Born in Carmarthenshire, she had little education as a child, but later attended a private school, eventually becoming a teacher at Cheltenham Ladies' College. She also attended Newnham College, Cambridge, becoming the first woman in the university to take first-class honours. In 1884, she was appointed Principal of the Cambridge Training College for Women, later Hughes Hall. In 1899, however, she left Cambridge for good, returning to Wales where she continued to campaign for better secondary education. She was the only woman on the committee which drafted the charter of the University of Wales, and in 1920, she received an honorary degree from that university.