Bryant, Sophie (1850–1922), educationist, home ruler, Celticist, and suffragist, was born 15 February 1850 in Sandymount, Dublin, second daughter and third child of Sophia Willock (née Morris) of Dublin and Skreen Castle, and the Rev. William Alexander Willock (d. 1879 in London), DD, FTCD, a mathematician who played an important role in the commission for national education in Ireland. She was educated privately by her father and governesses, and her early childhood was spent in Ballymoney, Co. Cork, and subsequently in Cleenish, Co. Fermanagh. At the age of 13 she moved with her family to England; and in 1866 she entered Bedford College, London, having won an Arnott scholarship. She proved to be an outstanding pupil, and was selected president of the Students' Association. The following year she entered the Cambridge local examination, recently opened to girls, and earned a first in mathematics.
Having married Dr William Hicks Bryant of Plymouth in November 1869, she was widowed the following year. She subsequently decided to resume her studies with the idea of becoming a teacher, and after a meeting with Frances Buss, founder of the North London Collegiate School for Girls, began working in the school herself (1875), where she taught mathematics and (for a time) German. She was a very effective teacher and several of her pupils went on to take mathematics at Girton College, Cambridge. During this period she continued her own studies, taking a B.Sc. in mathematics and mental and moral science at London University (1881), and three years later, on being awarded a D.Sc. in moral science, she became the first woman to receive a doctorate in science.
By 1895, when she was appointed as Buss's replacement as headmistress of the school, she had established herself as a leading educationist. From her early contributions to the Educational Times (1884) she produced numerous books, pamphlets, and articles for educational and philosophical journals. She played an influential role in the royal commission on secondary education (1894) chaired by James Bryce (qv), and was later remembered by her fellow commissioner Michael Sadler as ‘resourceful in strategy, long-suffering in tiresome debate, brilliant in exposition, and always a peacemaker between contending parties’ (Sophie Bryant, 51). She also served on the consultative committee of the board of education (1900–11), and the education committee of the London county council (1910–14). From 1903 to 1905 she acted as president of the Association of Headmistresses, and after her retirement in 1918 she continued as vice-president till 1922. The first woman elected to the senate of the University of London (1900), she used her position there to campaign for improved teacher-training, and was influential in the establishment of the London Day Training College and the accompanying chair in education. She was also active in the campaign to secure higher education for women in Ireland. With this in mind she became a supporter of Alice Oldham (qv) and the Association of Irish Schoolmistresses and Other Ladies Interested in Education, and, in an effort to secure a broad base of support, lobbied many convent schools to ensure support among catholic educationists for the reform campaign.
A member of the Women's Liberal Federation, Bryant actively supported Gladstone's policy of home rule for Ireland. As a founder member of the English Home Rule Propagandist Organisation, she often spoke at home rule rallies in both Britain and Ireland and produced educative pamphlets aimed largely at the English public. Using the pseudonym ‘A protestant nationalist’ and later her own name, she contributed several articles on the national question to the Dublin University Review (November 1885–September 1886). Her political activities continued after Arthur Balfour (qv), as chief secretary, introduced coercion in Ireland, when she became involved in the anti-coercion movement in Britain (1887–90). Her continued interest in Ireland and its culture was reflected in her early involvement in London's Irish Literary Society (of which she was elected vice-president in 1912), and her three books on Ireland, Celtic Ireland (1889), The genius of the Gael: a study in Celtic psychology and its manifestations (1913), and Liberty, order and law under native Irish rule (published posthumously in 1923). She made frequent visits to Ireland, and often spoke at the meetings of Oldham's association and the National Literary Society and at educational conferences at Alexandra College, Dublin. She received an honorary D.Litt. (Dubl.) in 1904. Involved in the campaign for women's suffrage, she was president of Hampstead's local committee of the National Union of Suffrage Societies, and was a subscriber (1903–12) to the Irish Women's Suffrage and Local Government Association. She also took a keen interest in sports. One of the earliest women cyclists, she was an enthusiastic rower and climber, and climbed the Matterhorn twice. She died in a climbing accident, having set out alone from Montavert on 15 August 1922; her body was discovered near Chamonix some thirteen days later.