Mary Alice Douglas

Maary Alice Douglas seated at a table reading a book

Born in 1860 Mary Alice Douglas is best known as an educationalist and the ‘second founder’ and headmistress of Godolphin school for three decades. She was considered to be a ‘headmistress of genius’. Mary was also a suffragist who chaired several of the large women’s suffrage meetings held in Salisbury, where she was praised for her ‘clear and balanced statements’. 

Mary Alice Douglas was born at Salwarpe, Worcestershire, on 29 November, 1860, the eighth child of William Douglas (rector) and Frances Jane Douglas, in a large family with sixteen children. All of the children were born and grew up in the rectory (apart from one sister who died during childhood). She had a happy childhood and enjoyed her education in Salwarpe, which may have been influential in her own life as an educationalist

In 1883, she became a teacher, and then second mistress, at in Worcester High School (later known as the Alice Ottley School) in 1883, and undertook further training in Westfield College in 1884. She very much enjoyed this time, and wrote:

 “I went to college very hungry for the feast of lectures spread out before me, and I tried at first to partake of ever so many things at once, but some I found had to be dropped. I was only there for little more than one year, and then returned home and was appointed to a post on the regular staff of the Worcester High School. There I remained for four and a half years till, in November 1889, I was appointed to be Head Mistress of the Godolphin School. My sister Lucy and I had been somewhat separated for a few years, but now we rejoined to work together in close companionship at Godolphin” (The Godolphin Book, 1890-1914).

Picture of Mary Alice Douglas standing copyright Godolphin Schooll
picture of Mary Alice Douglas seated in an arm chair copyright Godolphin School

During her time at the school Miss Douglas worked extremely hard and had a huge impact on the school, increasing the number of pupils attending (approximately a tenfold increase in the three decades, from 23 to 230) and changing the ethos. Mary’s time as an educationalist was reflected in her presence on a number of committees and boards including the Consultation Committee Board of Education (1913) and the Salisbury Education Committee and After Care Committee (1920-1929). During her time at Godolphin she was also invited to have the school join the Union of Girls’ Schools for Social Service, setting up a link with schools in South London. During her three decades as headmistress she was very well-liked and respected amongst the pupils and fellow teaching staff.

picture of the current Godolphin School sign
picture of the main building of Godolphin school in 2020
Godolphin School

To sum up with a quote from the Godolphin School archives:

“Miss Douglas was, from the start, eager to give every girl and every type of girl, the opportunity to do her own best work and to express all that was in her, in the best possible way. So, whenever anyone had an idea for some new project, it was always given an opportunity for thorough trial and investigation. 

Her life plainly was a dedicated one. She seemed to live with the eternal things whence came her strength, her courage, her patience, her serene hopefulness.

Her deep belief in the power of goodness and in the possibilities before every human soul won for her from grateful hearts their devoted love, service and effort.”

Note: We are in the process of seeking further information about Mary Alice Douglas from archives and historical records, and this piece will be updated in due course. 

Photographs of Mary Alice Douglas reproduced by kind permission of Godolphin School


The Douglas Archives (2015). Mary Alice Douglas.

1890-1914. (n.d.) The Godolphin Book 1726-1926.

Queen Mary, University of London (n.d.). The London College for Ladies. Women at Queen Mary Online: a virtual exhibition. 

Wikipedia (2020). Goldophin School. 

Jones, E. (n.d.) Pioneers in the new chapter of Godolphin’s History (1890-1913). The Godolphin Book 1726-1926. 

McConnel, A. (2016). Delving into the Godolphin School Archive. 

Mary Alice Douglas

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