignity with them: when a public swimming bath opened in the vicinity, she was the first to take the plunge. Photographs of this era show a serious, good-looking young woman; later, people were struck in particular by her 'big clear grey eyes, kindly and humorous, but very searching' (The Times, 27 March 1935). When Westfield moved in 1891 to larger premises of a more collegiate style, she endeavoured to preserve its family atmosphere. She wished to know and guide the students—sixty was her limit—as individuals.

The religious life of the college revolved around Constance Maynard's weekly Bible classes and the less formal Sunday evening ‘Function’ at which attendance was voluntary; in her time there was neither a chapel nor a chaplain. She noticed that, while the students were interested in philosophy, 'simple religious teaching' fell flat, and reworked her material accordingly.

When Constance Maynard retired in 1913, Westfield was securely established as a school of London University, and its graduates, numbering about five hundred, were much sought after by schools, colleges, and missionary organizations in the UK and abroad. But mastery of her 'complex profession', as she termed it on her sixtieth birthday, had been achieved at a high cost. For years she lived under a heavy cloud of depression, brought on by a mixture of overwork, loneliness, and inner religious turmoil as she struggled 'to find the true relationship between thought and faith' (Girton Review, Easter term 1949, 17). Rightly or wrongly, she felt undervalued by the college council, which hedged her about with petty restrictions and whose meetings she attended, if at all, only by invitation. For sympathy and support she came to rely on intimate friendships with favoured students and close colleagues (principally Frances Ralph Gray and Anne Wakefield Richardson) which while they lasted detracted from the supposed impartiality of her office; when they collapsed, her isolation was the harder to bear. Her legal adoption in 1888 of Effie, an abandoned six-year-old of Italian extraction, gave no real joy to either party and ended most unhappily. These experiences, indeed the whole of her life from 1866 onward, are recorded in diaries (unpublished) which shed light both on their author, revealed as an acute observer with a gift for thumbnail portraits, and on people and movements of the day. Religious movements, from the Salvation Army to the Modern Churchmen's Union, figure prominently. She supported women's suffrage but played no active part in the suffrage movement. She was elected as old students' representative to the governing body of Girton and served from 1897 to about 1905 on the council of the Church Schools' Society. Separate notebooks describe her travels, to South Africa, the Holy Land, Canada, Europe, and by bicycle throughout the British Isles.

In retirement, Constance Maynard continued to keep in touch with her Westfield ‘flock’ through a correspondence network, 'the Budget', she had instituted as early as 1887. The money they collected as a parting gift she donated to the college; some was used as a hardship fund, the remainder as endowment for the Maynard divinity lectures. Constance Maynard died at her home, The Sundial, Marsham Way, Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, on 26 March 1935, and was buried at Gerrards Cross parish church on 29 March. Under her will the college received £1500 to fund an entrance scholarship.

Constance Maynard's published works include Between College Terms (1910); The Life of Dora Greenwell (1926); ‘From an early Victorian schoolroom to the university’, Nineteenth Century, November 1914; contributions to The Hibbert Journal and other religious periodicals; and numerous tracts and pamphlets. Her unpublished writings include an unfinished autobiography, composed at intervals between 1915 and 1927, which with her diaries, supplemented by personal knowledge, form the basis of C. B. Firth's biography (1949). These intimate records have been given a more detached interpretation by M. Vicinus (1985).


  • Queen Mary College, London, Constance Maynard archives
  • Queen Mary College, London, Westfield College Archives
  • C. B. Firth, Constance Louisa Maynard (1949)
  • J. Sondheimer, Castle Adamant in Hampstead: a history of Westfield College, 1882–1982 (1983)
  • The Times (27 March 1935)
  • The Times (30 March 1935)
  • K. T. Butler and H. I. McMorran, eds., Girton College register, 1869–1946 (1948)
  • M. Vicinus, Independent women: work and community for single women, 1850–1920 (1985)
  • b. cert.
  • d. cert.


  • Queen Mary College, London, diaries, notebooks, and MS of unfinished autobiography
  • PRONI, corresp. with Miss A. W. Richardson


  • photographs, 1880–1913, Queen Mary College, London, Constance Maynard archive
  • portraits, 1880–1913, Queen Mary College, London, Constance Maynard archive
  • G. Jay, oils, 1907, Queen Mary College, London
  • A. Footner, photograph, 1930, Queen Mary College, London, Constance Maynard archive
  • photograph, 1897, Queen Mary College, London, Constance Maynard archive [see illus.]

Wealth at Death

£23,230 11s. 10d.: probate, 10 May 1935, CGPLA Eng. & Wales