Biographical / Historical
Alice Zimmern was born on 22 September 1855 at Nottingham, the youngest of the three scholarly daughters of Hermann Theodore Zimmern, lace merchant, and Antonia Marie Therese Regina, née Leo (Helen, the eldest daughter, 1846-1934, was a writer and translator; Antonia, the second daughter, was a scholar of the Old Testament and of Hebrew literature). The family had arrived in Britain from Germany in 1850.
Alice was educated privately and at Bedford College, London before arriving at Girton as a College Scholar to study classics from 1881 to 1885. While at Girton she founded a dramatic society for the production of classical plays. She was also an active member of the Debating Society, the Browning Society and the Classical Club.
She taught classics in a number of schools from 1885 until the early 1890s, including Tunbridge Wells High School (1888-1891), and she later tutored private students in classics.
In 1893, with a Gilchrist Travelling Scholarship, she visited the USA to study methods of education in schools and colleges. This resulted in her book Methods of Education in America (1894). She later studied educational methods in England, France and Germany.
Alice Zimmern’s corpus of written work was large and varied, ranging across translation, literature, classics, history, education and women’s suffrage. She collaborated with her sister Helen on two volumes of translated excerpts from European novels (1880 and 1884). While still teaching, she produced a school edition of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (1887) and a translation of Hugo Bluemner’s The Home Life of the Ancient Greeks (1893). In 1896 she produced a translation of Porphyry: The Philosopher to his Wife Marcella. She also wrote children’s books on ancient Greece and Rome (Greek History for Young Readers, 1895; Old Tales from Greece, 1897; and Old Tales from Rome, 1906).
She wrote journal articles on comparative education and the education of women, particularly in the 1880s and 1890s. The Renaissance of Girls’ Education in England: a Record of Fifty Years’ Progress appeared in 1898 and Women’s Suffrage in Many Lands appeared in 1909: these two publications contributed substantially to the debate on the education and rights of women in Alice Zimmern’s time. She was essentially a moderate suffragist but she acknowledged militant tactics as effective in bringing women’s suffrage to the fore.
During her later years in Hampstead, London she spent much time on social and educational work. She remained interested in women’s rights and, as a pacifist, she was a lifelong advocate of international peace. She acted as Secretary to the Emily Davies Jubilee Fund for Girton College in 1912 (see GCAR 4/1/16).
Alice Zimmern died at home in Hampstead on 22 March 1939. She left £150 to Girton College for the Alice Zimmern Memorial Prize for Classics.
[Notes drawn largely from Girton College Register and J B Chapman’s Times / Girton Review obituary for Alice Zimmern.]