Women’s roles in both education and in the professions have been celebrated with the unveiling of the Civic Society’s latest Blue Plaque. Eleanor Addison Phillips was the Headmistress of Clifton High School from 1908 to 1933. Her portrait shows a somewhat austere and forbidding woman, but accounts from her pupils describe a warm, humorous and very encouraging teacher. Indeed, the author Mary Renault is said to have been very unhappy at school before Miss Phillips encouraged her in the field of creative writing. Clearly, she was a talent spotter as well as a teacher who wanted the best for the girls in her charge.
And talents a-plenty she encouraged, in education and beyond. She was one of the founders, and the first president of the Bristol Venture Club. Started in 1920, it was the first “women’s category club” in the world. What, we ask, is a Category Club? Using today’s language, it was a networking association for women who worked in different professions. (Categories of professions which were considered for membership were determined by the growing membership, hence the name.) It ran along the lines of the better-known Rotary Club, and indeed Bristol’s all-male Rotary supported the establishment of this women’s counterpart “on the condition it was called by another name”, in the words of the then Secretary of the Rotary Club of Bristol.
Thus the Venture Club was born in Bristol. Members had to be at the top of her business or profession, and not retired or married – because in the 1920s, married women were usually expected or required to resign from their paid employment. With Eleanor Addison Phillips at the helm, the Club grew steadily. In 1930, the Bristol Venture Club merged with the Soroptimist Movement, and under this name, continues to this day as a network for professional women who give their time to a range of social, cultural and charitable activities.
The Blue Plaque to Eleanor Addison Phillips is outside the Reception Office of Clifton High School. It has been supported by Bristol Soroptimists, the Rotary Club of Bristol and Clifton High School.