Marie Bethell Beauclerc


Marie Bethell Beauclerc (1845–1897) was born Marie Bethell in London. The name was changed to ‘Beauclerc’ by the time she was six along with her older twin siblings, according to the 1851 census which placed the family as having by this time moved to Bath.

The reason for the name change is unknown, though the father passed away when Marie was a very young age. By the age of nine she unfortunately had to leave school, but at twelve, Marie proved the name addition (meaning ‘fine scholar’) to be appropriate, when she taught herself shorthand out of a manual.

On her thirteenth birthday, she and her mother moved to Birmingham, though she continued her studies with a shorthand instructor from Bath via post. Her surname first appeared as Bethell Beauclerc in her bio in the 1891 ‘The Phonetic Journal’.

In 1863 at the age of 18, Beauclerc was employed for two months as a scribe for a touring phrenology lecturer visiting Birmingham. Her skills impressed George Dawson, who was at the time the editor of the Birmingham Morning News. He employed her as a shorthand reporter, making her the first female shorthand newspaper reporter in England.

She reported on many conferences and lectures, as well as recording the majority of Dawson’s sermons and lectures, making up nine volumes of his ideology. Without her efforts, much of Dawson’s work would likely be lost to time.

Beauclerc was engaged by numerous other highly respected lecturers and preachers visiting Birmingham due to her impressive reputation.

Beauclerc was appointed teacher of phonography both at the Perry Barr Institute and the Birmingham and Midland Institute, a position she held for fourteen years. She once again became a pioneer in 1888 where she was appointed as a teacher of shorthand in Rugby School, making her the first female teacher at a public boy’s school in England. Along with shorthand, Beauclerc taught dancing and calisthenics.

Beauclerc established a Shorthand Writers Association in 1887 and was credited with introducing typewriting to Birmingham. Her papers on Phonography in Birmingham were delivered as lectures, and are now kept in the Pitman Library in the University of Bath. In a male dominated world of reporting and shorthand type, Beauclerc set an impressive example of female abilities and helped open the way for future female stenographers.

Beauclerc died on the 19th of September, 1897, aged fifty-three, and is buried two plots away from George Dawson in Key Hill Cemetery. Her tombstone states that;

‘This stone was erected by the members of the Church of the Saviour, Birmingham. In grateful recognition of her services, by which many of the prayers, sermons and lectures of the late George Dawson, have been preserved.’

Marie Bethell Beauclerc (2)

(From the Family)

Marie's London birth certificate (1845) and those of her twin siblings (1843) give the surname Bethell but  the 1851 census has the three children at school in Bath with the surname Beauclerc.

The addition of Bethell appeared for the first time in the title of Marie's biography in 1891 in “The Phonetic Journal.” The reason for her name change to Beauclerc before she was six is unknown, however from the time she was a young child, Marie reflected its meaning, namely good scholar.

Her limited childhood education and the rigid gender prejudices she later conquered, demonstrate courage as well as academic ability. For example, in his lecture on “National Education,” George Dawson says, “Ladies' spelling is always pretty feeble. It has never been a strong point with women. Even out of 100 educated women 99 will spell independent with 'a' dant.”

He trusted Marie however to precisely report his lectures, prayers and sermons and George St. Clair praised her accurate transcribing in the prefaces of many volumes of his work. Marie is also credited with editing and recording the sermons of Robert Collyer during his visit to Birmingham from U.S and also with reporting the work of Christopher J. Street.

The recognition Marie received from other eminent male figures such as A.Hagarty, R.F. Martineau and Dr. Percival Headmaster of Rugby, indicate the extent of her reputation. She delivered a paper in London at The International Shorthand Congress and Phonographic Jubilee in 1887, another noteworthy achievement for a woman of this time and  her teaching inspired thousands of students who in this era were predominately male.

Beauclerc Family