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Visionary Women and Visible Children, England
“By focussing on pioneering women’s work to improve childhood and the social
status of children, Mayall re-writes the history of the early women’s movement in
England, showing how women pioneers in the early 20C fought for justice for
both women and children. Childhood emerges as a social status in society, and
children as the new generation on which the nation’s prosperity depended.
Alongside their suffrage work, women were at the forefront of work to ensure that
children acquired rights and status as deserving of national and international intervention. Through analysis of memoirs, Mayall casts new light on elementary school
children’s status as contributors to the economic survival of their families.”
—Virginia Morrow, University of Oxford, UK
Berry Mayall
Visionary Women and
Visible Children,
England 1900–1920
Childhood and the Women’s Movement
Berry Mayall
UCL Institute of Education
London, UK
ISBN 978-3-319-61206-5 ISBN 978-3-319-61207-2 (eBook)
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-61207-2
Library of Congress Control Number: 2017949480
© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2018
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Printed on acid-free paper
This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by Springer Nature
The registered company is Springer International Publishing AG
The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland
I am grateful to my grandson, Louis Mayall, who worked as a research
assistant in the early stages of this study, collecting and analysing useful
background information. Many thanks to Abigail Knight who provided a
valuable link to interviews carried out in Ambleside; also to Priscilla
Alderson for discussion of children’s rights; and to Virginia Morrow for
her expertise on the law relating to education. I am greatly indebted to the
UCL Institute of Education library staff, who, unfailingly helpful and
kindly, have helped me track down books and papers; and given me access
to the very valuable archives held at the Institute.
Chapter OneIntroduction 1
Chapter TwoThe Women’s Movement and Childhood,
1900–1920 23
Chapter ThreeThe Economics of Childhood: Home
and Neighbourhood 57
Chapter FourExperiencing Elementary School 89
Chapter FiveWomen and Children and the Great War Years129
Chapter SixAfter the Great War161
Appendix A193
ppendix B: Legislation and Other Board of Education
Documents Relating to Children 1870–1918203
A Note on Currency
For those familiar only with decimal currency, that is UK money since
1972, I give some notes on the currency in the earlier part of the twentieth
century. During the course of the book, I include some details about
incomes and expenditure.
One farthing—¼d; one quarter of one penny, 1d. (the d. is short for
denarius, Latin for a Roman penny…)
One half penny, or ha’penny—½d; one half of 1d.
One penny: 12 pennies—one shilling 1s., 144 pennies—one pound: £1
Farthings, ha’pennies and pennies were coppers.
Money above this level was in silver.
Sixpenny bit—6d. or half a shilling
One shilling—12d., or 24 ha’pennies
Five bob—5 shillings, 20 shillings—£1
Half a crown—two shillings and six pence or 2/6. eight half crowns—£1
One pound: £1
One guinea: £1.1s.0d.
We also have to note that weights for food were in pounds and ounces.
A pound is about half a kilo and 16 ounces make one pound.
x A Note on Currency
What Incomes did Parents of Elementary School
Children Receive?
For an unskilled male worker, weekly income might be between 18s and
28s. This is shown in Pember Reeves’ list (1988) of the incomes of 31
families studied in Lambeth in 1911–13.
Another good source of information is Clementina Black’s edited collection of papers on married women’s work (1915). Generally, these
women earned half a man’s wage, and many of the occupations were
‘women’s jobs’, not unionised, including work carried out at home for
employers, notably dress-making work.
The memoirs also provide information. Rolph’s father, a sergeant in the
police, was earning 28s. a week, when Rolph was born (Rolph p. 12).
Rolph emphasises that they were not poor—this salary was enough to
house, feed and clothe the family of four (two parents and two children)
in London. But he went to school with barefoot children and family
income was clearly reflected in clothes.
On the other hand, Jasper’s father, a drunken casual labourer, gave his
wife only 8s. or 10s. a week. She tried to make up for this by making and
selling clothes. But they were often short of food and boots and sometimes fell behind with the rent. (Jasper passim)
Rent for housing might vary from 5s. to 8s. a week. Commonly, the
city houses offering three or four floors would each house three or four
families, each having two rooms on a floor. Washing and laundry facilities
and lavatories were commonly shared. In rural areas, agricultural labourers
often lived in a tied cottage, that is, rent free and owned by their employer—
the farmer, but their wages might reflect this, and 10s. a week is noted for
male agricultural workers (for detail on earnings see Len Thompson’s
account in Blythe (1972) pp. 31–38). Those in tied cottages sometimes
had a garden, so they could grow vegetables and keep chickens and pigs.
What Could These Moneys Buy?
An illuminating account is given by Robert Roberts, whose mother kept a
corner shop in a slum area of Salford. Most of the money she took in each
day was in coppers: farthings, ha’pennies and pennies (Roberts 1977,
p. 104). Families bought food by the day, sometimes shopping both
morning and evening. This is partly because they had nowhere safe, dry
and clean to keep food and partly because income was insecure—some
A Note on Currency xi
fathers were paid by the day (Pember Reeves chapter 8). Some women
shopped late at night, because then the perishable food was reduced in
price (Rolph 1980, p. 75).
A good source is Pember Reeves, who collected detailed accounts of
weekly income spent by Lambeth housewives (chapter 10) (See my
Chapter Three). They had to budget in fuel for heating and to cook by;
often funeral insurance (since a child might die); money for boots and
On food, Pember Reeves notes, the main expense was for bread, which
cost about 2½d. a loaf (this was the main food eaten for breakfast and the
evening meal). Sugar was 2d. a pound (used for sweetening tea) and families might use 3 or 4 pounds a week. Potatoes were cheap at about ½d. a
pound. Meat, mostly for the father, was a once-in-the-week buy (for the
Sunday main meal) and might cost 2s.6d. a week (2/6). Mid-week, a fish
or a rasher of bacon or an egg might be bought for the father’s evening
meal. Bennett records that a haddock or bloater was 1½d. or 2d. (Bennett,
p. 22). Pember Reeves records the average spent on food per person per
day; in most of her 31 families it is about 2½d. each per day.
Children could earn money. But just as women were paid half of male
wages, so children were paid even less. Girls might ‘mind’ a neighbour’s
child for a penny or two (1d. or 2d.) a session. Jan Jasper was paid 6d. for
a long day helping with an expedition of people out to Epping Forest (but
his mother forced the employer to stump up 2/6) (Jasper 1974, p. 68).
Clifford Hills was in more regular employment from the age of 9: he
worked in the big house from 7 a.m. till 10 a.m., then went to school,
then worked from 4 p.m. till 6 p.m. and on Saturday from 7 a.m. till 1
p.m. For this he was paid 2s. a week (Thompson T. 1981, pp. 57–63).
Pember Reeves details the wages earned, by children, in families where the
father was out of work or had only intermittent earnings. For instance the
eldest girl in one family was earning 6s.per week working full-time in a
factory and her brother earned 2s.6d. as a milk delivery boy, working two
hours before and again after school plus ‘several hours’ on Saturday and
Sunday (Pember Reeves, p. 181.)
Rolph (pp. 64–65) gives some detail on what children could buy with
the amounts of money they might personally have. In his relatively
well-off family, he had weekly pocket money of 1d. With a quarter of that,
a farthing, you could buy a toffee apple, or a foot-long strip of toffee or a
sherbet dab (a hollow stick of liquorice poking out of a screw of sherbet).
With a penny, you could frequent the Marks and Spencer’s penny bazaar,
xii A Note on Currency
which sold toys (such as dolls and tin model vehicles), painting books,
pencils and crayons. Bennett (p. 21) also notes the cost of sweets: four
ounces of toffee for 1d. or a farthing’s-worth of sweets.
List of Abbreviations
Charity Organisation Society
East London Federation of Suffragettes
Fabian Women’s Group
International Labour Organization
Independent Labour Party
London County Council
Local Education Authorities
London School Board
New Education Fellowship
National Federation of Women Workers
National Union of Teachers
National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies
Save the Children Fund
School Leaving Age
Socialist Sunday Schools
Times Educational Supplement
Theosophic Fraternity in Education
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the
Child, 1989
Women’s Co-operative Guild
Workers’ Educational Association
Women’s Industrial Council
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Women’s Labour League
Women’s Social and Political Union
Women’s Trade Union League
Said the Socialist to the Suffragist:
‘My cause is greater than yours!
You only work for a Special Class,
We for the gain of the General Mass,
Which every good ensures!’
Said the Suffragist to the Socialist:
‘You underrate my Cause!
While women remain a Subject Class,
You never can move the General Mass,
With your Economic Laws!’
‘A lifted world lifts women up,’
The Socialist explained.
‘You cannot lift the world at all
While half of it is kept so small,’
The Suffragist maintained.
The world awoke, and tartly spoke:
‘Your work is all the same:
Work together or work apart,
Work, each of you, with all your heart—
Just get into the game!’
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 19111
© The Author(s) 2018
B. Mayall, Visionary Women and Visible Children, England 1900–1920,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-61207-2_1
This Book—Its Purposes
In this book I consider and deploy some (fairly well known) sources of
information and use them to explore a neglected topic: a topic which,
however, is not hard to identify in a wide range of studies. I aim to study
how the women’s movement in England worked to improve the condition
of children and the social status of childhood in the early years of the
twentieth century. In a nutshell, this means considering how far women
defined themselves mainly as feminists—or suffragists and suffragettes—
fighting gender wars and how far they took a wider view and engaged with
socialism—the transformation of society towards a better society for all,
including children.2 ‘Children’ here means the next generation of people,
and includes consideration of their participation in the maintenance and
forwarding of the social order. Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a key thinker
on this topic. She was an American scholar who worked as a member of
the transatlantic women’s movement in the 1900s. Her work was, it
seems, widely read in England. She came to England at least twice, and
did lecture tours on feminism and socialism.3 She saw children as the next
generation, participants in taking civilisation forward. I discuss her work
in Chapter Two.
This book draws firstly on the extensive body of work on the women’s
movement in the early twentieth century. This was a movement famously
aiming for suffrage, so it was centrally concerned with gender relations,
but it led some women into fundamental analyses of how society worked
and how it might work better. I draw on a wide range of studies here4 and
will refer to them along the way; and I note the very useful work carried
out on women reformers, with particular reference to the education of
children.5 Secondly, there is a perhaps equally large body of work on the
implications for children and for childhood itself, of the decision in 1870
to school the nation’s poorest children.6
These two sets of studies, carried out over the most recent half century, have had, in general, differing and distinctive focuses; the first collection of studies is concerned mainly with adult relations—ideas about
women, gender relations, women’s activities, their status in society, and
their relations with the socio-economic order. The second group of studies has been concerned with adults’ work for children: the educational,
health and welfare issues that arose as a consequence of the appearance in
publicly provided institutions of poor children, required from 1870 to
attend school; most authors concern themselves either with child welfare
or with schooling.7 Both these sets of studies are concerned with what
women thought and did. And both sets of studies—by sociologists and
historians—have, as ever, not been much concerned with attempting to
consider childhood experience, though they have been concerned with
children’s status in society.
In this book, I shall build on this large body of work and shall supplement it with explorations of women’s written work at the time. I shall
move on to consider how social life, including school—and more broadly
education—was experienced and valued by children. This means using the
available data—memoirs, interviews—to explore these experiences. I
append a note in this Introduction on ‘using’ these data.
Many women who worked in the early twentieth century women’s
movement were fighting not just for themselves, but for a better society
for all social groups. Socialist women campaigned most deliberately, not
for women-and-children as an indissolubly linked grouping; and not, centrally, for children as a childcare issue. Instead they worked for children
regarded as a constituency in society—what nowadays we call a social
group. Children, they proposed, had rights to education, health and welfare services, tailored to the specific character of childhood within the
socio-economic order. Children journeyed through a specific developmental process, which had implications for both health and education services. By virtue of their subordinate position, vis-à-vis adults, children, as
women increasingly argued, had rights to both protection and
So my aim in this book is to study the interlocked lives and fortunes of
women and children in the early twentieth century. To do this, I have
adopted a two-pronged approach. Firstly, I consider the work women did
about and for children in the contexts of their explorations of how society
might be better organised. My aim is to investigate the proposition that
one important strand in the work women carried out in the women’s
movement in the early twentieth century was a mission to conceptualise a
better society for both women and children—and even, in some cases, for
men (though men constituted a more formidable problem). Sylvia
Pankhurst, for instance, worked on all three fronts (see Chapter Five).
However, feminist women had to work, to some extent, within the parameters that were laid out in men’s assumptions about women. For at the
time a common view among men was that women had a distinctive orientation to the social world, in contrast to men: because it was women who
bore children, they had a natural instinct to care for children, and to
empathise with children. Whether or not women agreed with this maternalism thesis, they could use it as justification for their suggestions for
better childhoods. Judging from the available data, we can see that some
women were envisaging a new society that would work better than the
existing one, in the interests of all social groups, including children.
Secondly, since the existing work on family, neighbourhood and school
in the period 1870–1920 has focused mainly on adult–child relations,
with the emphasis on adult activity and experience8 (although studies of
working class motherhood give tantalising insights into what childhood
meant to children9), I try here to contribute a child standpoint to this
work about childhood. This means investigating what were children’s
‘takes’ on childhood—on their social positioning in the family, in the
neighbourhood, on child–adult relations, on women’s lives, on schooling.
For if women can be understood as working for better childhoods, it is
important also to explore and maybe arrive at some, however tentative,
understandings of what those childhoods were like. At root, this investigation turns out to be about how children understood gendered intergenerational relations in the context of their material, economic lives. Thus,
whilst throughout the book I present women’s work for children, in two
chapters (Three and Four) I concentrate mainly on what we can glean
from memoirs about how English children experienced childhood. I have
chosen to limit this exploration to children who attended elementary
schools, for one main reason: they constituted the biggest group of children. It was these children who, newly visible en masse to the adult eye,
aroused concern about their schooling and about their health and welfare—and in so doing caused adult commentators to reconsider the division of responsibility, as between parents and the state, for child welfare
and for the quality of childhood more generally.
The long sustained campaigns women embarked on from (at least) the
mid-nineteenth century towards legal recognition for themselves as people with rights in the public arena found women forming societies to discuss women’s issues, such as the Langham Place group in the 1860s;10
engaging in programmes of research, for instance as pioneered by the
Fabian Women’s Group; speaking at public meetings, writing books and
journal papers arguing the case for equal rights for women. As Rhoda
Garrett (1841–82) noted in 1872, it was ‘the very unreasonableness of
men’s prejudices’ that made it so hard for women to argue against them;11
but this ‘unreasonableness’ demanded of women that they produce solid
arguments to support their cause. And these arguments led them to full-­
scale analysis of what was wrong with the social order and how it might be
improved. It was not just the gender order that needed consideration, it
was also the generational order—how the older generation had, or had
not, enabled childhoods to flourish, in the interests not only of childhood
experience but of the future health and prosperity of society.
Given the huge disparities in wealth and influence between the upper
and lower classes, it is no accident that during this period people, including women, joined socialist organisations. It was also an age when people
wrote utopias. Clear-sighted people could see that capitalism had produced massive poverty; and nothing less than full-scale change was
required. In such a climate, utopias provide visions of what, ideally, one
might aim for, even though in practice the ideal is not achievable. That is
why, in this book, I have devoted a section (in Chapter Two) to what the
utopians envisaged; and in particular to the work of Charlotte Perkins
Gilman, sociologist and feminist, who worked on the reform of society for
many years.
Most people who live in the minority world and read this book will
have little difficulty in agreeing that women should have equal rights to
men: economic independence, the right to vote, to do paid work, to
express their own views—these then-controversial topics are relatively
uncontroversial in the UK nowadays. More difficult is to gain agreement
with the proposition that children are not deficient or incomplete adults,
not developmental projects, not just objects of concern. Even after some
35 years in which people have argued for sociological approaches to childhood, it is common (even at academic conferences) to meet people who
continue to think predominantly in terms of child development towards
the gold standard of adulthood. So I have thought it relevant to set out
here some key sociological ideas about childhood and its relations with
Finally, in this introductory section, I re-emphasise that this book
focuses on women’s work for children who attended elementary schools.
Of course there are other strands of research that investigate middle- and
upper-class childhoods: the children protected (and confined?) in
­well-to-­do households and educated at home or in private schools.12 Such
research includes reconsideration of the stories written for children at the
time and what they tell us of conceptualisations of children and of childhood. Well-­to-­do childhoods emerge as a special time, to be protected and
celebrated, but also controlled; and studies also suggest that childhoods
were understood, in part, in relation with empire and patriotism.13 The
pioneering women discussed in this book may well have been influenced
in their conceptualisations of childhood by such ideas current at the time,
but they also had much larger understandings of childhood’s positioning
in society. For, through their theoretical work and their hands-on work,
they gained a wide appreciation of the social and economic status of the
majority of childhoods.
Sociological Approaches to Childhood
Some years ago,14 it was pointed out that if women who theorised their own
adult gendered position in society wanted also to rethink their relations
with children, it was going to be necessary to rethink childhood as well, to
move beyond traditional emphasis on babies’ needs for mothers’ care: in
essence to sociologise childhood. That is what some of us have tried to do
in the intervening years. Both gender and generation must be addressed.
So here I lay out some of the foundational points in the sociological
approach to childhood, since it forms the basis of arguments in this book.
For one aim of this book is to consider, as far as is possible at this distance
in time, what the social status of elementary school children was in the
early twentieth century: how did they experience childhood and child–
parent relations and what was the salience to them of the schooling they
were exposed to? To what extent were adult commentators conceptualising children as a social group in society? And, since some thought of children as children of the state, what were their arguments in favour of this
view? In giving a discussion of these topics, I aim to provide a basis for
thinking about what were the challenges that women faced in trying to
improve childhoods. I discuss in a separate section (below) the difficulties
of trying to get at childhood experience, but I emphasise here that I think
it important to try to counterpose childhood experience with the views of
adults at the time and in the more recent studies. Thus we may find
through consideration of these childhoods what were the ways in which
social forces impacted on childhoods; and, in turn, what were the possibilities for improving those childhoods.
