Cochrane, Jean Crawford (1914–2013), educator and activist for women's education, was born on 27 June 1914 in Lifford, Co. Donegal, the eldest daughter of Hugh Crawford Cochrane, a solicitor and under-sheriff for the county, and Lucy Cameron Cochrane (née Boyd). Jean attended school at Ashleigh House (later Hunterhouse College) in Belfast (1928–32) and was head girl of the school in her last year, before going on to study modern history and politics at TCD, graduating with an honours degree in 1938. From the outset, her concern for the welfare and education of children was apparent. In a contribution to A danger to men? A history of women in Trinity College Dublin 1904–2004 (2005), she described how as a member of the Social Service Club of the Elizabethan Society she was active in supporting the children who lived in the tenement houses owned by TCD in Grenville Street in the north inner city. According to Cochrane, the Society would organise outings for the children in the Trinity term, usually bringing them to the beach accompanied by picnics and presents (Parks, 130).
She was also aware of the hardship caused by the massive unemployment and poverty in Dublin at that time, and described how the Social Service Club organised an evening lecture to be given by Philip T. Somerville-Large, founder of the Mount Street Club for the unemployed. However, they ran up against the limitations placed on women in higher education – the lecture was arranged for 7.30pm, more than an hour past the curfew for women on the TCD campus, and Cochrane had to seek special permission for women to attend. According to her account, they were met at the front gate and escorted to the benches at the back of the room where they were seated like 'lepers', well away from the men (Parks, 130).
After her primary degree, Cochrane began a lifetime of involvement in education and advocacy for women in second and third level institutions. She trained as a teacher at Charlotte Mason College (now part of the University of Cumbria) in Ambleside, England, which was established in 1892 and originally served as a learning institution for educators of the home-educated children of the professional middle classes of the late Victorian era. She then travelled to Australia to teach at the Presbyterian Ladies School in Melbourne for five years.
Returning to TCD, she was awarded an MA in history in 1946, and joined the graduate associations at both TCD and QUB. In 1960 she was appointed principal of the Parent's National Education Union school in London (PNEU), an organisation that adhered closely to the liberal, child-centred educational principles of Charlotte Mason (1842–1923), in whose namesake institution Cochrane had received her formative teacher training. The PNEU was designed primarily for the children of people living abroad – parents supervise lessons according to a curriculum planned by the Union. In her capacity as principal, Cochrane travelled widely, visiting families in countries as diverse as Colombia and Hong Kong. Although such travelling appealed greatly to Cochrane, in 1966 she accepted an appointment as headmistress of her alma mater, Ashleigh House, declaring she could always travel during the school holidays. She continued as headmistress of Ashleigh House until her retirement in 1975, combining her administrative duties with teaching history and scripture.
In retirement, Cochrane remained active and engaged with education, spirituality and environmental matters. She was a member of the Belfast Naturalists' Field Club and in 1979 was awarded the honorary title of 'Lady Muck' by the Ulster Trust for Conservation. She was also a member of the Linenhall Library for forty-seven years and in 1999 was awarded an honorary membership in recognition of her services as governor for five years (1992–7) and for her generous support of the library's millennium development fund. She remained passionately interested in education and, in an appreciation piece written for QUB's Legacy Newsletter, was described as 'a stalwart attendee at regular University events … [and] a familiar face around campus' (2016, 3). In addition to travel and advocacy, Cochrane was a dedicated member of the Church of Ireland, reading scripture at St John's Malone Church and Musgrave Park Hospital, Belfast. In 2008 her contribution to the church was recognised when she was made a Royal Maundy recipient at St Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh, by Queen Elizabeth II, the first Maundy service to be performed outside England and Wales since the tradition began in medieval times.
Cochrane died on 23 March 2013 in Belfast and the funeral service took place at St John's Malone Parish Church. Her legacy, however, did not die with her. In memory of her contribution to education and women's advocacy, the Jean Crawford Cochrane scholarship was founded by her friend and executrix, Frances Grant. True to Cochrane's roots as a member of the Social Service Club in TCD when she supported children living in poverty, the award was established to enable young women from Northern Ireland to pursue an undergraduate degree at QUB despite financial constraints.