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Oscar Browning
British historian

Oscar Browning

Oscar Browning
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro British historian
Was Historian
From United Kingdom
Field Social science
Gender male
Birth 17 January 1837
Death 6 October 1923 (aged 86 years)
The details (from wikipedia)


Oscar Browning (17 January 1837 in London – 6 October 1923 in Rome) was an English writer, historian, and educational reformer. His greatest achievement was the cofounding, along with Henry Sidgwick, of the Cambridge University Day Training College in 1891. This was one of the earliest institutions in Great Britain to focus on the training of educators, preempted only by the founding of the Cambridge Teaching College for Women by Elizabeth Hughes in 1885.


Browning was born in London, the son of merchant William Shipton Browning, and educated at Eton College, where he was a pupil of William Johnson Cory and at King's College, Cambridge, where he became fellow and tutor, graduating fourth in the classical tripos of 1860, and where he was inducted into the exclusive Cambridge Apostles, a debating society for the Cambridge elite.

For 15 years Browning was a master at Eton College, until he was dismissed in the autumn of 1875 following a major paedophilic scandal involving several of his pupils at Eton. His parents' church, St. Andrew's, in Clewer, describes the reasons for his dismissal as "his injudicious talk, his favourites, and his anarchic spirit."

After Eton Browning returned to King's College, Cambridge, where he took up a life fellowship and achieved a reputation as a wit, becoming universally known as "O.B.". He travelled to India at George Curzon's invitation after the latter had become Viceroy. In 1876 he resumed residence at Cambridge, where he became university lecturer in history. He soon became a prominent figure in college and university life, encouraging especially the study of political science and modern political history, the extension of university teaching and the movement for the training of teachers.

Browning served as principal of the Cambridge University Day Training College (1891–1909), treasurer of the Cambridge Union Society (1881–1902), founding treasurer of the Cambridge University Liberal Club (1885–1908), and president of the Cambridge Footlights (1890–1895).

Browning stood for Parliament three times as a Liberal: in Norwood in 1886, East Worcestershire in 1892, and West Derby in 1895.

Browning left Cambridge in 1908 and retired to Bexhill-on-Sea. In 1914 he was visiting Italy when World War I broke out. He decided to stay there and spent his later years in Rome, where he died in 1923 at the age of eighty-six.

He was a member of the Athenaeum, the Alpine Club, and the Bath Club.

Cultural Influence

These days most people know Browning as the arch villain of Virginia Woolf's feminist manifesto A Room of One's Own. Quoting H. E. Wortham, Woolf condemns Browning as one who "was wont to declare 'that the impression left on his [Browning's] mind, after looking over any set of examination papers, was that [...] the best woman was intellectually the inferior of the worst man.'" After painting an unsavory picture of Browning's sexual proclivity for young men, Woolf ends by theorizing that "because Mr. Oscar Browning was a great figure in Cambridge at one time," his negative opinion of the intelligence of women would have rubbed off on the fathers of the day and his words would have been cited by them to dissuade their daughters from pursuing higher education.

Although Wortham was Browning's nephew and first biographer, there are problems with his scholarship. Wortham had access to Browning's private papers but included scant footnotes in his 1927 biography of his uncle. Indeed, Wortham fails to provide any source, context, or citation for the infamous quote on the inferiority of the intelligence of women. Furthermore, Wortham's sources are impossible to reconstruct because as Dr. Rosalind Moad, archivist at King's College, Cambridge, has pointed out the papers taken by Wortham to produce this biography "disappeared" after Wortham published the work. Included among the missing papers are almost all of Browning's diaries and much of his correspondence. However enough Browning papers survive in the archive at Eton and other places so that Dr. Mark McBeth, an expert on the educational innovations of Browning, can state that "archival materials [...] debunk the feminist myth that Browning disparaged women's educational benefits as well as being antagonistic to women's political issues."


  • Modern England, 1820–1874 (1878) online edition
  • An Introduction to the History of Educational Theories (1881) online edition
  • Historical Studies (1883) online edition
  • Modern France, 1814–1879 (1885) online edition
  • England and Napoleon in 1803, Being the Despatches of Lord Whitworth and Others (1887) online edition
  • The Teaching of History in Schools : an Address Delivered Oct. 22, 1877 by Oscar Browning; together with a report of the conference on the teaching of history in schools (1887) online edition
  • Aspects of Education: A Study in the History of Pedagogy (1888) online edition
  • The New Illustrated History of England (4 vols. 1888) online edition
  • Modern England, 1815–1885 (1889) online edition
  • Life of George Eliot (1890) online edition
  • Dante: His Life and Writings (1891) online edition
  • The Life of Bartolomeo Colleoni of Anjou and Burgundy (1891) online edition
  • Guelphs and Ghibellines: A Short History of Mediaeval Italy from 1250–1409 (1893) online edition
  • The Citizen, His Rights and Responsibilities (1893) online edition
  • The age of the Condottieri: A Short History of Mediaeval Italy from 1409–1530 (1895) online edition
  • Peter the Great (1898) online edition
  • Charles XII of Sweden (1899) online edition
  • History of Europe 1814–1843 (1901)
  • Wars of the Century: and the Development of Military Science (1903) online edition
  • Impressions of Indian Travel (1903) online edition
  • Napoleon, the First Phase: Some Chapters on the Boyhood and Youth of Bonaparte, 1769–1793 (1905) online edition
  • The Fall of Napoleon (1907) online edition
  • Memories of Sixty Years at Eton, Cambridge and Elsewhere (1910), ISBN 1-4021-8433-6 online edition
  • A History of the Modern World, 1815–1910 (1912) online edition
  • Memories of Later Years (1923) online edition

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