In the UK the movement to take account of children and of childhood
in sociological analyses took off in the 1980s. The early work focused on
children’s contributions to the division of labour; in Western societies this
could be seen as having changed from direct involvement in the work of
the society to an indirect contribution, once children had been gathered
together into schools.15 Children could and should be understood, it was
argued, as contributors to the functioning of the social order through
their learning at school, but also through their contributions to relations
with adults. This idea focuses on children as active participants in a generational order; for child–parent relations and child–teacher relations are
not one-way; each side contributes to the interactions. And what each side
contributes to the interaction makes a difference to the other partner’s
contribution to the interaction.16
A further development in thinking about children in society is to conceptualise them as a minority social group. This means considering whether
there are features of childhoods which are common across childhoods;
thus, notably, it can be argued that children, everywhere, at any time, are
subordinate to adults. This arises from the biological dependency of young
children, and is sedimented in social arrangements as children get older.17
I have found that this point meets with resistance from many adults: they
are uncomfortable with it; they say surely child subordination to adults is
not essential; surely we can work towards freeing children from their subordination and instead support their agency. Yes, we can and should support children’s agency, and one of the key themes in the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC 1989) is children’s participation rights. Indeed, we have to have a separate rights convention for
children, emphasising their participation rights alongside provision and
protection rights, just because of that difficult placing: children as a social
group are subordinated to adult social groups—both individually and in
terms of laws and practices established over time.
If children constitute a social group, we are then able to investigate a
key theme in a sociological approach: how social, economic and political
forces impact in specific ways on children as a social group. There are parallels
here with the women’s movement; for clearly, investigation of this key
theme was central to women’s investigations into women as a social group;
how women experienced their gendered subordination to men, at all levels, individual and structural. An important relevant theme here is p
­ rovided
in discussions of the relations of ruling; for if women’s lives, experiences
and understandings are structured through men’s control of ideas, policies
and practices, then women’s accounts of their lives, experiences and
understandings provide a key way into understanding how gender issues
are played out in societies.18 Similarly, we can investigate how adult ideas
about childhood and children’s lives structure children’s experiences and
understandings; and this exploration gives us better knowledge of how
generational issues are played out in a society.
As regards children, some of the women I focus on in the book were
particularly alert to socio-economic impacts on children. Margaret
McMillan, for instance, having studied child development theory, argued
that if the nurturing of a child was deficient at a particular point in that
child’s life, the child could never make good the lack or deficiency.
Eglantyne Jebb and colleagues recorded how malnutrition during the
Great War left Viennese two-year-olds unable to walk, with stunted,
twisted bodies and legs, whereas their mothers could, just about, withstand starvation. Many people saw that children were routinely subjected
to indoctrination, for instance into Christianity, during their childhood,
when they, unlike adults, had few possibilities for investigating other
approaches to morality and religious belief. In response a few people
began to organise Socialist Sunday Schools, which aimed to provide children with an introduction to socialist thought and practice (see Chapter
Two, pages 39–41). A general point made by many who thought about
childhood was that children constituted a new generation, the only hope
for the society of the future; and on that basis alone, they should be carefully fostered.
The idea of children as a social group implies a fundamental theme:
childhood as a social status in relation to the other major status: adulthood.
In using the term childhood, one is thinking in a relational way, for the
defining characteristic of childhood is that it differs from adulthood. And
this profound difference shows itself in what is allowed to each status. Just
as women were paid less for doing the same work as men simply because
they were women (for instance in factories and in elementary schools), so
children were paid even less for their work in factories and agriculture,
because they were children. These distinctions apply today, for nowadays,
people will say children cannot be allowed to vote, because they are children; and children are ascribed qualities on the basis that they inhabit the
status ‘childhood’; thus children may be assumed to be morally unreliable.19 Yet these two statuses—childhood and adulthood—are indissolubly
related to each other; and a change in one will result in a change in the
other. For instance, at a relatively macro level, if children are accorded
rights, their social status rises in their relations with adults. And at a micro
level, if women take their place in the public world of work and so acquire
increased social status, then that alters their relations with their children,
for whom their mother is not only their mother but a (valued?) worker in
the public domain.
One of the purposes of this book is to consider generational relations
between children and adults in the early twentieth century from the point
of view of children. I have devoted considerable space, in Chapters Three
and Four, to trying to gain some understanding of these relations, through
consideration of the available data. The data seem to me to indicate forcibly, for instance, that child–parent relations were founded on the concept
of duty—children had a duty to participate in keeping the household
economy going. Furthermore their parents had unquestioned authority
over them. It was parents who decided whether a child should attend
school that day, or do a day’s paid work, or take clothes to the pawnshop.
A key example in this book is about taking up places in secondary school
at age 11. These places were hard to come by and might be prized by the
boy or girl who qualified. But parents could and did refuse to allow their
child to accept the place. Their argument was that it was time for the child
to get a proper job and contribute to the household finances.
To conclude these notes on children’s status, I note that for the purposes of this book, a child is a person under the age of 18. This fits with
many assumptions of the time (and since then). Successive education acts
(up to and including the 1918 Act) recognised state responsibility for the
education of people up to 18. People under the age of 18 who did paid
work were paid at a child rate. People could not (legally) join the armed
forces full-time until the age of 18. Of course, if childhood is status, then
it is a relational status. I am still my mother’s child; and parental care for
children does not stop at 18….
For the period I am focusing on (1900–1920), it is important to stress
that working-class childhood was less firmly separated from adulthood
than now, in crucial—economic—respects. Whilst nowadays children can
readily be understood as operating in physical and ideological spaces
(school, home) distinct and separated from the spaces inhabited by adults
in the workplace, in 1900 children of the lower classes not only did unpaid
work at home and in the neighbourhood, but they were out and about in
streets and fields doing paid work, running errands, minding neighbours’
children, engaging in trading work. Children’s play took place in streets
and fields. And children took part in social and political events. They are
to be seen in photographs of the time, at suffragist meetings and celebrations, in trade union marches.20 Most children were in full-time paid work
from the age of 13 or 14, and many engaged in industrial protests and
marches, as I shall indicate along the way. It is argued by some scholars
that childhood at this time was becoming privatised, but the focus here on
the vast majority of children, those who attended the new elementary
schools, tells a somewhat different story.21
Structure of the Book
The book has five longish chapters. Each of the chapters is fronted by a
brief note on one of the pioneering women who helped to change the
status of women, and, I argue, that of children. The women have been
chosen partly because there is a solid body of writing about them and
partly because their work seems to fit well with the main topics of the
chapter. But throughout the chapters I have also thought it important to
give space to the many women, both well-known and known very little,
who spoke up not only for women but for children.
Chapter Two starts with a note on one of the well-known pioneers for
children: Margaret McMillan. She worked for measures to improve children’s health and pioneered nursery education. I consider what the term
‘the women’s movement’ comprised; and the implications of the fact that
children, since the 1870 Education Act, were now in the public arena. I
introduce more fully some of the topics outlined here in the Introduction
and consider some aspects of McMillan’s work. I argue that socialist feminist women saw children as a social group and I discuss four arenas in
which they worked to improve childhoods: insurance, health services,
education and Socialist Sunday schools. I then discuss some of the more
general ideas current at the time, through description of some utopias,
including the one by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Finally I take up one of
the themes in writing at the time and more recently: how far it is appropriate to understand children as children of the state.
Chapter Three is fronted by Maud Pember Reeves, whose research
study with colleagues for the Fabian Women’s Group (1913) showed
clearly that families could not be adequately fed, clothes and housed at
current wage levels. This serves as the preface to detailing, through memoirs (autobiographies and interviews), what life was like for elementary
school children and mothers under these circumstances. (Fathers are less
visible in the accounts, as they were in the lives of their children.) I show
that children were regarded as subordinates to parents and had a duty to
help through hands-on work around the home and through paid work, if
possible. The accounts show that children’s lives were very busy; and that
family—and to a lesser extent neighbourhood—were the centres of their
Chapter Four starts with Mary Bridges Adams. She is one of many
women whose work in education has been written out of standard histories; however, her work has been painstakingly explored by Jane Martin.
Mary argued for a common school for all, free at the point of use, with a
clear ladder of progression from the youngest up to university. The short
biographical note provides the frame for the school system experienced by
children, who varied widely in their appreciation—positive and negative—
of what was on offer. This chapter exposes the complex lives of children
who combined school attendance with domestic work and with paid work
when they could get it. I explore the point that children acquire education
in a variety of settings, and that some children thought school offered little education.
Chapter Five focuses on a particularly dramatic period in the lives of
children, the Great War (1914–18). The chapter starts with Sylvia
Pankhurst, who worked in the East End of London during the war years
and fought for socialism, for a better life for women, children and men.
But she also found herself offering a welfare service, since recruitment to
the armed forces left many women and children without adequate financial resources—not only initially but over the duration. This chapter
shows that the war brought children increased responsibilities at home:
many were drafted into paid work and some, as schoolchildren, also
responded to the government rhetoric about contributing to the war
effort. Sylvia’s work deliberately focused on encouraging working-class
people, including children, to participate in the great task of developing
a socialist society.
Chapter Six moves on chronologically to the end of the war and to
some changes in understandings of women and children. Some women
got the vote and children were accorded rights to protection. So the chapter focuses initially on Eglantyne and Dorothy Jebb, who founded Save
the Children, and on Eglantyne who wrote the first Declaration of the
Rights of the Child (1924) in Western Europe. I consider how far this
declaration was about protection and how far about rights. This chapter
explores the question of whether ideas about childhood change in the
early years of the twentieth century, and if so how. It revisits the notion of
children as children of the state, and the often-stated contention that children were a new generation in whose hands lay the future of the society.
Finally, I summarise women’s work through socialism towards a better
society for all, including children.
Studying Childhoods: Methodological Issues
In order to explore childhoods in the early twentieth century, I have used
only some of the available autobiographies and interviews—referred to in
this book as ‘memoirs’. The criteria for inclusion are that the child was
born early in the century and attended elementary school in England at
some point before 1920. There are two main reasons for this choice. One
reason is that the new state system was developed in order to reach the
poorest and the majority—those not already catered for; and investigation of these children’s experiences seems to me worthwhile in itself.
Children who attended the new state-provided elementary schools and
the non-provided schools (run by religious groups but increasingly under
the state umbrella), were the vast majority of the child population. This
may be obvious, but it is substantiated in the calculations made in the
1860s in London, for example, about the numbers of children who would
need the new state-provided places: 84 per cent of children aged 3–13
were not in schools for which their parents paid 9d. a week or more, or
were educated at home; even if you subtract those for whom no school
place was immediately required (children in work, at home ill or disabled,
or, in the eyes of parents, too young) still 67 per cent of London children
needed a place.22
Secondly, a body of work already exists which focuses mainly on the
early days of the state education system from 1870 to 1900.23 I wanted to
focus on a time when some changes—thought at the time to be positive—
had been made, both to the education system and to the welfare of children. Thus, in brief, by 1910 the curriculum had widened somewhat, a
shaky ladder to secondary education had been established, teachers were
better trained, the health and welfare of children had been the topic of
legislation and had led to some developments in services. Furthermore,
the children now attending school were the second, or even the third generation so to do. Perhaps children (and parents?) now accepted the
­schooling offered; perhaps the battles to ensure that children became
schoolchildren were over. But perhaps not…
The autobiographies and interviews are about children living in many
parts of England. Disproportionate among them are the memoirs of
London children; this is partly to do with what I, working mainly in
London, was able to find. However this bias also reflects the movement of
the population, from rural to town and city areas.24 But I have been able
to include both urban and rural childhoods and in particular I spent some
time investigating childhoods in north-east Suffolk; and a colleague
pointed me in the direction of interviews carried out in the Ambleside area
of the Lake District. So I have been able to make some (tentative) comparisons between urban and rural childhoods, including local socio-­
economic working and living conditions and the character of schooling
The autobiographies include 14 full-scale published books, of 100 or
more pages. Other memoirs are shorter written accounts; thus John
Burnett in a radio programme asked people to send in their memoirs; of
these, five ten-page memoirs fit my criteria. A further source is accounts
given to Thea Thompson, who interviewed people and presented the
resulting data as autobiography; I include four of these. Finally, I read two
unpublished, typed, autobiographies, on childhoods in inner London.
Details on all these sources of information are given in Appendix A. In all
I draw on 25 accounts.
Other sources of information include logbooks of elementary schools.
These are the records kept by headteachers, recording special events, difficulties, inspections, visitors and children’s achievements. In order to help
with the comparison between rural and urban childhoods, I limited this
investigation to London and north-east Suffolk logbooks. I also studied
school histories in these two areas and elsewhere; these are especially useful on children’s activities and often include accounts written at the time
by children in school magazines, recounting, for instance, agricultural
work during the war, the physical character of the school, particular teachers and their idiosyncrasies. Again, lists of these schools are given in
Appendix A.
Autobiographies and Interviews as Sources of Information
Oral history as a source of information presents such an array of problems
that using it seems not only daunting but unlikely to prove useful.25 We
learn that what people write or say may be (probably is) biased, unreliable,
unduly influenced by nostalgia, and by pressures at the time of writing
(interviewer’s aims, authorial concerns). For a positivist historian, seeking
to find the truth, memoirs are not helpful. Some commentators are more
willing to work with oral history, since they accept that history is made up
of varying accounts and perspectives, both which change over time. The
past is not to be set in stone. Burnett, who collected hundreds of testimonies, remarks that one of their great virtues is precisely that they do present a point of view. They present what the author aims to present; and
while interviewers may have an agenda, so too does the interviewee, who
may well subvert or comment on the interviewer’s approach.26 Of the
overviews by commentators, I recommend Harry Hendrick’s chapter.27
He is not only a historian of childhood, he has worked alongside the
developing discipline of the sociology of childhood. He notes the many
objections to taking children’s testimonies seriously. He fully accepts children’s subordinate social status, but also celebrates their contributions to
knowledge as social actors and in particular he acknowledges that they, like
other social groups in society, have a specific standpoint—a way of understanding their own status and that of other groups, based on their experience of social, generational relations.
Some people who write their memoirs have also commented on what it
is they are doing. For instance, Storm Jameson remarks on the impossibility of writing autobiography. She says she is trying ‘to eat away a double
illusion: the face I show other people and the illusion I have of myself—by
which I live. Can I?’ And indeed her autobiography includes many commentaries on what she is describing, for instance, on how she is now interpreting what she experienced; and how she is rethinking what sort of
person she was and is. She goes on to say that another pitfall is that she
dislikes writing about close friends and can write only the least intimate
facts. This, she notes, falsifies the record. ‘But what can I do? Nothing.’28
Her consciousness of the difficulties of her task makes for reflective and
constantly interesting reading.
Laurie Lee, who grew up in a Cotswold village with his mother and
seven siblings, notes that if each one wrote about his or her childhood
lived there, each account would differ from all the others. And he asks,
how do you encapsulate for a reader, in fifteen pages, in fifteen minutes’
reading time, 5000 hours of experience of schooling? His account of his
experiences of his village school, which blends some probably remembered incidents with accomplished evocation of atmosphere, activity and
feeling, is the work of a skilled writer. He says his 200-page account of his
childhood, took him two years to write, and was written three times.29 He
remarks that he is writing about his childhood, but also telling the story of
the village—which he points out was passing through its last years before
motorised transport changed it forever. Here he is on the topic of schooldays. He focuses on the school as a sensorily complex, lived experience,
providing a narrow kind of rote-learning suitable for the lives the children
would lead as adults.
Our village school was poor and crowded, but in the end I relished it. It had
a lively reek of steaming life: boys’ boots, girls’ hair, stoves and sweat, blue
ink, white chalk and shavings. We learnt nothing abstract or tenuous there—
just simple patterns of facts and letters, portable tricks of calculation, no
more than was needed to measure a shed, write out a bill, read a swine-­
disease warning. Through the dead hours of the morning, through the long
afternoons, we chanted away at our tables. Passers-by could hear our rising
voices in our bottled-up room on the bank: ‘Twelve-inches – one-foot.
Three-feet-make-a-yard. Fourteen-pounds-make-a-stone. Eight-stone-a-­
hundred-weight.’ We absorbed these figures as primal truths declared by
some ultimate power.30
Caroline Steedman wrote her account of her childhood at a time (the
1980s) when, she argues, studies of working-class childhood were simplistic, assuming simple lives based on the struggle for survival and with no
time for the complexities of human, including family, relationships. Her
own childhood, she says, though it was, in a sense, a working-class childhood, yet it was distinctive (like any other childhood).31 She points out
that, though we all remember, it is not those remembrances that shape our
account written now. ‘The past is re-used through the agency of social
information and that interpretation of it can only be made with what people know of a social world and their place within it.’32 Over time we have
learned of our social positioning and we recast our story taking account of
our understanding. Her book is remarkable, among other virtues, for its
continued focus on and exploration of child–adult relations.
People who write or speak about their early years may have many
motives and aims. It seems fair to say, along with Laurie Lee, that there is
no truth, only the separate accounts of witnesses.33 Between them, the
memories I draw on perhaps give, not a fully rounded picture, but enough
glimpses into childhoods to allow us later people some insight into
­childhood experience and into the character of the socio-economic worlds
children lived in and through.
Using a Range of Sources of Information
One way of dealing with the difficulties and complexities of memoirs is to
set these against other sources of information. By way of example, I set out
here an example of the use of varying sources of information, which may
build up into a picture which has some value.
