Forster’s Elementary Education Act of 1870, which paved the way for compulsory and free education in England and Wales for the first time, was the most important piece of social legislation in the nineteenth century. It had huge consequences for society, not least in the perception of the state’s responsibilities for its citizens.
Having achieved local prominence as a successful entrepreneur and Mayor, George Dixon most notably played a critical role as leader of a campaigning group, the Birmingham-based National Education League, in persuading the new Liberal government under Gladstone of the need for action. That his name and achievements have been largely neglected by historians is due to the fact that the character of the League subsequently changed as his much better known lieutenant, Joseph Chamberlain, usurped the leadership and sought to promote the much narrower interests of the Nonconformists.
Indeed, so much has been written and said of Chamberlain and, to a lesser extent, John Bright in a Birmingham context that it tends to get overlooked that Dixon was the Third Man in the town, MP from 1867 to 1876, and again from 1885 to 1898. He was also the country’s longest-serving Chairman of any major School Board, serving continuously from 1876 to 1896.
This website seeks to tell some of the story in pictures.
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