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Leicester Special Collections

Agnes Archer Evans, née Kilgour and Isabella Evans, née Dare


Agnes Archer Evans (1848–1924)

Agnes Archer Evans

Born in Tasmania in 1848, Agnes Archer Evans, née Kilgour, was a founder of the university college, giving £25 and being appointed to the Court of Governors (1923–1924). She had been heavily committed to Women’s Education in Cheltenham and Leicester and in Vaughan Working Men's College in Leicester, which became an extramural department of the university college in 1929. 

In 1895, she had married a wealthy Leicester flour miller, William Evans; she was his second wife. Her stepson William Arthur Evans was also appointed to the Court of Governors (1922-) and donated to the university college. 

A life in education

Agnes Evans taught at Cheltenham Ladies College from 1876 and had become headmistress of the Junior School. She then became headmistress of the Belmont House School in Leicester with Anna Beale in 1882. After another period in Cheltenham, she returned to Leicester to marry the wealthy corn miller, William Evans, in 1895 and came to live at 6 St Martin's.

She was a governor of Wyggeston Girls' School and a teacher at and later governor of Vaughan Working Men's College. In 1887 she became the founding joint secretary of the Leicester and Leicestershire Women's Suffrage Society with Anna Beale, and in 1897 co-founded the local branch of the National Union of Women Workers (later, National Council of Women), later campaigning for the formation of a Leicester Health Society.

She was a council member of the Literary and Philosophical Society, and its first female president (women had only been allowed membership from 1887). She was also a member of the local Archaeological and Historical Society. She was an active women's suffrage campaigner and was on the committee of the Leicester Women's Liberal Association. She supported the founding of the university college and became one of its first governors. Two of her six sisters donated money to the university college in her memory.

William Arthur also donated £500 ‘In memory of my late brothers, Major Robert Evans and Sergeant Edward Dare Evans, victims of the war’ and also ‘Picture Library Equipment, including 30 portfolios and 36 oak frames with movable backs’.


Belmont House Society, Meeting at New Parks, 1888

With Anna Beale, Agnes was very involved with the founding of the Belmont House Society and was its president from 1886 until 1891, promoting opportunities for girls in education and society after they had left school. She was also involved in the Girls’ Friendly Society, established in 1875 with the support of the Anglican Church as a pioneer national youth organisation to protect working-class country girls who left home to take up urban employment. 

Agnes was also very involved in the teaching of adults. She taught male and female classes at Vaughan Working Men’s College and became a governor of the college. She also took up the role of chairperson of the Women’s Department after Margaret Vaughan gave it up due to ill health.

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The Dare and Evans family gravestone in Welford Cemetery

Isabella Evans, née Dare (1837-1894)

Isabella Evans, née Dare (1837-1894), was the daughter of Joseph Dare (1800 – 1883), who was a pioneering social worker tackling health issues in Leicestershire and, from 1845, Minister to the Poor, Unitarian Church, Leicester.

Isabella was very much involved in education and public life, as well as having six children. In 1860, she had married a wealthy Leicester flour miller, William Evans; she was his first wife. Her son William Arthur Evans donated to the university college and was appointed to the Court of Governors (1922-).

Being of a Unitarian Church family, she attended Miss Drayton’s School for Girls, left at 15, and became engaged in the private education of girls. As well as domestic duties and raising children, she maintained her involvement in education in Leicester. In 1879 she was the first local woman to be elected onto the School Board, and continued in post until 1892. Thus, she was the first woman in Leicester to serve on a public body and, by so doing, enter into political life.

She was instrumental in introducing the kindergarten system into elementary schools, inspired by Anna Beale, who had introduced it at Belmont House School. She was one of the first women governors of Wyggeston Girls’ School, opened in 1879, and an early supporter and committee member of Desford Industrial School, opened in 1881.

She was concerned about the health of mothers and their children, especially with the high infant mortality rate of Leicester over many decades. She gave a series of health lectures in the poorer parts of the town, which were successful and well attended. The cause was gradually taken up by middle class women, which resulted in the Leicester Health Society being formed in 1906. She also became involved with the committee and the running of the Leicester School of Cookery, promoting better health and hygiene.

Having initiated a variety of reforms, she died in 1894, aged 56. Her daughter Isabel Ellis, née Evans (1863-) wrote a book, Nineteenth Century Leicester, in 1935, which has many detailed memories of the family, as well as associated families, including that of Agnes Fielding Johnson.

Researched and written by Mike Bates with information drawn from the following sources

Shriley Aucott, Women of Courage, Vision and Talent: Lives in Leicester 1780 to 1925 (2008)

Our founders - So that they may have life website