What the Great War meant to children who lived through it in
England, can be gleaned through considering a range of pieces of
information, including what people record about their long-ago childhood. Some information comes to us direct from the time. Thus, one
of the most valuable sources of information is the letters exchanged
between children and soldiers fighting the war. Rosie Kennedy explores
these, and discusses what they tell us about how fathers at the front
helped their children to make sense of separation and to make sense of
the war, and about how family relationships developed through the
exchange of letters.34
Perhaps recording facts is a way into exploring experience. Sheer
numbers can tell us the importance of events to the people who lived
through them. Thus Maclure tells us about bombing raids over London;
the worst school disaster was the direct hit suffered by North Street
School in Poplar (East London) in June 1917, which killed 18 children.
Altogether, he adds, ten schools were wrecked by bombs and 239 more
were damaged.35 So we can be sure that many thousands of people were
affected by this devastation, including children, who were required by
the London County Council (LCC) to stay in school during daytime
bombing raids.
However, Dorothy Scannell gives different account of the North Street
bombing (no more than 400 yards from her house). It was the school
attended by her brothers.
On the day that the North Street infants’ school was hit, Mother had given
me some red gooseberries and I was standing at the top of the Grove, enjoying a feast. I was biting into each gooseberry saying ‘Here’s the church,
here’s the steeple … ’ when I noticed some aeroplanes overhead puffing
little clouds of smoke. Then big Bertha started firing. In spite of the bangs,
I went on eating my lovely gooseberries and I was just thinking what a lot
of hairs there were on them, when suddenly policemen came running along
blowing whistles, stopping trams and carts and turning them all round
again. I was just looking to see how many gooseberries I had left when
across the road came a galloping coal-cart. The driver had on his back-to-­
front shovel hat and in the crook of one arm he was carrying a little boy who
seemed asleep, but the little boy’s face was covered with something scarlet
and so was his shirt. Running behind the cart was a woman in a pinafore and
behind her another little fair boy in a white shirt, but it was the fair boy’s
face that kept my gaze. He looked so frightened that I thought someone
must be after him. I went home to tell Mother and she cried and I wondered
if she knew the frightened little boy…36
She later learned about the deaths, and then realised that:
the Germans did not stay at the front with my father. It was different at the
top of the Grove when we saw a Zeppelin shot down in flames. Everybody
danced and cheered.37
Dorothy’s account, as she remembers an eight-year-old experiencing the
North Street disaster, points to a child faced with something initially incomprehensible and unrelated to her daily life. It was the sight of the frightened
little boy running that most immediately affected her and led to her initial
interpretation, based on her child’s knowledge—someone must be chasing
after him. I think her way into telling of this disaster, focusing on the child’s
preoccupation with the gooseberries and with her recognition of the boy’s
fear, highlights the huge gap between children’s ordinary daily life and the
horrific events that war brought to this part of London.
The elementary school logbooks present another set of realities.
Each headteacher had to record visits to the school, unusual events, illnesses, inspections and exams. Some also record their feelings of exhaustion, frustration, anger and delight. Most are not concerned to record
children’s war work, although they do record efforts to engage children
with the war: through religious teaching and celebrations of Empire
Day; many logbooks record visits by old boys, now serving in the armed
forces. Nevertheless, as I have tried to indicate, we can get some insight
into children’s experiences through the (often dry) record of events.
Headteachers recorded children singing hymns in the school hall as
bombs fell locally. One of the logbooks I have read—Berkshire Road
School, Hackney—is unusual in presenting a page that the headteacher
entitles: ‘Children’s Voluntary Work during the War’.38
Children saved coppers, amounting to 3/-, principally in farthings, bought
knitted socks, helmets, mufflers and scarves for soldiers. Caps for wounded
sent to
Red Cross. Other articles given to children’s soldier friends.
Saved coppers and sent £1 to St Dunstan’s Hospital.
Saved coppers and bought 1100 cigarettes and sent to Clifden Road Military
Hospital for Xmas.
Collected farthings 10/- for soldiers’ party. [Verbatim]
This summary points to the writer’s recognition of how tight money
was for these children. Three shillings is 144 farthings and a farthing was
the means to food. Children would be sent out with a farthing, a ha’penny
or a penny, after school, to buy the food for the evening meal. A household would have to think twice before releasing a farthing for a school
fund-raising effort. Through his detailed, factual account, the headteacher
seems to be noting the enormous commitment involved in collecting the
money, and his appreciation of the children’s wish to contribute to the war
School histories also provide summaries of children’s war work activities. These were encouraged by the Board of Education and local education authorities; and teachers organised and facilitated this work (knitting,
growing food, blackberrying, sending parcels to soldiers). Notably, the
memoirs include almost no mention of these activities, and this suggests
that they were of minor importance to those remembering their
Another kind of information on children’s war work comes from consideration of education policy. Many children were ‘released’ from school
to work in agriculture and industry—perhaps 600,000, according to
Fisher.39 Maclure says the biggest contribution London children made to
the war effort was through junior technical institutes and polytechnics,
which were turned over during the war to producing munitions and precision instruments. Under the direct influence of Robert Blair, who was
Executive Officer to the LCC, numbers of junior technical institutes were
increased from one in Shoreditch to 21 by 1912 and were aimed at boys
who wanted to train for a craft and for artisan status; for girls, training in
office work (keeping accounts, typewriting).40
So, setting out a range of kinds of information perhaps allows the
researcher, and the reader, some, admittedly limited, insight into what war
meant to children. Children had to contextualise the events taking place
within their understandings of their daily lives. One of the key themes
explored throughout this book is the interrelations between the material
and consciousness. What children experienced in the physical, observable
world structured their understandings of the social world. Gooseberries
were a special treat that her mother had managed to provide, in a family
that had to watch every penny; so Dorothy valued every green furred fruit.
When she realised that her mother already knew there had been a bomb,
which killed some of the community’s children, she was able to process
this information and to increase her understanding of what this war meant
for Londoners. Though she, of course, knew that her father and two elder
brothers were away in France fighting the Germans, this bomb, so close to
home, gave her another perception about what war meant. When bombs
fell near a school, girls were required by custom to take charge of the
younger children and no doubt were instructed by their teachers to try to
calm them; singing hymns, probably also suggested by teachers, was one
way to get through the time and to help everyone to face the bombing
together. Similarly, the instructions from on high about involving schoolchildren in war work were, presumably, in part a means of maintaining
In the course of this book, I shall quote substantially from what the
memoirs say. In some cases I shall provide commentary, which may help to
tie together episodes in the accounts; or may point to children’s or adults’
understandings of events. But in some cases, I shall let the accounts speak
for themselves, or rather speak as they may to the reader.
In this book, I am taking on a difficult enterprise, for it involves setting quotations like the ones just given alongside large-scale official policies and also alongside the work carried out by women to improve not
only their own lives, but the character of society more generally. So it
may be that the resulting blend is less a blend than a somewhat uneasy
juxtaposition. However, I think that, whatever its faults, this book does
provide a new kind of exploration of the existing literature, reconsidering interrelations between women’s work and the status and character
of childhood. Thus I think it adds to our understandings of what the
women’s movement was fighting for.
1. This poem is quoted in Liddington and Norris 1985, p. 237. It is taken
from Gilman’s 1911 Suffrage Songs and Verses, New York: Charlton. The
middle two stanzas are omitted in Liddington and Norris 1985 (and here).
2. As will become clearer later on, suffragists generally pursued parliamentary
and gradualist approaches to gaining the vote, and a group of their organisations was the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies (NUWSS).
Some suffragettes came to despair of this route, and became more militant,
in the organisation called the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).
3. Lane 1979.
4. For example, Hollis 1994, Vicinus 1994, Rowbotham 2011.
5. For example, Hilton and Hirsch 2000, Martin 2010.
6. For example, Maclure 1970, Hurt 1979 and Harris B 1995.
7. See for instance, Hendrick 2003 on child welfare and Hilton and Hirsch
on education.
8. But see Hurt 1979 and Humphries 1981 for children’s views of schooling.
9. For instance, Ross 1986 and E. Roberts 1984.
10. Dyhouse 1989, chapter 2.
11. Rhoda Garrett was a cousin of Millicent Fawcett, leader of the NUWSS
(Crawford, p. 247).
12. For instance, Dyhouse 1981.
13. See for instance Richards 1989; Montgomery and Watson 2009; Rudd
14. See Chodorow and Contratto 1982.
15. Qvortrup 1985.
16. Overviews of these arguments are presented by Alanen 2009 and Mayall
17. Shamgar-Handelman 1994.
18. Smith D 1987.
19. Mayall 2002, chapter 6.
20. For examples of such photos, see Jackson and Taylor 2014, Liddington
and Norris 1985, and H.J. Bennett 1980, p. 27.
21. For full discussion of this topic see Cunningham 1991, especially chapters
6, 7 and 8.
22. Maclure 1970, pp. 22–23.
23. For instance, Davin 1996, Hurt and Humphries 1981.
24. J. Harris 1994, p. 45, notes that of children born in 1901–1911, 80 per
cent were born in towns and cities; and in 1911, out of a national population of 45 million, 7 million lived in Greater London.
25. Paul Thompson’s exhaustive study (1978) of oral history is especially
26. Burnett 1994.
27. Hendrick 2008.
28. Jameson 1984, p. 16.
29. Lee 1976. This Longman edition includes Lee’s valuable three-page essay
on writing autobiography.
30. Lee 1976, pp. 40–41.
31. Steedman 1986, Part One: Stories.
32. Steedman 1986, Part One: Stories, p. 6.
33. Lee, p. 220.
34. Kennedy 2014, chapter 2.
35. Maclure 1970, p. 108.
36. Scannell 1974, p. 57.
37. Scannell 1974, p. 57.
38. This school is now called Gainsborough Primary School, and it still operates in the three-decker building, dated 1899, on Berkshire Road, Hackney.
39. Fisher, presenting his education bill in 1917. See Van der Eyken 1973,
p. 222.
40. Maclure 1970, pp. 95 and 109.
Alanen, L. (2009). Generational order. In J. Qvortrup, W. A. Corsaro, & M.-S. Honig
(Eds.), Palgrave handbook of childhood studies. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Bennett, H. J. (1980). I was a Walworth Boy. London: The Peckham Publishing
Burnett, J. (1994). Destiny obscure: Autobiographies of childhood, education and
family from the 1820s to the 1920s. London: Routledge.
Chodorow, N., & Contratto, S. (1982). The fantasy of the perfect mother. In
B. Thorne with M. Yalom (Eds.), Rethinking the family: Some feminist questions. New York and London: Longman.
Cunningham, H. (1991). The children of the poor: Representations of childhood since
the seventeenth century. Oxford: Blackwell.
Davin, A. (1996). Growing up poor: Home, school and street in London 1870–1914.
London: Rivers Oram Press.
Dyhouse, C. (1981). Girls growing up in late Victorian and Edwardian England.
London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Dyhouse, C. (1989). Feminism and the family in England 1880–1939. Oxford:
Harris, B. (1995). The health of the schoolchild: A history of the school medical service
in England and Wales. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Harris, J. (1994). Private lives, public spirit: Britain 1870–1914. Harmondsworth:
Hendrick, H. (2003). Child welfare: Historical dimensions, contemporary debate.
Bristol: Policy Press.
Hendrick, H. (2008). The child as a social actor in historical sources: Problems of
identification and interpretation. In P. Christensen & A. James (Eds.), Research
with children: Perspectives and practices (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.
Hilton, M. & Hirsch, P. (Eds.). (2000). Practical visionaries: Women, education
and social progress 1790–1930. Harlow: Longman.
Hollis, P. (1994). Ladies elect: Women in English local government 1965–1914.
Oxford: Clarendon.
Humphries, S. (1981). Hooligans or rebels; An oral history of working class childhood
and youth 1889–1939. Oxford: Blackwell.
Hurt, J. S. (1979). Elementary schooling and the working classes 1860–1918.
London: Routledge.
Jackson, S. & Taylor, R. (2014). East London suffragettes. Stroud, Gloucestershire:
The History Press.
Jameson, S. (1984). Autobiography of Storm Jameson: Journey from the north, volume one. London: Virago.
Kennedy, R. (2014). The children’s war: Britain 1914–1918. London: Palgrave
Lane, A. J. (1979). Introduction. In C. P. Gilman (Ed.), Herland. London:
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Lee, L. (1976). Cider with Rosie. London: Longman.
Liddington, J. & Norris, J. (1985). One hand tied behind us: The rise of the women’s
suffrage movement. London: Virago.
Maclure, S. (1970). A history of education in London 1870–1970. London: Allen
Lane The Penguin Press.
Martin, J. (2010). Making socialists: Mary Bridges Adams and the fight for knowledge and power, 1855–1939. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Mayall, B. (2002). Towards a sociology for childhood: Thinking from children’s lives.
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Mayall, B. (2009). Generational relations at family level. In J. Qvortrup, W. A.
Corsaro, & M.-S. Honig (Eds.), The Palgrave handbook of childhood studies.
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R. Collins (Eds.), Family and economy in modern society. London: Macmillan.
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Rowbotham, S. (2011). Dreamers of a new day: Women who invented the twentieth
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Rudd, D. (2010). The Routledge companion to children’s literature. London: Routledge.
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The Women’s Movement and Childhood,
Socialism and Childhood Status: Margaret McMillan (1860–1931)
Margaret McMillan was an early member of the Independent Labour
Party (from 1893) and a Fabian. She also worked with women’s
organisations demanding the vote. In the 1890s, while working as a
member of the Bradford School Board, she fought for measures to
improve the health of children. She pioneered medical inspection in
collaboration with Dr James Kerr, who was appointed as Medical
Superintendent of Schools in 1893, and they documented the ill-­
health of school-age children. Her campaigns for national medical
inspection and treatment in schools were important in leading to the
Education (Administrative Provisions) Act 1906, which required
local education authorities to provide medical inspections in schools.
After a move to London, she campaigned for open-air nursery education for children. She established the first medical clinic in Bow;
with her sister Rachel, she opened a camp school in Deptford in
1911 (where children slept in the open air) and they started an open-­
air nursery school there in 1914.
McMillan proposed that all children should have free nursery and
schooling experience, up to and including university.1 Throughout
her career, she saw collaboration between teacher and mother as the
basis for good childhoods. She argued that children, allowed to
develop according to the natural internal laws that governed their
© The Author(s) 2018
B. Mayall, Visionary Women and Visible Children, England 1900–1920,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-61207-2_2
development, and through nurturing in nurseries and schools, would
be a new generation—healthy and happy—inspiring their parents to
demand their economic and social rights.2 Children were to be in the
vanguard of social progress.
Women and Children in Public Arenas
The Women’s Movement
The women’s movement, or ‘the awakening of women’3 can be seen as a
catch-all phrase, encompassing a wide variety of concerns, political affiliations and activities; in that vision it may dissolve into incoherence the
more closely it is examined. On the other hand, it can be understood as
having a coherence, notably through women’s work across a range of arenas towards a better, a fairer society; and for some women, suffrage was
important because it would enable them to do this work. It can be seen to
include the activities and preoccupations of both working-class and
middle-­class women. It had its roots way back in the early nineteenth century Owenite revolt against women’s subordination;4 and can be seen in
women’s fiction—as for instance in George Eliot’s detailed and revealing
explorations in the 1860s of the lives of Maggie Tulliver, Dorothea
Brooke, Mary Garth and Rosamond Vincy.5 The movement allowed for
conservative, anti-suffrage women as well as socialist visionaries; thus Mrs.
Humphrey Ward (in the first camp) promoted children’s play centres,
while Margaret McMillan (in the second) promoted measures to ensure
children’s health.6 Some of this work required women to negotiate for
legal changes, to encourage ministers to rethink the state’s responsibilities.
But much of the work took place in ‘borderlines’ between the private and
the public—in voluntary work, settlements and women’s organisations
and, it can be argued, the effectiveness of such work requires us to rethink
what we mean by political work.7
By the beginning of the twentieth century, English women had begun
to take a firm place in the public arena. The first generation of pioneers
had established their right to higher education, and to enter the professions.8 Elizabeth Garrett, the first female doctor (1865) was followed by
500 women doctors by 1914.9 Pioneers had fought for higher education
(Millicent Garrett, Emily Davies) and their daughters, the next generation, were increasingly attending the new women’s schools and colleges.
Elizabeth’s daughter, Louise, became the head of a hospital for wounded
soldiers in the Great War. By 1900, there were women nurses, landscape
gardeners, interior designers, teachers, clerks and journalists; women sat
on school boards, on care committees and as poor law guardians and were
prominent in voluntary organisations devoted to charitable purposes.10
Some of these were women were socially well connected—their fathers
and brothers were businessmen or university men, and the linkages across
large families by marriage are so large and complex as to defeat the construction of comprehensible family trees. But women further down the
social scale were also becoming a part of the public scene, not only as
workers, but as activists. Women formed the bulk of the new teaching
profession, in the elementary schools; they were allocated the under-fives
and infants (5–7 years) and also taught older girls; they were able to head
the girls’ sections of the new schools. As we shall see, teachers could use
their knowledge and position to encourage girls to look to futures not
bounded by the drudgery of working-class marriage.
Indeed, the history of this period indicates that working-class lives
enabled workers of whatever age to participate in political movements.
When girls embarked on paid work (aged 10 and upwards), with long
hours and low pay, they, like their elders, could engage with wider educational opportunities offered by the unions, by socialist organisations and
publications and women’s groups. Women and girls who worked in a variety of trades increasingly joined women’s trade unions, under overall
groupings: the Women’s Trade Union League was established in 1874;11
and middle-class women, such as Clementina Black, supported their
work.12 She edited a range of studies on married women’s work and she
argued forcibly for both women’s and men’s wages to be raised.13 The
Women’s Co-operative Guild provided a forum for education, activism
and togetherness. The Guild was led by Margaret Llewelyn Davies (from
1899 to 1921), whose father, a university professor, was a Christian
Socialist and worker for women’s suffrage. She documented the character
of working women’s lives in her 1915 collection of their letters, Maternity.
