Mary Ward was born in 1585 into a wealthy recusant Catholic family near Ripon in Yorkshire. She received a good classical education, and then, at the age of 15, she decided upon the religious life, and entered the monastery of Poor Clares in St Omer. By 1609 she had gathered around her a group of companions determined to follow her guidance in founding an unclosed religious Order for women, along the lines of the Society of Jesus, which became known as the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary Ward believed that women were intellectually equal to men, and deserved an education that reflected that equality. The education of girls therefore remained central to her work, and for the next twenty years she travelled widely, often on foot, founding schools all over Europe.