Abigail Behrens: Pioneer of Women’s Education

Abigail Behrens • Manchester High School for Girls

This treasure, from Manchester High School for Girls, is a portrait of Abigail Behrens, traditionally named as one of the school’s founders. She was a member of the Committee of the Manchester Association for the Promotion of the Education of Women from 1874-1875 and she served as School Governor from 1875 – 1899. One of the houses in the MHSG Preparatory Department is named after her.

Manchester High School for Girls was founded in January 1874 as a result of the work of the Manchester Association for the Promotion of the Education of Women. At that time there was widespread suspicion of female education.

In defiance of such prejudice, the Manchester Association launched a public appeal in 1873 to found a girls’ school “of the highest type.” Within a few weeks over a hundred and forty Mancunians had contributed sums ranging from £1 to £150. The school they founded was Manchester High School for Girls. Here’s a picture of some of the Senior School girls in the 1870s:

Abigail was the wife of Edward Behrens, Secretary of the Taunton Commission. In 1873, Mr Behrens gave £50 to the original MHSG Appeal Fund. This was the third largest amount. In 1901, Abigail’s family endowed the Abigail Behrens Memorial Scholarship for girls from the Manchester Jews School, Derby St, Cheetham Hill. It was worth £20 pa. It was awarded about every three years between 1901 and 1927 to enable pupils to attend MHSG.

By the mid 1930s, 40 Jewish girls attended the school out of a total of 400 students. Kosher meals were available and a special Jewish assembly put in place. Between 1934 and 1940 the school offered 10 subsidised places for refugee girls from Nazi Europe, who were housed with the community.


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