Working-class women began to speak in public. Sarah Reddish, who
had started work aged 11 in the mills and was elected to Bolton Town
council in 1907, spoke of the false division between public and private,
arguing that women and men had work to do in both.14 Especially in the
north-west, women factory workers were active early on in campaigning
for the vote for all women over the age of 21.15 These women are of particular interest because they explicitly linked the fight for suffrage to the
fight for socialism. Gilman’s verses were known to some of them, such as
Ada Nield Chew (1870–1945), a mill worker from age 11, who met
Gilman when she toured the north of England in the Clarion van (this van
was converted to provide sleeping accommodation and was used by
women to carry socialist and feminist messages to outlying villages).16 Ada
was one of many women who, as workers in the cotton mills, experienced
directly how women were conceptualised as dependants of men and routinely paid less than men; and who also fought for collective opposition to
capitalist oppression. She argued that wakening women to their degrading
position of economic dependency was a precondition to mobilising them
on the industrial front:
Unless you can get a woman to see the utter degradation of her industrial
and political position as a dependent and belonging of man, there is little
hope of industrial organisation for her as for political power.17
These working women also knew first-hand the exploitation of children in their communities, the long hours and the very poor pay (perhaps
a quarter of a man’s wage). Unlike the middle-class women activists,
whose children were insulated from the working world, these working
women experienced in their everyday lives inequalities relating to gender,
social class and generation. All these had to be tackled, for working
women had responsibilities both in the work place and at home; they had
to fight employers’ exploitation of them and of their children. Thus, for
example, Selina Cooper (1864–1946) entered mill work as a half-timer at
age 10, and worked her way up through the Labour Party and trade
unions as a socialist feminist. She was a member of a deputation to the
House of Commons in 1901 and 1902, arguing for the vote for women.
She said that as a mother she believed working women needed the vote
we have to educate our children; if we are not ourselves interested in national
life, how can we impart to our children a knowledge of true citizenship?18
Girls and women workers in Lancashire were able to benefit from a
wide range of sources of knowledge. Literacy—perhaps the best gift of the
elementary schools—allowed them to educate themselves. Thus Cissy
Foley (born 1879), a millworker from when she left school, enthusiastically borrowed books from the library, and joined discussion groups and
university extension courses laid on by Manchester University; the Labour
church provided another forum for discussions and The Clarion—a socialist journal—provided lively articles each week.19 Some of these pioneer
women were known to Sylvia Pankhurst, who grew up in Manchester, and
their political activities informed her own socialist and feminist thinking.
Whilst her mother and sister focused on mobilising well-to-do women,
she argued in favour of a working-class movement. When she designed a
membership card for the WSPU organisation in 1906–1907, it featured
working-class women.20 Notably she included children as participants in
her London activism during the war years. (See Chapter Five.)
Sylvia’s activity in London was preceded in the mill towns of Lancashire
and Yorkshire. Here, where children went to work from the age of 10 and
upwards, girls were active participants in the suffrage movement. In 1907,
in the Colne Valley constituency (West Yorkshire), a traditional Liberal
seat, when Grayson stood for election as a Labour and Socialist candidate,
he was cheered on by the mill girls and women—and he won.21 Detail is
added by the story of Dora Thewlis (born 1890), a mill girl in Huddersfield,
who travelled to join demonstrations in London in 1907, was arrested and
came before the magistrate. He then displayed both his ignorance and his
prejudices, when he told her that as a girl of 16 she should be at school,
and that in public places she should be accompanied by her mother, since
a girl or woman on her own would entice men to lewd acts.22
Children in the Context of Economic and Political Policy
There is not much doubt that the legal decision in 1870 to school the
poorest children constituted an important change: their daily lives
changed; and the fact that they became visible to wealthier men and
women had far-reaching implications for adult understandings of childhoods. Study of individual children’s development (exemplified by
Darwin’s study of his infant son) could now be widened to study of the
population of children in school—their physical and intellectual development. For observers in the 1880s were now conceptualising even the
poorest children as children of the state, the future of the nation. The
poverty and ill-health revealed in perhaps one-third of the child population of the wealthiest country in the world were recognised early on and,
over time, acted upon, first through voluntary work, and later, after prolonged discussion about parental responsibility, through legislation.23 In
parallel to this set of changes, over the same period, was the rise of women,
who took up public duties in health, welfare and education, pressed for
child welfare legislation and, on their own behalf, demanded the vote.24
In economic terms, England was facing the fact that Germany was
overtaking it in prosperity. It was very late in the day, comparatively, that
England provided all children with state-funded schooling. From 1870
children were to attend school (from 9 to 4 with a two-hour break mid-­
day); and in the early years, parents had to pay 1d or 2d per week for this
schooling. Children left school at 11, 12, 13 or 14 according to the gradually changing demands of the state (see Appendix B) and of local industry.
It was not until 1891 that schooling became free to parents.25 These
changes meant that parents could not so easily rely on their children’s
earnings to eke out household finances. However, in practice, many children worked in the early morning before school and/or in the evening
after school; and, especially in the industrial areas, a half-time system was
in place: children worked half-time and attended school half-time. It was
not until the 1918 Education Act that all children were required to attend
school full-time until the age of 14 (and until the 1944 Education Act,
local practices varied, with exemptions at 12 or 13).26
There are at least two interlocked features of this new situation that
require consideration here—the economic and the more thoroughly political. When the state required children to attend school, their presence in
the public arena revealed the extent of shocking poverty in this wealthy
country; children, poorly clothed and starving, suffering from many diseases, some fatal, were a disgrace to the middle-class eye and to the nation
as a whole. At a purely practical level, children could not learn if they were
ill or hungry; so state expenditure on schooling would be wasted. By the
early 1900s, it was clear that there were also political implications: if the
state insisted on school attendance, then if parents failed in their childcare
responsibilities, the state would have to feed the children and provide
medical inspection and treatment. So this new set of obligations was altering the economic and political relation between the state and parents, as
regards the health and welfare of children. It also meant that the state
would have to accept that it had a direct relationship of responsibility for
children’s welfare. (Acts of parliament from 1906 partially recognised this
state responsibility, through permissive legislation allowing local authorities to act).
But what was also changing was national politics. Workers were striking
for better conditions of work and better pay; and the trade union movement was gaining in strength. The Fabian Society was started in 1884; and
the national Independent Labour Party (ILP) was started in 1893. Keir
Hardie and two others—John Burns for Battersea and Havelock Wilson
for Middlesbrough—were the first Labour MPs. Both groupings had
women’s sections; the Fabian Women’s Group was active in researching
the status of women. Socialism was seen by many as key to reform. Some
of the earliest revolts against exploitation—shocking working conditions
and poor pay—were led by women, notably, the East End ‘matchgirls’
strike of 1888; Clementina Black of the Fabian Women’s Group and Annie
Besant lent support by publishing details of this exploitation and the ‘girls’
were successful in forcing improvements. In 1911, 15,000 Bermondsey
women came out in protest about working conditions in factories, and
again, forced the hand of their employers. However, men were wary of
collaborating with women workers, mainly since women were paid less
than men, and so women formed their own trade unions, and the Women’s
Trade Union League (WTUL) co-ordinated this work.27
The political and economic rivalry between Britain and other industrialised countries, brought into the forefront the necessity to breed a nation
of healthy men (and healthy women to bear more men). Famously, recruitment for the Boer War in 1899 found high proportions of candidates unfit
to serve. People in England were pushed towards recognising that the
industrial might of the country had been raised on the backs of the poor.
Capitalism had allowed not only for massive economic inequalities but for
their accompaniment: starvation wages and the proliferation of slum
dwellings, rural and urban, and these were revealed to ladies who went to
offer comfort, soup and instruction to the poor; for the Charity
Organisation Society (COS) which flourished in the late nineteenth and
early twentieth century, encouraged not only better household management, but also acted with benevolence and individual acts of kindness and
help. Women, especially those from well-to-do families and including
graduates of the women’s colleges, flocked to settlements, to work in the
slums of London, Manchester and Bradford (including Sylvia Pankhurst,
to whom I return in Chapter Five).28 But socialist movements challenged
the idea that charitable work was adequate; indeed they pointed to state
responsibility for the health and welfare of its citizens. And some of the
settlement workers sadly noted that the work they did was not enough to
deal with the problems: state action was required to deal with poverty.29
What must be highlighted here is that women’s work for children was
rooted in concepts of a good society. Some branches of the women’s
movement from the 1890s were closely allied to socialism. And socialism
insisted on consideration of how to make a better life for all social groups.
Thus McMillan thought that the impacts on children of poverty were specific to childhood; for if children did not have a health-promoting environment, then they would be blighted for the rest of their lives.30 As early
as 1908, it was alleged that, through her journalism and speeches, she had
made fundamental changes in how educationalists should think about
their work, for she drew on a large body of theoretical work to argue that
the child was a neurological and physiological entity that developed by its
own internal laws.31
All the six women reformers chosen to head up the chapters in this
book were socialist and carried their beliefs into practice, attempting to
improve the conditions of children’s childhoods as well as fighting for
women’s proper positioning in society. In their thinking, the two advances,
for children and for women, were inter-connected, and had to be seen in
the context of what a good society would be like. That means considering
utopian ideas at the time. (I return to this theme later in the chapter.)
Women’s Work for Children
But first, in this chapter, I focus on social issues as they affected (or did
not) the lives of children; and the part played by women in working for
better childhoods. For though older children could campaign themselves,
women were essential to campaigns for younger children. We have to note
initially that women’s socialism did not and could not have clear, direct
impacts on men and on masculinity for, as was later emphasised, making
such changes was going to be a long-running saga.32
Women fought for themselves and for childhood through a range of
means. They entered public life through work on school boards, local
authorities, political parties (notably the Labour Party), as Guardians of
the Poor Law. And they worked through voluntary organisations and
through private donations to establish and run services. So they worked to
change policies and practices through a range of means, whatever would
bring results: research, journalism and public speaking, voluntary action,
state action and private initiatives and contributions. Thus, for instance, if
we take Margaret McMillan’s work, in collaboration with her sister Rachel:
she drummed up support through her membership of the Labour Party
and through her journalism and public speaking. In Bradford, she used
her position as a member of the School Board, working for the medical
inspection of children. She attracted private funding—from an American
industrialist, Joseph Fels—for her Bow Clinic, which carried out medical
inspections. But the clinic was based in a room in a state elementary
school, Devons Road, and the room was leased from the LCC.33 She lobbied for a national scheme of medical inspection through her contacts in
the Labour Party, such as her friend Keir Hardie.34 When the Bow Clinic
moved to Deptford it was funded by a private charity and also by fees paid
by parents.35 She was offered the loan of a house in Evelyn Street, Deptford
and in the garden there she established her camp school where girls slept
in the open air.36
Women were able to use male ideas about them in order to work for
children, whether or not they endorsed these ideas. For women were
regarded as upholders of moral standards in society, and most importantly—via the so-called ‘maternalism’ thesis—as naturally alive to and
concerned for the welfare of children, since their essential function in life
was as wives and mothers.37 So they could get elected to school boards on
the basis that they could and perhaps should speak for improving children’s welfare in schools. However, after the 1902 Education Act they
had to put themselves forward for election to local education authorities,
not as experts but as women, under the 1907 Qualification of Women
Act.38 Once there, they could fight for the necessity of feeding hungry
children and curing children’s ill-health,39 on the basis of their unique
sensibility to the needs of children. They could argue against the paid
work of school-­age children on the grounds that they understood, as
women, that exhausted children could not benefit from their time at
school.40 More generally, women were able to play the Empire card. It
was necessary, they could argue, to improve the health of the nation’s
children so that Britain could compete with countries with more advanced
healthcare services.
The women’s movement, then, was a revolutionary movement in that
it saw children not as individual persons moving towards adulthood but as
a specific social constituency—as members of childhood—with its own
needs and with its unique value to society. Responding to those needs and
recognising that value was not just a parental responsibility, it was a societal responsibility. Indeed, the two—parents and society—would have to
work together. One focus of some pioneering women’s work was child
labour, widely seen as antagonistic to childhoods, as newly discovered and
understood. Surveys by the Women’s Labour League (WLL) in the years
before 1914 revealed the continuing prevalence of children working, full-­
time, or part-time before and after school. Pioneering women argued that
children had rights of their own: they were entitled to schooling, to rest
and to childhood itself.41
Here I take up four key examples of women’s work for and with children, in order to show how these propositions worked out in the context
of policies for children. The examples also show how ideas about children
and childhood were changing.
The interests of women and children are never so closely bound together
as in the months leading up to childbirth and the months that follow.
Their health, well-being and survival are interlocked. And in the 1900s,
children were starting to be thought of as a valuable social resource. Yet
families were expected to face the economic and social difficulties attendant on childbirth solely out of their own resources. The natural dependencies of woman on her husband provided an adequate justification for
no state intervention. At the time, the services of a doctor would cost
about £1 and of a midwife 10 shillings;42 that is, the whole of a man’s
week’s wages would pay for a doctor’s help. Many women faced childbirth
with only the help of relatives or neighbours, and in the days following
were under pressure to resume the heavy tasks of housewifery and childcare, unless, again, those kindly women could help out.
One of the many measures introduced by the Liberal Government of
1906 to provide a basic underpinning of state assistance to the population,
was the National Insurance Act of 1911. The bill proposed insurance for
male workers, in cases of ill-health and unemployment. The 1911 Act
incorporated a voluntary health scheme, including maternity benefit, for
non-wage-earning women; this had been proposed by the Women’s
Co-operative Guild, on the basis of their research on the topic, but this
payment would be made to the husband.
During the period when debates towards the Act took place, Mrs.
Layton, a midwife and a Women’s Co-operative Guild member, was one
of a deputation to Sir Rufus Isaacs (in place of Lloyd George). She
explained to him the financial pressure on poor working families at the
time of childbirth.
If a woman had a good husband, he gave her all he could from his wages, and
the woman had to do the rest, going short herself, as the man had to be kept
going for the work’s sake, and it would break her heart to starve her children.
Sir Rufus asked me how much I though a fair sum would be on which the
woman could get through her confinement. I told him that nothing less than
£5 would see her through comfortably. He said such an amount was impossible, and suggested the 30/- which was what the Hearts of Oak gave.43
Margaret Llewelyn Davies, long-term Secretary to the Guild, emphasised the theoretical point in a letter to The Times, in which she challenged
male reliance on the natural dependency argument, arguing instead that
women’s work in the home should indeed be regarded as work and not as
the natural occupation of a dependent woman. She pointed to women’s
rights, through their work, to financial reward, in this case to help with
childbirth Housework and childcare was work.
By her work as mother and housewife, the woman contributes equally with
the man to the upkeep of the home and the family income in reality is as
much hers as the man’s.44
After 1911, women continued to argue that mothers should have control of the maternity benefit. A number of prominent women in the Guild,
including Margaret Llewelyn Davies and Margaret Bondfield, presented
their case to government members.45 Guild members also got up a petition to support their argument. In 1913 they succeeded: an amendment
to the Act stated that the 30/- benefit could be paid to the husband only
if the wife had authorised this arrangement.46
The extent to which the work of the Guild was influential can of course
be debated, but it certainly played a part in securing the 1913 amendment. Through its campaigns and its own research into the causes of poverty, it contributed to a climate of opinion in favour of recognising mothers
and babies as appropriate receivers of state aid. The work of the Guild
towards the 1911 Act and its amendment was recognised when the Guild
was invited to provide representation on the committees established to
advise on the scheme’s day-to-day administration.47 The scheme was one
small step along the route the government was slowly taking, towards
assuming some state responsibility for ensuring the health of its people, in
this case children and their mothers.
Health Services
Women, both as individuals and through women’s organisations, were
among those arguing that children needed, first of all, before teaching,
food. By the early 1900s, there were many charitable efforts to feed
children, both in school and outside. The campaigns to feed hungry children were supported by the women’s movement, by Sir John Gorst
(President of the Board of Education), the National Union of Teachers
(NUT) and the Labour movement. The permissive legislation was passed
in 1906: the Education (Provision of Meals) Act. Notably, the clinching—
economic—argument set out in the Act was that food should be provided
for children who otherwise could not take advantage of the education
offered to them.
Feeding such children was made compulsory on local authorities in
1914. But before that, campaigners met local authority resistance. For
instance, in Jarrow, the local branch of the Women’s Labour League, who
were campaigning for local authority enactment of the 1906 permissive
legislation, crowded the visitors’ gallery to hear their petition discussed.
But it was sidelined, since council officials, having adjourned the meeting
for a good lunch, returned and said there were no hungry children in
Jarrow.48 In London Miss Nettie Adler, whose mother had inaugurated
meals for Jewish children in schools, urged the LCC in 1912 to feed the
children during the holidays, but her suggestion was defeated. However,
during debates towards legislation on feeding hungry children, whilst
parental responsibility and lack of it was seen in government to be a critical
issue, the notion of children as children of the state, the future of the
nation, also figured.49
Margaret McMillan, along with others, both men and women, argued
that children could not benefit from the schooling now provided for them,
and to which they were entitled, unless they were healthy. By 1893, she
had already been instrumental in establishing a school medical inspection
service in Bradford, as noted above. Documenting the level of ill-health
was important politically. But once the scale of the problem was being
documented, getting a school medical service onto the national agenda
required more persuasion. In her 1907 book, Labour and Childhood she
outlines the points she made over many years in fighting for state provision
of food for hungry children and medical services. She insists on the argument that children’s manual work outside school makes children ‘stupid
and indifferent’.50 Good healthy development, she argues, is a process and
if that development is cut short by the demand that children do hard
manual labour, then children will not be able to develop as human beings;
they will not be able to benefit from school and will live their lives as
stunted adults. She reports on her visits to Germany and Holland with Dr
Kerr, where they saw school medical services in action, and to Holland
where school baths had been installed. Margaret McMillan supplemented
this written work, with advocacy work with the Labour Party, for instance
speaking at the 1911 party conference on the necessity for school clinics.51
Another commentator, Mrs Townsend of the Fabian Women’s Group,
noted that France was providing nursery care for children, where they
were given training in good health-promoting habits.52 These countries,
women argued, were cultivating a healthier and therefore more productive
generation than England.
