Steamships and education

Travel across the Channel in 1887.

The Normandy Paddle Steamer, built 1885

The Bluestocking series takes place across England and Europe. Initially, this came about because universities in England shut their doors to female students. Several determined women traveled to Europe so they could study.

To study anything at university level was rare. The first woman to earn a doctorate was Juliana Morell, who studied Law in 1608. Anna Maria van Schurman studied at Utrecht University (Holland) in 1636; but it wasn’t until 1849 that Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to earn a medical degree (from Geneva Medical College in New York, USA). Access was allowed at some universities on individual merits, but wasn’t open for all women to sit entrance exams.

By the time my characters were concluding their medical training in 1887, women were able to study in some countries under the same rules as the men. In order of the year they allowed access: Russia (1869), UK (Girton College only), Finland, Sweden, New Zealand, Japan (but not in Japan, only if they travelled to the USA), Sweden, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, India, Italy, Chile, Brazil, Australia, Belgium, Canada, UK (London, arts only), France, Norway, Romania, and Mexico. In Austria-Hungary, women could attend as guests from 1878, but not sit exams or qualify. This changed in 1895.

Because of the restrictions in England, my characters travelled to Amsterdam, where the universities were more accepting. To get from London to Amsterdam in the 1880s, Josephine would have taken the Holland Steamship Company boat from Amsterdam to London, docking at Brewer’s Quay.

They ran two boats, the “Amselstroom” built 1885 and the “Fijenoord” built 1879.  The journey took about eight hours and cost between £3 and £5 depending on class.


Marie (In Pursuit of a Bluestocking) travels from Paris to London by train. The train from Paris to Calais left from Gard du Nord. There were several competing ships across the channel to Dover, including the Castalia who left Calais at 1.20pm and arrived in Dover three hours later. This allowed plenty of time for travelers to get to London via the LCDR (London, Chatham, Dover Railways). Later, the Castalia was scrapped as being too slow.

The LCDR line from Dover opened in 1861. The LCDR had a fleet of steamers that could do the trip in less than three hours (with the record being one hour). Some travelers preferred the slower trips, as those steamers tended to be larger and less prone to sea movement; while others preferred speed. Most ships operated every day, except Sunday. Fares cost 8s 6d for first class, 6s 6d for second class. One pound would buy a private cabin, and all steamers had refreshments for sale.

From 1882, the LCDR daily service would leave London at 10am, and have you in Paris by 6.50pm. Every ship was English owned until 1898, when two large French owned vessels entered the market.





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