These arguments are based on a range of premises or assumptions. One
is to do with efficiency: it is not cost-effective to provide a service (in this
case education) from which people cannot benefit. Then if this country is
to compete in industrial strength with others, it must implement measures
to ensure it has a healthy population. And thirdly, since children are the
next generation of adults, who must take the country’s fortunes forward,
they must have priority, as a social group. The chance to rear them healthily once lost cannot be regained.
The 1907 Education (Administrative Provisions) Act required LEAs to
carry out medical inspection of schoolchildren and also empowered them
to provide treatment. It seems that its time was coming. For, though the
usual arguments about parental responsibility and the cost to local authorities were presented, alongside complaints that doctors would lose
patients—and therefore income, and though change was gradual, by 1913
(according to George Newman, Chief Medical Officer of the Board of
Education) all local authorities were providing inspection, between one-­
third and a half were providing school-based clinics and almost all were
providing treatment.53
It is notable that the first LEA to establish a school-based clinic was
Bradford in June 1908, presumably building on its earlier experience of
provision in 1893; and on the work of Dr James Kerr and Margaret
McMillan, who had pioneered medical inspection there.54 Dr Kerr had left
Bradford to become the Medical Officer to the Education Committee of
the LCC after the abolition of school boards led to the closure of his
Bradford clinic under the 1902 Education Act. Kerr believed medical
treatment of schoolchildren pauperised parents; he understood the work
of the Medical Officer as a public health task—of documenting the health
status of the children.55 However, he oversaw the development of the
LCC school medical service as a hands-on inspection and curative service.
And through his work in collecting data he was an important influence on
McMillan’s ideas about the physiology of growth—that opportunities for
growth in childhood, once missed, could not adequately be replaced.56
Therefore the present time makes upon the educators an inescapable
demand: they must grasp children’s earliest activities and understand their
impulse to make things and to be freely and personally active; they must
encourage their desire to instruct themselves as they create, observe and
experiment. (Froebel)57
In a paper published in 1905 Katherine Bathurst described the régime
to which (as she had observed) two- and three-year-olds were subjected in
elementary schools. They were asked to sit on benches with no backs, in
rows, with their arms folded, for an hour at a time, listening to their
teacher.58 At the time, these schools had no lower age-limit and children
aged two and upwards might be seen, accompanying their older siblings to
school. However, by this time, the child study movement was well established in middle-class circles, and progressive ideas as to education had
been circulating, based on the work, notably, of Friedrich Froebel, which
had been promoted in the UK through the Froebel Society, established in
1884. By 1892 the Froebel Education Institute had established teacher
training on Froebel’s lines. It was women who received the training, pioneered services and campaigned for ‘progressive’ educational methods.
Friedrich Froebel (1782–1852) aimed to enable children to explore
their environment; play was a means to intellectual, social, emotional and
physical development. He proposed sets of activities to help them do this;
they included ‘gifts’ (solid shapes, such as cubes) and ‘occupations’ (tools
such as clay, string, beads that children could manipulate). However, over
time his ideas had been reinterpreted (or loosened) to provide a régime
based on play, nature study and the organisation of the day around housekeeping. A number of women worked to implement this revised version in
elementary schools.59 One reason for the appeal of Froebel was probably
that his emphasis on children learning from observation and interaction
with the natural world allowed for the promotion of belief in a benevolent
God. For instance, the daily activities of one ‘free’ kindergarten established in the slums of Edinburgh’s old town by Eileen Hardy, were organised on this principle. Children started the day by cleaning and tending the
premises; then they sang the good morning song, welcoming everyone.
Then followed prayers:
Our prayers are of necessity of the very simplest. Their aim is to develop
reverence and to spiritualise everyday life. The little interests and experiences of each day are given their significance as expressions of divine
­immanence, and the children early see that religion is related to all life and
all life to religion.60
Developing and tending the kindergarten’s garden and its small animals was a central daily activity. And singing and physical exercises were
also important. Eileen Hardy’s is a very affecting account of how women
sought to civilise children: to teach them good housewifery, duty, delight
in natural growth in the garden—all tending to reverence for the God
who made this world. Central to the work was enlisting the mothers,
both to help and to learn; Miss Hardy ran groups for the mothers, and
included them in trips to the seaside and countryside. She says she was
rewarded by their willingness to co-operate and by their appreciation of
their children’s development. This enterprise was, in line with McMillan’s
vision, an attempt to create a new generation of adults, healthy and
capable, who would encourage their own parents to demand a fairer
It seems that the appeal of Froebel was felt even in government, for by
1892 the Board of Education had adopted the idea, in principle, that
activities for the youngest children in elementary schools should be on
Froebelian lines.61 By 1912, there were perhaps 12 ‘free kindergartens’ in
Britain (that is, privately funded).62 At least two of these were in deprived
areas of London: Notting Hill and St Pancras. In addition, most of the
Girls’ Public Day School Trust schools (there were 37 by 1905) provided
a kindergarten for their youngest children—of a higher social class than
those attending the free kindergartens.63
In line with current thinking, the education or schooling of the youngest children, as well as that of girls, fell to women—some of whom had
received Froebel training. As Katherine Bathurst notes, she wanted to
enlist the natural motherliness of women, in the interests of providing
more appropriately for young children:
My object is a very simple one. I am anxious to interest women in these little
children. Only women can deal satisfactorily with the present difficulties,
and most of the evils I describe are produced by the absence of the quality
known as ‘motherliness’.64
This argument, the maternalism thesis, could be interpreted as limiting
women’s activities in the world of education to the youngest children, but
on the other hand it enabled them to speak with authority; and possibly
they might be listened to by men, who lacked their natural motherliness.
Further, in the early days of the education service, the training some
women had received at the Froebel Institute gave them a theoretical or
academic edge over many male teachers, who might have had little training beyond that provided through the pupil-teacher route, which lacked
theoretical rigour.
Katherine Bathurst was one of five women school inspectors who gave
evidence to an Education Enquiry Committee in 1905 on the unsuitable
conditions prevailing in elementary schools as regarded under-fives, and
the need for nursery provision more suitable to their ways of learning. The
response of the Board of Education to the ensuing report was to allow
LEAs to refuse admission to under-fives or to provide for them—as they
chose. Inevitably and through succeeding years, most chose the former.
The proportion of under-fives attending state schools fell from 43 per cent
in 1900 to 13 per cent in 1926.65
A further development promoting children’s own activity in learning
was advanced through the dissemination of Maria Montessori’s work.
The method she advocated was characterised by free choice for the child
as a self-activated learner in a prepared environment of programmed
materials.66 A first conference to promote her work in England was held
in July 1914 and was attended by 270 people, of whom 228 were
women.67 As with the Froebel movement, most of those who advocated
children’s own activity in learning were women, and the practitioners
were (probably) all women. But since the education system aimed to
turn out boys and girls respectively as workers and as mothers-in-waiting,
fit for the society as it was necessarily organised, the progressive movement faced resistance. In a way, Margaret McMillan’s thesis that the
nursery school promoted physical health was perhaps more of a (potential) winner, since she suggested the state could save money by providing
nursery care.
The nursery school if it is properly equipped and a real place of nurture is a
preventive agency and should in time entirely empty the minor ailment
clinic. For once inside the child comes under the influence of the great healers – earth, sun, air, sleep and joy – and it is admitted that these work continual wonders. The day will come we hope when disease and the need for
doctoring at clinic or hospital will be regarded as the shadow of failure by
mother and teacher alike.68
Her view was backed by the School Medical Officer for London, who
reported year after year on the poor state of elementary school children’s
health and, for 1927, described the school medical service as ‘a receiver of
damaged goods and spends most of its time in patching them up.’69 Whilst
he may have had a stake in emphasising the negative in order to drum up
support, his reports are valuable pointers to the state of play.
The problems hindering educational change on progressive lines were
indeed huge. Not only was there a curriculum dominated by annual
inspections, which emphasised children’s learning of ‘facts’. But state policy allowed class sizes of 60, which made any progressive suggestions
almost impracticable. The memoirs referred to in this study regularly
quote such figures, and in some schools, more than one class group (standard) took place in the same room. So opportunities for reforming children’s days were limited.70 However, progressive ideas were promoted and
in a few cases implemented; Attention to the nature and abilities of childhood as a starting point for education policy and practice was established
as a key principle; and the movement was to have further encouragement
after the Great War, through the New Education Fellowship and through
teacher training (as briefly discussed in Chapter Six).
Socialist Sunday Schools
Later in this book I discuss the importance of Christian Sunday schools in
the lives of children (Chapter Four). The evidence is that most children
attended them in the early 1900s. Here it is relevant to note yet another
arena where women were important in pushing for change, in this case,
for socialism in practice. The Socialist Sunday School (SSS) movement was
an offshoot of the Labour Church movement, started in Manchester in
1891, which offered a discussion forum for young workers.71 The SSS
aimed to convert children to socialism, and to engage them as activists in
the movement. The movement was active in Glasgow and Edinburgh, in
Lancashire and Yorkshire; also in London, where Mrs Mary Gray founded
the first group, in Battersea, with membership of 90 children by 1903.72
By 1901 the movement had its own journal: The Young Socialist. Margaret
McMillan contributed pieces to it (1903–1912) including both essays and
fiction for children. She saw the SSS movement as in the vanguard of educational practice, since the relation between teacher and taught was more
equal than in elementary schools, and emphasised children’s own contributions, through discussion, songs and art work.73 Some teachers in elementary schools were also drawn to the SSS movement, since they were
frustrated by the régime of top-down teaching required of them in the
state schools. It has been argued that the movement, though small in
comparison to Christian Sunday schools, is important in demonstrating
that socialists thought children deserved better understanding of how
society works than the state education system gave them.74 The SSS proposed that children should be seen as in the vanguard of the socialist
Children have hitherto little attention paid to them, they have been made
little of … They now ask to be regarded as a definite part of the movement
and to receive a definite standing in it…76
As participants in the SSS movement, children took part in political rallies and marches. Thus at the 1905 May Day rally in Hyde Park, SSS children arrived in 12 brakes and there was a special platform for them. (A
brake might hold 24 children.) In a 1912 demonstration there were 40
brakes bringing children and Margaret McMillan was among the speakers.77 This work to involve children in the socialist movement was continued by Sylvia Pankhurst.78 She founded a young socialist and suffrage
group in the East End and organised festivals and marches with children
(see Chapter Five).
A comment on this socialist education venture is provided in the memoir by Grace Foakes, whose childhood was lived in Wapping, East London.
She writes that she was at home one day (her parents were out) when
some well-to-do people knocked at the door and asked to take her younger
sister for a short holiday. The younger sister refused, but Grace accepted.
She was taken to a smart house in Willesden (north-west London); it had
a bathroom (!) and she was given a bed with clean white sheets and pillow-­
cases, two warm blankets and an eiderdown—unheard of luxury. On
Sunday she was taken to a hall for what she assumed was Sunday school.
It was, but when she offered to sing, and sang ‘Gentle Jesus meek and
mild’, she was pulled off the platform and told she must not sing such
songs. It was ‘a Communist Sunday School, where religion was not taught,
and for the short while I stayed at the house I was not allowed to go
again.’79 The story raises several issues—not least about whether these
wealthy people really did behave in this high-handed way; but also about
their motives; and about what the impacts were on Grace and her parents—she does not say.
Thinking About Children and Childhood
These four examples point to changes in ideas about and approaches to
children and childhood, spearheaded in many cases by women. Firstly, the
move towards insurance for mothers and babies showed that the family
was not to be thought of as solely responsible for their health. Mothers
and babies were to come under the protection of a national scheme. The
health of young children was a matter for state consideration. Secondly, a
profound change was taking place in conceptualisations of childhood
itself. Children developed physically along clearly identifiable routes and
young children learned in ways specific to them. These journeys transcended social class and allowed for consideration of children as a constituency within society, different from adults; so health and education services
were obliged to respond to the specific character of childhood. These
ideas helped to reposition working class children in the mainstream, as
members of society, alongside their wealthier neighbours. And thirdly,
some of the moves being made to engage with children in social and political education indicate, again, a move towards recognising children as
thinking, active participants in the task of improving society. We shall
come to other examples of this trend, along the way.
Gender and Generation: Utopias
Clearly, women were important in promoting the progressive education
movement, for it fell to them to care for the youngest children. The movement was revolutionary, in that it threw emphasis on the child’s activity as
central to learning and so presented a direct challenge to the assumptions
embedded in the elementary school régime. Theoretically, relations
between teacher and child were up for radical change. No longer dominant, as purveyor of facts to passive children, the teacher now had to
respect and respond to the child’s learning, his investigations and his questions. An important example of how theory could be put into action is
provided by Mrs Beatrice Ensor, who became an inspector of schools in
Glamorgan and gained wide-ranging knowledge of educational problems.
She was a theosophist, and influenced by Edmond Holmes. The keynote
of the Theosophical Fraternity in Education (TFE) was its faith in human
nature and in the spiritual powers latent in every child. Her work was
instrumental in establishing St Christopher’s School, Letchworth, which
had a Montessori nursery and encouraged self-government among the
children. Its work continues today. She promoted the annual meetings of
the TFE society and these formed part of the movement leading on to the
establishment of the New Education Fellowship (NEF), influential in disseminating progressive educational ideas in the 1920s and 1930s. Indeed,
she was the founding editor of The New Era (the NEF journal) and in its
first edition in 1920 she wrote praising Montessori. However, her deputy
editor, A. S. Neill, writing in The New Era in 1921, argued that Montessori
was in the business of moulding the children, rather than freeing them to
experience. He had visited the Homer Lane Commonwealth and was
influenced by its democratic ethos.80 Neill later started the ‘progressive’
school, Summerhill, in Suffolk.81
The movement aimed at implementing new ideas about how education
takes place was one important factor underpinning ideas within utopias of
this period. More generally, it seemed to many that society had come to a
turning point: there had to be better ways of living for the population.
The idea of each household doing its own cleaning, cooking, laundry and
childcare seemed to some thinkers not only to force each woman, as
housewife, into ceaseless toil, but to be inefficient. One set of ideas concerned various kinds of collective living. Here, visionary thinkers were taking up ideas that had been formulated in the early nineteenth century by
Robert Owen and his followers. The basic tenets were equality of women
and men, and collective, communal living as the means of ending women’s drudgery. Communal child-rearing also served both to fend off the
evil effects of the nuclear family on children’s development and to reduce
women’s work.82 However, in practice, gendered divisions of labour
ensured that it was women who did both childcare and household tasks.
In the later nineteenth century, several blocks of service flats were built
in London, which provided homes for single working women, with communal dining rooms.83 Another scheme tackled the problem faced by
women’s responsibilities for housework, cooking and childcare; housing
schemes could be built which centralised these, trained staff (women, of
course) would do the work across households and thus free up ‘housewives’
to do other kinds of productive work. A number of these were built: there
were blocks of serviced flats, for instance, in the new town of Letchworth,
designed by Ebenezer Howard.84
However, many of such ideas, plans and actualities, as far as children
were concerned, were simply about shifting the burden of childcare from
mothers onto nurseries. More fundamental work—a programme of
research studies—was carried out by the Fabian Women’s Group in the
years 1908–14 on the history and present of women’s social and economic
position.85 Some of the writings suggest that societal arrangements could
make for better childhoods, as indeed the Owenites had argued. Thus,
Clementina Black argued that for women with ‘character’ and ‘aspiration’
the home was ‘prison-like and intolerable and her children reflect her in
their arrested development’. If she goes out to work she will be ‘more of
an individual and therefore a better mother’.86 Black goes on to argue
It is by no means always true that a mother is the person best qualified to
take care of her infant. It may even conceivably be true that babies would be
better off in the charge of an expert and that infant citizens may come to be
tended, as boy and girl citizens are taught, in communities by trained
This argument echoes similar claims made by Owen in 1836.88 It also
suggests a vision of children as having interests outside the family—as citizens; and as learning to be citizens alongside their peers. It is a point
developed further by Gilman (see below, page 45). Such ideas showed a
middle-class reliance on the continued labour of working-class women—
who, however, would be trained for the work and properly paid.89 It is
notable that these educated women did not envisage a society that transcended the class structure, poorer women would still be servicing the
Even more fundamental were the utopias which emerged during this
period. James Redmond argues that two huge movements provided rationale for these utopias: the French Revolution had raised understandings of
possibilities for workers’ control of production; but the industrial revolution had put the power into the hands of capitalists. What had to be overturned was free enterprise as the only mantra.90 Redmond does not take
account of the women’s movement, some versions of which also challenged societal arrangements based on capitalism.
Utopias: William Morris and H. G. Wells
I note here two example of utopias by men and by contrast a more fully
worked through utopia by a woman—Gilman. Thus in 1890, William
Morris (1834–1896) wrote his News from Nowhere, first published in
instalments in The Commonweal and then as a book. Here the narrator
finds himself in London, in the 22nd century, where social, economic
and political arrangements have been radically altered since the 1950s.
He journeys across London, accompanied by a guide who explains how
this new society works. Communist societies have been established across
Europe, international peace reigns, money is an outdated concept and
men and women carry out the necessary work with light hearts and in a
spirit of harmony and good will; each does what he or she most enjoys.
(Women enjoy being mothers and housewives!) Instead of sweated
labour in capitalist industries, we have factories which make beautiful
objects and are centres for education—notably learning crafts. The slums
have gone; each household has a house with a productive garden (roughly
the same population—30 million—is spread out more evenly, in villages
across the country). Morris has taken on board progressive ideas about
how children learn and, as the narrator learns, the notion of ‘school’ has
been abandoned and the concept is not recognised. Children live freely
in the countryside, learning by doing, and learning alongside other children to be collaborative citizens. Book learning is not encouraged in
Morris is not presenting a fully worked through argument about how
and why such a society could come about. Rather he is concerned to point
to the evils produced by the English industrial revolution and to describe
a quality of living that could be worked towards: where people live in ‘a
warm fellowship of mind and habit’.92
H. G. Wells (1866–1946) also included in his huge output A Modern
Utopia (1907). In chapter 1 he lays out his main socialist point: that utopias are about emancipating men from traditions, legal bonds and possessions. His book is mainly a discussion of utopian proposals; for instance,
how to deal with the problem that someone has to do the work that a
society requires. He places emphasis on how science will organise the tasks
of society and thus servant, labouring classes will be abolished.93 On
women, he argues that their ‘economic inferiority’ has to be dealt with and
he suggests wages for motherhood;94 these would lead women into
‘a career of wholesome motherhood’.95 He takes up other ideas then
current: on common cooking arrangements, nursery schools and gardens
for children. However, Wells (like Morris) does not address the fundamental arguments of many in the women’s movement: their desire to
overturn the structures that oppress women and to seek economic independence. And, unsurprisingly, he does not rethink childhood.
Utopias: Charlotte Perkins Gilman (and Holmes and Forster)
For more radical thinking we have to turn to Charlotte Perkins Gilman, an
American sociologist (1860–1935). Her work was well known in England,
as part of the cross-Atlantic networks developed among women in the
movement for equality. She came to England at least twice, and carried
out lecture tours.96 Gilman made her name with the monumental tome
Women and Economics, published in 1898. She argues that human societies are unique (as compared to other animal societies), since:
the sex-relation is also an economic relation. With us an entire sex lives in a
relation of economic dependence upon the other sex, and the economic
relation is combined with the sex-relation.97
Working within an evolutionary framework, she accepts the then common idea that Western societies constituted an advanced type of civilisation, and it was all the more necessary now to alter women’s relation to
the economic structures of society, so that they might participate, using
their womanly insights, in movements to ensure the continued development of civilised society. For at present:
The economic status of the human race in any nation, at any time, is governed by the activities of the male: the female obtains her share in the racial
advance only through him.98
Gilman puts children at the centre of her thinking. She argues that children cared for solely at home with their mother get an inflated idea of their
own importance and a distorted evaluation of child–adult relations. They
should spend their days with other children, where they will learn fairness,
comradeship and justice.99 She goes on to say (as Clementina Black, too,
argued) that a mother, or any woman, is not necessarily good at educating
children; instead children from babyhood should be cared for and educated
by women who show special talents for this and are trained to do it.100
This carefully worked-through set of arguments later formed the basis
for Gilman’s utopia. Her novel Herland (1915) is a confident and amusing account of a land where only women and girl children live. In this
society a child is born when a woman feels an intense desire to bear a child;
and the community of women decide how many people their land and its
people can support. Three male visitors to the land are forced to r­ econsider
their preconceptions about women. For these are wise, capable, active
women who live and work in a planned co-operative economy, each contributing through their work to social health. Theirs is a vision where the
quality of childhoods is central to the continued well-being of the society;
and after the first months of breast-feeding, the children spend their days
with each other in joyous communal activity and free exploration, under
the guidance of women with special aptitudes for the work, supplemented
by training. Gilman’s vision constitutes a rethinking of the maternalism
thesis, which argued for women’s strength as mothers; but it is also revolutionary, because she rethinks the social status of childhood, as occupying
theoretical (and physical) spaces of its own. As she says: ‘The earlier and
more easily a child can learn that human life means many people and their
behaviour to one another, the happier and stronger and more useful his
life will be.’101 The central aim of the society is to produce successive generations of people who will advance civilisation.
Gilman’s thesis on children met with mixed responses among feminist
activists. Among the northern women whom she would have met on her
lecture tours, Selina Cooper supported the movement led by Eleanor
Rathbone to give mothers ‘family allowances’ to help them rear healthy
children.102 But Ada Nield Chew supported Gilman, on the grounds that
feminist socialism demanded communal childcare:
More than all should women discourage the fostering of the ideal of the
domestic tabby-cat-woman as that to which all womanhood should aspire
… The children must be cared for and women must care for them. But not
by paying poor women to be mothers. Women must be financially independent of men. But not by paying poor women to be wives. Marriage and
motherhood should not be for sale. They should be dissociated from what
is for sale – domestic drudgery.103
However, a distinctive feature of Gilman’s utopia is that education is
central to the advancement of a good society. The new generation, communally reared, will be devoted as adults to the common good.104 In this
theoretical approach her work differs from, for instance, that of Morris
and Wells, whose analysis is less fundamental, for they do not indicate why
and how human consciousness could alter so that people would support
the socialist societies proposed. Hers is indeed maternalism with a (benevolent) vengeance. Men have spectacularly shown unwillingness or inability
to construct and conduct societies in which all social groups flourish. Now
they will be shown (in the persons of the three male visitors, who exhibit
and are forced to reconsider their varying attributes of misogyny) how it
can be done.
On this topic, an interesting (though more limited) proposal is made by
Edmund Holmes, whose What Is and What Might Be came out in 1912,
when he retired from his post as Chief Inspector of Schools. He provides
a tirade, based on his experience of elementary schools, against the teaching of facts, the testing of facts and the activity of teachers contrasted with
the passivity of the children. He writes that he has, by contrast, visited a
school in a village called Utopia, where children follow the path of
The Utopian child is alive, alert, active, full of latent energy, ready to act, to
do things, to turn his mind to things, to turn his hand to things, to turn his
desire to things, to turn his whole being to things. There is no trace in this
school of the mental lethargy which, in spite of the ceaseless activity of the
teachers, pervades the atmosphere of so many elementary schools; no trace
of the fatal inertness on the part of the child, which is the outcome of five or
six years of systematic repression and compulsory inaction.105
Thus Holmes places his faith in the progressive movement in education, which puts emphasis on the child’s activity in learning. He recounts
his visit to the school on a day when the teacher was unable to be there.
The children simply continued with their projects, working alone or in
groups; they had taken education into their own hands—and minds.
Utopias can be seen as sociological enterprises. They set what might be
against what is.106 It was through her careful deconstruction of what is, in
her earlier work, that Gilman was able to present her vision of a good
society in Herland. We need these visions to help us work, however partially, towards better societies, for, as Oscar Wilde said: ‘No map of the
world is worthwhile which does not include utopias.’107
Perhaps there is also a useful place for dystopias, warning of us of dangers ahead. E. M. Forster’s The Machine Stops (1909) gives us a society
where human physical and emotional contact has been almost eliminated.
Each person lives alone, underground, in a room to which all services
(food, light) are brought through the workings of a vast machine. Contact
with other people is via what reads eerily like Skype. But the system grinds
to a halt, the machine collapses, light and air deteriorate and the people
emerge slowly but die in the ensuing chaos.108 This is an early exposition
of Forster’s message: ‘only connect’.
Children of the State?
A theme in much writing during and since the early years of the twentieth
century is that children were being reconceptualised as children of the
state. The future of society lay in the hands of the next generation. It was
the duty of the state to ensure a healthy population. Girls had a particular
responsibility as future mothers of yet another generation. Some of these
points relate to a general view that Western societies were at a high point
of civilisation, as propounded by the sociologist Herbert Spencer. The
further advancement of civilisation depended on the character and health
of the next generation. Some of it related more specifically to the existence
of the British Empire, seen as a virtuous enterprise, bringing enlightenment to dark places.
There is no difficulty in locating contemporary statements linking children and the state. John Gorst’s book Children of the Nation (1906)
argued that serious deterioration in the social conditions of children
should make us realise that children’s health and training were central to
the national interest.109 Margaret McMillan in her book The Child and the
State (1907) drew on examples from Europe to argue for a free education
service for all, from nursery through university. She detailed the Danish
policy (spearheaded by Grundtvik) of encouraging young workers to
return to education in community colleges. The Fabian Women’s Group
(Pember Reeves 1988) argued on the basis of their study of infant mortality, that it was a state duty to ensure the healthy lives of the children (see
the opening section of Chapter Three). However, all these commentators
thought the state had some way to go.
Modern historians have argued that there was a change in the status
and characterisation of childhood. Anna Davin (1996), for instance, in her
analysis of children growing up in poverty (focusing mainly on the late
nineteenth century), argues that a central effect of the education acts was
to define children as dependants, since they lost (much of) their ability to
contribute to their family’s economic welfare. In her chapter 11 she makes
a strong case for the argument that children were being redefined as children of the state, notably in relation to the British Empire. Hugh
Cunningham (1991) devotes a chapter of his history of ideas about
English children to a discussion of the child and the state. In particular he
focuses on the debates between those standing for parental responsibility
and those who found it inevitable that the state would have to intervene.
Similarly, Harry Hendrick, in Section 2 of his book, Child Welfare (2003),
argues that the early twentieth century saw these debates as the arena in
which new understandings of childhood emerged. The study of childhood
interrelated with preoccupations with national prosperity. In his discussion
of the 1908 Children Act, he quotes perhaps the most succinct statement
of all on this, which is worth quoting again.
all children are the natural care of the State, and … where parental responsibility is not understood and not acted upon, we must for the very sake of
the preservation of the State, step in … we are bound at all costs to see that
the children grow up in such a fashion that they may become useful, serviceable and profitable citizens of this great Empire.110
Points such as these were made by commentators at the time, although
their political allegiances may have varied.
It is one of the purposes of this book to reconsider these propositions,
in the light of women’s work for children and on the basis of how these
propositions relate to children’s experienced lives, as told in the memoirs.
Though for many reasons, it is hard to recover those experiences (see discussion in the Introduction), yet the effort to do so, in my view, uncovers
a rather different set of points. The experiences of family life and labour,
the experiences of elementary school described in the next two chapters,
suggest to me that children saw the centre of their lives within family relations and within socio-economic relations in the neighbourhood. In other
words, they were children of families (rather than of the state). Their hard
lives continued much as they would have done in 1869, with their duties
to do hard domestic labour and paid jobs where possible. The difference
was that now they fitted these in alongside the new component demanded
by the state: attendance at the elementary school. And for the vast majority of children, schooling ended at 13 or 14, for they left as soon as they
could, to embark, as children, on full-time paid work. If, then, we take a
materialist stance on this, it is clear not only that children learned a
consciousness of these boundaries, these conditions of their lives, but that,
looking back, we can suggest that their social status was tied into the local,
rather than into the larger concerns of the state.
What these sources of information tell us is that we have to be very
careful about how we consider the rhetoric about children and childhood
used at the time and about what the pioneers did with the aim of improving people’s lives. As various authors point out, most people’s lives were
not affected by the hard work of women working to help people in the
slums.111 Many of my informants would have been surprised to learn that
they were thought of by wealthy people as children of the state. However,
at the level of rhetoric, it may be that ideas about children’s relation to the
education system changed over time, and the war years provided scope for
onlookers to reconsider whether children should be thought of as schoolchildren or as workers and citizens in the making. I return to this topic in
Chapter Six.
The next two chapters provide my attempt to recover the material
experiences of childhood, as recounted in the memoirs. The work of
women towards better childhoods is a running theme. I argue that children’s preoccupations with the demands of home and with its family relationships, its crises, joys and disasters form a framework for considering
what school meant to them. The fact that people recalling the past tell so
much more about home and neighbourhood than about school is striking.
So too is the emphasis on the learning and education that takes place outside school.
1. McMillan, The Child and the State, 1911.
2. Steedman 1990, p. 93.
3. Rowbotham 2011, chapter 10, describes an early New Statesman special
issue in 1913, which they entitled ‘The Awakening of Women’. It included
a paper by Beatrice Webb who argued that the women’s movement was
much wider than just the struggle for the vote; it encompassed battles to
end other relations of subordination.
4. See Taylor 1983 for discussion of early nineteenth century feminist movements. See also Ray Strachey’s history of the women’s movement.
5. Maggie Tulliver’s childhood battles against conformity to feminine models
is explored in The Mill on the Floss (1860). Dorothea, Mary and Rosamond
present three contrasting ways of coping with being female in Middlemarch.
(1871–1872). See also Anne Brontë ’s Agnes Grey (1847) on the hard life
of the governess.
6. For discussion of these two pioneers see Koven’s paper (1993b) on women
working in the ‘borderlines’ between the private and the public.
7. Jane Martin explores the work of four late Victorian/early Edwardian
women in voluntary work, settlements and other women’s organisations.
In Koven’s terms they were working in the ‘borderlines’; and redefining
what we mean by political action.
8. For a detailed account of the work towards founding Newnham College,
Cambridge, see Sutherland 2006.
9. Adie, p. 114.
10. Crawford 2002.
11. Rowbotham 2011, pp. 188–192; Alexander 1995.
12. Rowbotham 2011, pp. 173–176. Clementina Black was a member of the
Fabian Women’s Group and carried out research studies on women’s
working conditions.
13. See Clementina Black’s Introduction to Married Women’s Work (1983,
first published 1915). The empirical studies across England were carried
out between 1908 and 1912 (Mappen 1983).
14. Ibid., p. 214. This challenge is also discussed by Hannam and Hunt.
15. Liddington and Norris, chapter 2.
16. For photographs of a caravan used to take the feminist message to Yorkshire
towns and villages, see Liddington 2006, pp. 206–210. Hannah Mitchell
describes some of these journeys, notably in her chapter 10.
17. Alexander 1995, p. 72.
18. Liddington and Norris, pp. 21 and 289.
19. Liddington and Norris, chapter 7. For a full exploratory study of the intellectual life of British working class people, see Rose 2002.
20. Connelly, pp. 22–23. See also Winslow, chapter 1.
21. The girls are pictured awaiting the result. See Liddington 2006, p. 156.
22. Liddington 2006, chapter 5, which includes a transcript from the court
hearing in respect of Dora Thewlis. For the prevalent middle-class insistence that girls be chaperoned, see exhaustive and furious discussions in
Vera Brittain’s autobiography, notably chapter 2.
23. For discussion, see, for example, Lewis 1986a, 1986b; Hendrick 2003,
pp. 19–23.
24. Hollis 1994.
25. Hurt 1979, chapter 5.
26. Morrow 1992.
27. Jackson and Taylor, chapter 2; de la Mare 2008; Dyhouse 1989, p. 82.
28. Vicinus 1994.
29. Vicinus, chapter 6.
30. Steedman 1990, notably chapter 10.
31. Steedman 1990, p. 189.
32. For instance among the many feminist books of the 1970s and onwards,
Segal’s book (1990) exemplifies what it was taking to change men and
33. Steedman 1990, p. 52.
34. Steedman 1990, p. 53.
35. Steedman 1990, p. 84.
36. Steedman 1990, p. 84.
37. Koven 1993, Introduction.
38. Jackson and Taylor, p. 29.
39. Kean 1990a, p. 5, explains that under the 1902 Education Act, women
could no longer be elected to education authorities on the basis of their
expertise in education, but only as women.
40. For detailed discussion of issues raised children’s work and the part played
by women, see Cunningham 1991, pp. 176–184.
41. Hollis, p. 443.
42. Dallas, Introduction to Maternity, edited by Margaret Llewelyn Davies.
43. Davies ed. 1984, p. 49. The Hearts of Oak was a friendly society, founded
in 1842, providing insurance cover against distress caused by sickness.
44. Margaret Llewelyn Davies, letter to The Times, 24 June 1911, quoted in
Gaffin and Thoms 1983, p. 69.
45. Margaret Bondfield later became the first woman cabinet minister (Minister
of Labour) in the Labour government of 1929, under Ramsay MacDonald
(Thorne 2008, p. 71).
46. Gaffin and Thoms 1983, pp. 68–73.
47. Gaffin and Thoms 1983, pp. 69–70.
48. Hollis, p. 441.
49. Hollis, p. 441. Hollis notes that her source for this information is not
50. McMillan Labour and Childhood 1907, p. 81.
51. Steedman 1990, p. 193.
52. Hollis, p. 440.
53. Harris B 1995, p. 70.
54. Harris B 1995, p. 63.
55. Hurt 1979, p. 129.
56. Steedman 1990, p. 110.
57. Liebschner 1991, p. 21.
58. Bathurst, in Van der Eyken 1973, pp. 119–126.
59. Brehony 2000; see also Steedman 1988 for discussion of Froebel and
women’s work in kindergartens.
60. Hardy 1917, p. 116.
61. Koven 1990, p. 83.
62. Hardy 1917, p. 173.
63. Woodham-Smith, p. 51.
64. Bathurst in Van der Eyken 1973, p. 119.
65. Education Enquiry Committee 1929, pp. 9–11.
66. Cunningham, P. 2002. The Montessori Society was founded in 1912.
67. First Montessori conference in England (Sussex) 25–28 July 1914.
68. Quoted in Lowndes 1960, p. 43.
69. Education Enquiry Committee 1929, p. 11.
70. It remains the case that UK governments are unwilling to fund nurseries
for preschool children.
71. Liddington and Norris, p. 117. See also Reynolds, K., pp. 49–55.
72. For a history of the SSS movement see Reid 1966, who states that yet
another woman had started the SSS movement in Glasgow in 1896:
Caroline Martyn.
73. Steedman 1990, pp. 174–176.
74. Kean 1990a, chapter 3.
75. Kean 1990a, p. 62.
76. Kean 1990a, p. 62. She quotes from a paper in the Yong Socialist, April
77. The Young Socialist, June 1912, quoted by Kean 1990a, note 67 on page
73. A brake is an open wagon with bench seats down the two sides, facing
each other, possibly seating up to 24 people and pulled by two or three
horses (according to Jasper, p. 67; he spent a day working on one).
78. See Chapter Five, p. 129.
79. Foakes, p. 81.
80. See Bazeley.
81. The information given in this paragraph is taken from W. A. C. Stewart
1968, pp. 55–59.
82. Taylor 1983, pp. 48–56.
83. Crawford 2002, chapter 4.
84. For discussion, see Dyhouse 1989, chapter 3; and Rowbotham 2011,
chapter 6.
85. Dyhouse 1989, chapter 3.
86. Black, C., pp. 4–6.
87. Black, C., p. 6.
88. Taylor, B., p. 51.
89. Dyhouse 1989, p. 131.
90. Redmond 1970, Introduction to News from Nowhere, Sect. 4. See also
Rowbotham 2011, p. 233.
91. However, as Cole notes, Morris did not have a fully worked-out set of
ideas for his utopia. In another paper, The factory as it is and as it might be,
he envisages children at school in the factory premises (doing ‘book learning’) and gradually being introduced to craft work in the factory.
92. Cole, Introduction, pp. xvii–xviii.
93. Wells 1917, chapter 3.
94. Wells 1917, pp. 182–187.
95. Wells 1917, p. 187.
96. Rowbotham 2011 considers throughout her book the contacts between
US and UK feminists in their battles for equality. See also Degler 1966 for
an account of Gilman’s life and work.
97. Gilman 1966, p. 5. First published 1898.
98. Gilman 1966, p. 9.
99. Gilman 1966, p. 277.
100. Gilman 1966, p. 283. These arguments are also set out in her book
Concerning Children, 1901.
101. Gilman Women and Economics, 1966, p. 281.
102. Liddington and Norris, p. 260.
103. Quoted in Liddington and Norris, p. 261. First published in the journal
Common Cause, February 1914.
104. For discussion of this point see Ann Lane 1989.
105. Holmes 1912, p. 155.
106. Levitas.
107. Jebb 1929, p. 27. This note on Oscar Wilde was added by her sister
Dorothy Buxton, who edited Jebb’s book after her death in 1928.
108. Forster’s story is undated in the 1928 collection of his stories, but he says
in his Preface that they were written before 1914.
109. John Gorst was President of the Board of Education from 1895–1902.
110. Hendrick 2003, p. 86.
111. Vicinus 1994, pp. 231–232.
Alexander, S. (1995). ‘Bringing women into line with men’: The Women’s Trade
Union League 1874–1921. In S. Alexander (Ed.), Becoming a woman.
New York: New York University Press.
Black, C. (Ed.). (1983). Married women’s work. London: Virago. First published
Brehony, K. J. (2000). English revisionist Froebelians and the schooling of the
urban poor. In M. Hilton & P. Hirsch (Eds.), Practical visionaries: Women,
education and social progress 1790–1930. Harlow: Longman.
Crawford, E. (2002). Enterprising women: The Garretts and their circle. London:
Francis Boutle Publishers.
Cunningham, H. (1991). The children of the poor: Representations of childhood since
the seventeenth century. Oxford: Blackwell.
Cunningham, P. (2002). Primary education. In R. Aldrich (Ed.), A century of
education. London: Routledge.
Davies, M. L. (1984). Life as we have known it: By co-operative working women.
London: Virago. First published 1931.
Davin, A. (1996). Growing up poor: Home, school and street in London 1870–1914.
London: Rivers Oram Press.
Degler, C. N. (1966). Introduction. In C. P. Gilman (Ed.), Women and economics:
A study of the economic relation between men and women as a factor in social
evolution. New York: Harper Row.
Dyhouse, C. (1989). Feminism and the family in England 1880–1939. Oxford:
Education Enquiry Committee. (1929). The case for nursery schools. London:
George Philip and Sons, Ltd.
Forster, E. M. (1928). The machine stops. In E. M. Forster (Ed.), The eternal
moment and other stories. London: Sidgwick and Jackson. (In his Preface to this
edition, Forster says the stories were written before 1914.)
Gaffin, J., & Thoms, D. (1983). Caring and sharing: The centenary history of the
Women’s Co-operative Guild. Manchester: Co-operative Union Ltd.
Gilman, C. P. (1901). Concerning children. London: G. P. Putnams.
Gilman, C. P. (1966). Women and economics: A study of the economic relation
between men and women as a factor in social evolution. New York: Harper Row.
First published 1898.
Gorst, J. (1906). The children of the nation. London: Methuen.
Hardy, L. (1917). Diary of a free kindergarten. London: Gay and Hancock Ltd.
Harris, B. (1995). The health of the schoolchild: A history of the school medical service
in England and Wales. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Hendrick, H. (2003). Child welfare: Historical dimensions, contemporary debate.
Bristol: Policy Press.
Hollis, P. (1994). Ladies elect: Women in English local government 1965–1914.
Oxford: Clarendon.
Holmes, E. (1912). What is and what might be. London: Constable and Co. Ltd.
Hurt, J. S. (1979). Elementary schooling and the working classes 1860–1918.
London: Routledge.
Jebb, E. (1929). Save the child. London: Weardale Press.
Kean, H. (1990a). Challenging the state? The socialist and feminist educational
experience 1900–1930. Brighton: The Falmer Press.
Koven, S. (1993). Introduction. In S. Koven & S. Michel (Eds.), Mothers of a new
world: Maternalist politics and the origins of welfare states. London: Routledge.
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1860–1940. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
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Children of social worlds. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Liddington, J. (2006). Rebel girls: Their fight for the vote. London: Virago.
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National Froebel Society. Cambridge: Lutterworth Press.
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Museum Press.
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work. London: Virago.
de la Mare, U. (2008, Autumn). Necessity and rage: The factory women’s strikes
in Bermondsey 1911. History Workshop Journal, 66, 62–80.
McMillan, M. (1907). Labour and childhood. London: Swan Sonnenschein and
Co. Ltd.
McMillan, M. (1911). The child and the state. Manchester: The National Labour
Press Ltd.
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University of Cambridge.
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London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
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Review of Social History, 11(1), 18–47.
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University Press.
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century. London: Verso.
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school and society: A reader. London: Hodder and Stoughton.
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1860–1931. London: Virago.
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1881–1967. London: Macmillan.
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circle 1820–1960. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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The Economics of Childhood: Home
and Neighbourhood
Socialist Feminist Research: Maud Pember Reeves
In the early twentieth century, as concern grew about the high rates
of infant mortality and the poor health and physique of perhaps
30–40 per cent of the population, it was commonplace for male
observers to assign blame to the fecklessness and ignorance of mothers.1 Increasing efforts were made, through charitable services and
through the development of infant welfare services, such as clinics
and health visiting, to educate mothers.
In response, members of the Fabian Women’s Group, founded
1908, mounted a research project to investigate the causes of infant
mortality.2 Members of the group studied, over ‘many months’3 the
daily lives and weekly spending of women in an area of Lambeth
where husbands earned ‘round about a pound a week’. They
reported on their findings in Round About a Pound a Week, first
published in 1913. They found that, without a doubt, it was not
possible to feed a family well on this amount. Indeed, in a telling
comparison, they noted that the diet considered appropriate for the
poorest children of all, those in workhouses, was far beyond these
families; it included milk, meat, vegetables and fruit every day.4 They
also noted that the domestic science training of girls in LCC schools
assumed that a family had either £3, 35s. or 28s. a week to spend; for
it would be false teaching to assume that women could house, clean,
© The Author(s) 2018
B. Mayall, Visionary Women and Visible Children, England 1900–1920,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-61207-2_3
warm, light, insure and feed a family of four or five persons on 20s.
a week in London.5 (And, as we shall see, many households were of
six or more persons).
Perhaps even more telling is that after paying the rent, the next
item in many budgets was funeral insurance. And this is because
women had to factor in the possible death of a child.6 In particular,
when a new baby was born, the next one up (‘the ex-baby’) became
at risk. No longer breast-fed, active and in danger of accident, they
led restricted lives, sometimes tied to chairs to keep them safe,
indoors in cramped, poorly ventilated housing, fed inadequate diets
and liable to infections. It was those children who partly accounted
for the high infant mortality rates. In the study as a whole, one-fifth
of the children studied, though healthy at birth, died in early
The Economics of Home Life in Cities
The Fabian Women’s Group research led by Maud Pember Reeves provides a key text for understanding the family lives of poor children in the
early twentieth century; many families could not survive without the
contributions of children’s work, paid or unpaid. In this chapter I aim to
delve into some English children’s understandings of their social lives.
That means considering what the memoirs say about family lives and
lives in the neighbourhood. One aim is to provide context for the following chapter, which will investigate what school meant to children.
There have of course been many studies, mainly from feminist standpoints, on the domestic lives of women, with some attention to children’s experiences and here I build on this work and try to add further
depth to it.8 One way of into tapping into children’s understandings of
their lives is to consider events, social relationships and pressures
described in the accounts we have and what they may have meant to the
children involved. I think it is useful to take account of Marx’s frequently
stated theory: How did their experienced lives determine their
It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but on the
contrary, their social being determines their consciousness. (Karl Marx)9
All the memoirs chosen for this book are written by people who attended
elementary school. The material we have is about people’s lives and
times—as children, some accounts being plain, unvarnished chronological
stories and others more deliberately and skilfully exploring topics and
themes. These memoirs include book-length accounts, spread out over
100 pages or more; and then there are the interviews, covering 20 or 30
pages, where people in old age describe and reflect on their childhood.
Children who attended elementary school varied in social class and economic circumstances. The poorest were the workhouse children, who are
described with pity and horror in many of the memoirs. Thomas Morgan,
whose parents were violent drunkards, was taken in early childhood to the
workhouse by his mother. Later, he became, he says, a ‘street arab’, scavenging, stealing, earning and playing on the streets. Whilst some families
were very poor indeed others were less so, and the children therein had
boots on their feet, enough—though plain—food, toys and even pocket
money. Thus when C. H. Rolph (known as Cecil at home) was born in
1901, his father had 28 shillings a week as a sergeant in the police force. If
the parents did not smoke or drink alcohol, he writes, it was possible to
manage.10 However, here I shall start with some of the poorest, for whom
the exigencies of managing echo Pember Reeves’ accounts. I am aiming to
give some indications and examples of how people wrote or talked about
their childhood. By describing and quoting their words, I try to assemble
what were the components of their past lives and what understandings
they ascribed to the children they once were. This means being alert to the
purposes and methods used in the accounts. From these, a number of topics emerge: making money and children’s part in this; children’s unpaid
work; child–parent relations, including children’s status and duties in the
family; amusements and pleasures. More broadly, we learn about the complexities of social class perceptions and ways of life, gendered learning,
welfare interventions in people’s lives and how these were perceived, and
similarities and differences between urban and rural lives.
Thus Jan Jasper (born about 1905) writes a straightforward, chronological account of his Hoxton childhood in a home where the mother kept
the family financially afloat, since her husband, a drunken, casual labourer,
gave her only six or seven shillings a week (sometimes), drank the rest and
upset the children by his drunken behaviour.11 Two older boys were away
in work and the army. Two older girls were in paid work, which helped
family finances, and Jan attended school; he was assigned childcare duties
for his youngest sister. Central to his account is how he helped out too,
with casual work, sometimes taking a day off school to do this. He gives
most detail about how he helped his mother with the making and selling
of clothes, for her life was very hard.
Sometimes she would be on the machine until midnight. It wasn’t much of
a life for us. The old man could see Mum had a few bob coming in and he
stopped giving her the six or seven shillings that he had done in the past.
There were rows every weekend. He still came home drunk on Saturday and
Sunday and life was really unbearable.’12
One job Jan did, on a Saturday, was to walk with a barrow he had made
to Islington, collect offcuts of dress material from an uncle and walk back
with them, a three-hour trip. ‘Many’s the time I got soaked to the skin.
But Mum did appreciate the help I was giving her.’13 As part of the same
enterprise, he found a spare patch of ground in Hoxton market and they
pitched a stall there. He hired a barrow and they laid boards across it to
make a surface:
Mum unpacked the clothes and we were away. By nine-thirty people were
beginning to flock into the market and we soon had some customers. The
frocks and pinafores went like wildfire. ‘Fifteen pence the frocks,’ Mum
would say, ‘and ninepence the pinafores.’ About midday we were half sold
out. I asked Mum if she would like some tea. “Ere y’are, son,’ she said and
took the money out of the takings. I got a jug of tea and some sandwiches
and we ate them ravenously. We’d had no breakfast owing to our having had
to start out early. Three o’clock came and we had sold out. Mum told me to
stay with the barrow while she went shopping and came back loaded. She
treated me to the pictures and gave me money to buy sweets. I had never
known such times.14
This excerpt points to the joyous feelings of achievement, through collaborative enterprise, experienced by Jan and his Mum. All those steps
taken (literally and figuratively), all that hard work, long nights on the
sewing machine, all those difficulties overcome led to pennies and shillings
flowing in, in such abundance that mother and son spent recklessly—
bought tea and sandwiches, sweets, a trip to the pictures—these were
uncommon treats in this family.
Presenting one’s childhood in relation to adulthood is a running theme
in many of the memoirs. Through Jan’s description of events, with some
brief snatches of conversation, we gain insight into the author’s intentions.
Jasper gives a plain account of relationships through describing action,
sited in the complex material realities of family life. We learn that he
thought he had a duty to help his mother, and that he felt rewarded when
his mother, with his help, had made some money and cheerfully handed
out some of the takings to be spent on treats.
The detail given in Jasper’s book makes it clear that this home did
indeed, as he says, rely on the mother to keep it going, a point made by
almost all the memoirs. The detail presented—giving the family’s story as
it unfolded over the years—also indicates that this was a roller-coaster
home, with frequent downs when money was extra tight; riotous ups
when older boys came home with money to spend (drunken parties, dancing and singing); furious rows between mother and father—mostly about
money; and anxiety and sleepless nights about ill babies. Above all, perhaps, this book tells us of a boy for whom the ever-dominating money
problems shaped people’s actions, including his. The material conditions
of his life demanded his participation in earning money whenever and
however possible. It is telling, in that context, that he barely mentions
school, certainly nothing about school as experience, beyond the fact that
he found it useful to go to the school’s boot-repair class after school hours;
and beyond his description of the kindly intention of a teacher who, hearing that Jan had no solid boots, gave him a spare pair recruited from
another boy (thus shaming Jan, as he felt it). It is also telling that his
friendship, via school, with a boy whose family were relatively well-to-do
and welcomed him to their home, gave him a vision of a more orderly and
much better resourced household, ‘firm supporters of Lloyd George’ and
strictly religious. But though he ‘had seen too much poverty and suffering
to have many religious thoughts’, this friendship offered him a model or
maybe an indication that life could be better; and, he says ‘had a lot to do
with his future’.15
Catherine Cookson, born in 1906 in Jarrow, became an experienced
and accomplished novelist. She describes her childhood life with grandparents and Kate, lived out in extreme poverty; and her navigation early on
of the realisation that ‘our Kate’ was not her elder sister but her mother
and that she herself was illegitimate. Central to the book is the relation of
Catherine to Kate, a difficult one, since Kate had a very hard life, working
all hours and ostracised by neighbours; and Kate drowned her sorrows in
beer—and whisky if she could afford it.
She worked for everybody and anybody. Besides nursing me grandma and
attending to fleeting lodgers she went out and did days washing or cleaning,
paper-hanging and painting, ceilings and staircases, she even replaced window sashes and whole window frames and for never more than three shillings a day.16
Her daughter too had many tasks, alongside school. Cleaning the
rooms they lived in was a weekly chore. From the age of about 8, it was
her job to take clothes ‘to the pawn’, a job she hated, since it exposed
their poverty. She took a morning off school for that. She had to take a
jug each evening and ‘go for the beer’. She collected the baskets of washing from neighbours and returned them, cleaned. She did the evening
shopping for food, and most days she gathered wood to heat the oven for
Catherine recounts how she learned to mould her own actions and feelings in response to her mother’s moods. She describes unexpectedly being
awarded a prize at school: ‘a little negro’s head made of china and full of
chocolates. It’s the only prize I ever received.’ She walked home to show
It was one of those dull, cold days that you get in the North when the sky
seems to be lying on top of the ships’ masts and the whole world is grey.
The long wall from the blacksmith’s shop up to the Saw Mill Bridge was
grey. The water lapping against the slack bank just a few feet from the
foot path was grey. The houses of the New Buildings in the distance were
grey. The people walking between East Jarrow and the Docks, they were
very grey. But I was carrying a negro’s head full of chocolates. I was in a
palpitating daze; my world had suddenly become an amazing place where
you got surprises, nice surprises. Everything was bright, dazzling, until I
reached the kitchen, for there the greyness from outside had seeped in
and engulfed our Kate. She was busying between the stove and the table
but her movements were slow; she looked depressed and sounded in a
bad temper. I can’t remember what she said when I showed her the wonderful prize, but her reaction brought a funny heavy feeling into my
Catherine discusses her childhood relations with her mother, whose
moods fluctuated from cheerful gaiety to abject misery, in their interrelations with the harsh character of the urban slum environment. Perhaps of
all the autobiographies I have read for this project, hers is the one that best
conveys these complex interrelations; how the built environment, echoing
the harsh grey lives imposed on the inhabitants, itself also reinforced people’s feeling of subjection to economic forces beyond any hope of amelioration. Catherine Cookson, like D. H. Lawrence, saw the ugly buildings
and the sky polluted by industrial smoke as a degrading insult to the people forced to live there. Lawrence argued that ‘The real tragedy of England
… is the tragedy of ugliness. The countryside is so lovely, the man-made
England is so vile … The human soul needs actual beauty even more than
bread.’18 Cookson puts into the mind and feelings of her child protagonist
a response to the urban landscape which feeds into her understanding of
her mother’s mood.
In both these memoirs, the women are working freelance; all the profit
comes to them. This is by contrast with many working women at the time,
who worked for small firms and bigger employers, many of whom kept
wages very low, as described in Clementina Black’s edited collection of
surveys, carried out in 1909–1910.19 These two memoirs, though unique,
are also representative of others, in their emphasis on generational
­relations. As I and others have extensively argued, children are a subordinate social group, subordinated to adults and this relation is clearly at
work in family relations.20 Children are expected to do what adults ask of
them, though they may negotiate their duties and even evade them sometimes. A second point here relates to the moral character of children. As
many children have explained to me, children have to learn how to be a
good enough person in the small society they live in.21 They actively
engage with these processes of learning through which they negotiate
their moral status and their rightful habitation in their family, and in turn,
in the wider society they live in.
I think these accounts, and others used in this book also help to fill
out the story told by Pember Reeves. Her account focuses on women,
their unending work and their problems, how they managed their tiny
weekly sums of money. Her study focuses mainly on the very early years
of childhood, so she characterises the children as objects of care. But
clearly, children as they grew older, were part of the economic order—
running errands, doing jobs, paid and unpaid. They were essential to the
survival of the household. They are exemplified by Benny, a twelve-yearold, and ‘very serious’; when his father became unemployed, the boy
found a job, delivering milk to doorsteps at 2/6 a week and was proud
to do so.22
The Economics of Home Life in Rural Areas
These two descriptions of child–adult relations within urban childhoods
may be balanced by consideration of rural childhoods and how the children there learned about how they fitted into socio-economic life. Two
examples from the east of England show how children learned.
Len Thompson was born in 1898 in ‘Akenfield’, East Suffolk.23 His
father was an agricultural labourer earning 13s. a week. Len starts his spoken autobiography with an episode that remained with him—his eldest
brother’s visit, on leave from the army and on his way to the Boer War.
Len says he was three years old at the time and remembers this visit clearly.
This young man came in, and it was the first time I had seen him. He wore
a red coat and looked very lively. Mother got up and kissed him but Father
just sat and said, ‘How are you?’ Then we had tea, all of us staring at my
brother. It was dark, it was the winter-time. A few days later he walked away
and my mother stood right out in the middle of the road, watching. He was
going to fight in South Africa. He walked smartly down the lane until his
red coat was no bigger than a poppy. Then the tree hid him. We never saw
him again. He went all through the war but caught enteric fever afterwards
and died. He was twenty-one.24
That first paragraph is immediately followed by a description of the
physical conditions the family lived in.
Very soon after this it was very hard living indeed for the family. There were
seven children at home and father’s wages had been reduced to 10s. a week
(from 13s.). Our cottage was nearly empty—except for people. There was a
scrubbed brick floor and just one rag rug made of scraps of old clothes
pegged into a sack. The cottage had a living-room, a larder and two bedrooms. Six of us boys and girls slept in one bedroom and our parents and the
baby slept in the other. There was no newspaper and nothing to read except
the Bible. All the village houses were like this.
He goes on to detail the very poor diet and the perpetual hunger. And
he notes that all the cottage people were very religious and very patriotic.
‘People believed in religion then, which I think was a good thing, because
if they hadn’t got religion there would have been a revolution.’25
Len’s account is informed by his socialist views, but it also indicates
how a small child learned. Seeing his mother standing out in the road was
a memory that remained with him, and while he may not have known at
the time why she did so, that she did so was memorable; and as he grew
older the episode would tell him about her sorrow and her worry for her
eldest son. And Len’s account quickly moves on to detail the understanding that came early to these rural children: that the countryside meant, not
a rural idyll, but the necessity for children and women to earn a few shillings on the farms, gleaning, weeding, harvesting. His mother eked out
the family income by stone-picking.26
We helped her when we got back from school at five o’clock (having walked
two miles home). She had to pick up twenty-four bushels of stones a day to
get two shillings. Each parish had to mend its own lanes then and the stones
were used for this. A tumbril was put in the field and a line was chalked
round it. When you had filled it up to the line you got the two shillings. It
would take a whole day. We did it every minute we weren’t at school and all
through the holidays. It was all I can remember.27
For Len, aged 71 when he talked about his life to the interviewer, rural
life in East Suffolk before the Great War was characterised by oppression:
of exploitation by the farmers, and there was little other choice of job for
men; women also worked for the farmers, or went ‘into service’ until marriage.28 Later he explains that when he returned from fighting in the war,
he had learned that unionisation was the way forward, and he became a
union organiser in the 1920s and 30s, but, as he says, the economic slump
and the government’s refusal to act forced men to walk from village to
village in search of work. Thus he developed a more theoretical socialist
understanding from conversations in the trenches and tried to apply it in
However, Len Thompson’s understanding of how farmers controlled
the standard of living, by bargaining down rates of pay came early to him,
in his childhood, for he describes occasions when he, or his father or
mother and he were engaged in these bargaining sessions. Farmers could
and did make their own rules and people had little power to influence their
decisions. Compared to the harsh working world, for him—as for some
other rural children, as we shall see—school was an irrelevance.
The school was useless. The farmers came and took boys away from it when
they felt like it, the parson raided it for servants. The teacher was a respectable woman who did her best. Sometimes she would bring the Daily Graphic
down and show us the news. I looked forward to leaving school so that I
could get educated. I knew that education was in books, not in school: there
were no books there. I was a child when I left but I already knew that our
‘learning’ was rubbish, that our food was rubbish and that I should end up
as rubbish if I didn’t look out.29
Here Len is introducing a further theme which runs through many of
the accounts: the idea some children developed that it was up to them to
make something of their lives, that they should try to escape from poverty,
discrimination and ignorance. Len’s insistence that education was the way
out and up echoes the perennial debates about the schooling system: just
what it is for; whether it seeks to educate, or only to school. Len, as he
goes on to explain, got his education in the trenches, not through books,
but through discussions.
Clifford Hills also had a rural childhood and indeed lived all his life in
the same village, Great Bentley, Essex.30 He was born in 1904, the fourth
son of an agricultural labourer. A younger sister was born in 1909. This
family was poor, partly because the father was willing to do only those jobs
he thought worth doing, so family income was variable. But they had an
allotment and kept rabbits and pigs, and there was enough food for everyone. Like Len Thompson, Cliff and his elder brothers started in paid work
early on, with Cliff working before and after school, from the age of nine.
His mother insisted on Sunday school twice and church twice on Sundays,
and this experience alerted Cliff to social class distinctions, as practised in
One thing I didn’t like and it sticks in my mind today. I came to the conclusion that church-goers were something like railway carriages were at one
time—first, second and third. You see my mother was a person of the lower
class, she was a poor woman, and she and her friends were all poor, but they
were great church-goers, kindly, gentle people … They had to sit in the back
pews. In the middle were the local shop-keepers and people who were considered to be a little bit superior to the others, better educated perhaps. And
right at the top of the church, behind where the choir used to sit, were the
local farmers, the local bigwigs, you see, posh people. And when people left
the church, although as I said he was a nice, kindly vicar, he didn’t seem to
have any time for the lower classes. Mother and her friends would pass out
of the church door, the vicar would stand near the church door, and he
would just nod and smile, perhaps not that even. But when the higher class
people came out, he would shake hands and beam to everyone of them as if
they were somebody far superior to my mother and her friends, the poor,
the very poor. And I didn’t like that.31
These distinctions also held good in the world of work, where farmers
and tradespeople asserted their superiority over labourers. Before school
each day, he worked as a kitchen boy at a big farmhouse, and there too he
was made to accept his inferiority; for he recalls that a servant there was
told she must not give him a cup of tea. The class-based relations between
people were highly visible, clearly practised, and forcibly experienced, in
this village. Thus Cliff explains that he learned through experience how
the worlds of work and the worlds of religion intersected, to reinforce
inequalities of income by defining people’s social status. However, in the
midst of this busy life, earning money, and analysing the social scene, Cliff
tells us about a more traditional and enjoyable part of his childhood: he
and his friends made use of the countryside, not only by catapulting small
birds and rabbits, but by the time-honoured damming of streams to make
a pool for swimming.
Both Len and Cliff discuss social control within the family, but they
both also have clear memories of a wider world dominated by hierarchies,
of both religion and class. These accounts of hierarchies are echoed in
memoirs from, for instance Cornwall and Dorset, where two who later
became writers record the minutiae of social differentiation: A. L Rowse
and Ralph Wightman.32 These memories differ from those presented in
the interviews from the Ambleside archive, where there is much less political commentary on the tyrannies of religion and class and no reports of the
abject poverty endured by some Suffolk and urban families. Some of the
Ambleside interviewees grew up on farms, and had their own produce and
good diets; these farms were remote from other dwellings and children
made their own amusements with siblings. Others lived in village cottages
like the Suffolk ones, and fathers’ work was as farm labourers, in the quarries or in an engineering works locally. Outside toilets and wash-houses
were shared among the rows of cottages. Interviewees talk about their
participation as children in baking days, in working on the farms, but also
on playtimes out in the fields and roads. Here is Gwen Hall, born 1905,
talking about Troutbeck Bridge, where she lived:
There was just that little group of cottages, and the school, the chapel and
the Sun Hotel. And then fields all round.
I: Was there a shop at all in Troutbeck Bridge?
Just the Post Office, where you could buy sweets and there was a tiny little
shop. A Mrs. Denny. She lived in the row of houses up above, and then there
were four others, tiny little cottages.
I: Where did you get your food?
Well, it was delivered. … And we thought nothing of walking to Windermere.
We did that all our lives, didn’t we? Of course we could play on the roads.
Marvellous. Sledge on the road, play football on the roads, very little
John Ellis, born 1910, the youngest of six children, lived in an
Ambleside cottage with cramped, crowded sleeping conditions, but gas
lighting and flushing (outside) toilets. His father was a gardener, and two
of his elder brothers went out to work. The family grew their own vegetables and kept hens and his mother did a weekly baking of bread, cakes and
pastries for the week, in the bakehouse attached to the cottage. Milk was
delivered to the door. So this family was poor but not starving.
Somewhat different was the life lived on an isolated Ambleside farm by
Margaret Buntin, born 1901. She explains that they often saw no-one for
days at a time, and she and her siblings ‘played in the fields and the streams,
and climbed trees and did all things like that’. And, she goes on, it was at
school that they met a wider group of children. The interviewer asked
about their work on the farm:
Well, we were busy with the sheep, turning the sheep and all little jobs.
Perhaps picking up wool and things like that. But we didn’t do a lot outside
when we were small.
I: When you were older you helped with that did you?
Well, we did more when we got bigger. We used to help with the sheep and
things like that and help to work hay. Quite hard work that.34
Ralph Wightman, son of a farmer who was also a butcher, lived in
Piddletrenthide, a village in Dorset. As a boy, he writes, he had multiple
jobs on the farm, before and after school and at mid-day: milking cows,
taking them to drink at the stream, hay-making, caring for the hens, collecting their eggs. He was also employed in the shop, cutting up meat.35
He, like Rowse, says he escaped this hard life through a scholarship to
grammar school, and thence to university.
The workings of the social class system were clearly visible to children
in some rural areas, through the behaviour of their ‘betters’. In urban
areas, children’s direct experience of social class oppression came through
their observation of their parents’ hard lives; and through the tiny sums
they themselves were paid for hours of work. But perhaps urban children
were less exposed to those who controlled their parents’ lives: the employers.
A full discussion of how people in an urban slum experienced social class
distinctions is given by Robert Roberts,36 who sees the struggles people
engaged in as a-political; not a war against employers but ‘a perpetual
series of engagements in the battle of life itself’. Neighbours might see a
family gradually establishing itself with enough to live on, or slipping into
poverty. And he argues that before 1914 there was little socialist consciousness among people of the ‘lower working class’: agitators on street
corners found few listeners However, his account can be compared with
the history of the suffrage movement in the north-west of England, with
workers’ revolts, with the trade union movement, and with the political
activity of, for instance, dockers in London’s East End—alongside whom
Sylvia Pankhurst fought; and the sweated labour of women in factories
and at home. I take up this topic in Chapter Five.
Children’s Take on Mothers’ Work
In order to consider more closely children’s experiential learning, we may
focus on what the memoirs tell us of how children learned of their mothers’ work and how this knowledge fed into their understanding of their
own status in the family and of the wider social and economic worlds they
lived in. The focus here is on mothers, rather than on fathers, because
children could see their mother’s work in the home, the time it took, the
many tasks undertaken often simultaneously, the exhaustion and anger.
For them it was clear that their mother’s work was central to family welfare. More generally, we may note that whilst many women were working
towards better lives for children, children themselves received most help
from their mothers.
Children’s lives tend to be lived within a small radius, and most informants for this project explained that most people they knew locally lived
as they did. The living and working conditions they experienced were
normal for the children. But our informants are looking back across the
huge changes that have taken place in the living conditions of almost
everyone in England and one of the stated aims of their accounts is to give
a precise picture of how their parents lived; and of the implications of
those lives for their own, as children. So an important topic is the varying
social and economic status locally of families. There were clear gradations
in the poverty levels of family levels, and these were linked to judgments
about social status and to what was and was not respectable. As Robert
Roberts details,37 the term ‘working class’ people in his Salford slum
‘village’ covers a wide range: in financial prosperity and hence in housing,
clothing and food; in housekeeping standards; in moral standards and
From the accounts we learn, unsurprisingly, that mothers’ work was
never done, that it was physically exhausting and that it involved what we
now call multi-tasking. We are told how most of the families lived in very
cramped and overcrowded conditions, many of them bug-infested. Many
had no inside water supply, so water had to be carried from an outside tap;
lavatories were outside, and some were earth closets, often shared with
other families; some homes had no cooking source except an open fire.
Cleaning the home was a major and recurring task; and children were
early on assigned jobs to help with the work. Providing meals was a central, major task, and for Hannah Mitchell, ‘the worst snag in the housewife’s lot was providing meals.’ ‘Her life is bounded on the north by
breakfast, south by dinner, east by tea and on the west by supper and the
most sympathetic man can never be made to understand that meals do not
come through the tablecloth, but have to be planned, bought and
As Pember Reeves documents, where a family lived on about 20 shillings a week, breakfast was bread with a scrape of butter or margarine, and
sweetened tea; and the meal at the end of the day was the same. The mid-­
day dinner was the main meal, for the children home from school; it might
include some meat, left over from the Sunday dinner, now made into a
stew, possibly dumplings, usually potatoes and perhaps some vegetables. If
the father could not get back for this meal, then his wages had to stretch
to a bought dinner and when he returned in the evening, some protein,
called a ‘relish’ (a herring, a rasher of bacon, an egg), might be served to
him.39 Apart from meat (mainly for the father) the principal food expenditure was on bread, then potatoes, sugar, and sometimes, mid-week, fish,
to eke out the diet to the end of the week.40 The children concerned
learned the hard way how much their lives depended on money coming
in. In many families, the amount of money per head available for food was
1d. or 2d. a day. So any contribution they could make was important.
Minding a neighbour’s baby could bring in 2d.41
The memoirs show how children saw clear connections every day
between what the family ate and their economic circumstances. But
through their social relationships, children were also alert to a range of
pointers towards social class differences and to interrelations of class and
economic prosperity. Jasper, who was invited to tea with his schoolfriend
David, writes that he was initially unwilling to accept, since he knew the
family ‘was a bit out of my class’; he knew this because David’s family lived
in a better type of housing and his father ‘worked in the City’. However,
David persuaded him. At the tea-table, he was offered ‘the choice of white
or brown bread, real butter, cakes and everything’ and the social difference was hammered home when David’s father took the boys out into the
garden and played games with them. ‘I didn’t know fathers played with
their children.’42
At almost the poorest end of the class system were the families supported by outdoor relief. Each had to fill in a form for the annual distribution of boots and clothes.43 Local authorities supplemented charitable
organisations by offering free meals after the passage of the Education
(Provision of Meals) Act 1906. Thus the children in Kathleen Dayus’
family were recipients of Birmingham’s breakfast at school: a mug of
cocoa and two thick slices of bread and jam (known as the ‘parish breakfast’); some years the family was eligible for the annual distribution of
clothes.44 This family also sometimes received ‘parish relief’ under the
Poor Law: families would line up to be issued with cards entitling them to
coal, bread, margarine, a tin of condensed milk, tea and sugar, the amount
allowed dependent on the size of the family.45 For some families, though
it might be commonplace locally to take clothes to the pawn shop on a
Tuesday (to be redeemed at the weekend after payday), it was nevertheless shaming. However, in Kathleen’s account, these aids to survival were
acceptable, not stigmatising, because most of the families in the surrounding courtyards and most of the children at her school also received these
But the weekly task that gets most attention in these accounts is wash-­
day, for the narrators have clear memories of the processes involved and
the huge physical effort entailed. Girls would be enlisted to help. Thus
Marjorie Cook’s family, living on the top floor of a terraced house in
Kentish Town, had access to the copper in the ground floor scullery one
day a week, on a rota with the other two families in the house. Her mother
lit the copper fire and did the washing and Marjorie’s job, during her dinner hour from school, was to work the mangle, which lived in the garden.
Grace Foakes, living in Wapping, East London, devotes two and a half
pages to a detailed account, indicating the time it all took and how heavy
the task was. First the copper had to be lit to heat the water. The water was
transferred to a zinc bowl, and the clothes sorted into kinds according to
how dirty they were:
My mother, a coarse apron made from a sack around her and a square of
mackintosh pinned over her chest rubbed each piece with ‘Sunlight’ soap,
giving an extra rub to the very dirty parts. Not being very tall, she had to
stand on a wooden box so that she could reach the rubbing board. After the
whites were washed they were put into the copper to boil together with
more soda. They were continually stirred with the copper-stick and kept
boiling for half an hour. The whole place smelt of boiling washing and
steam. After this, they were lifted out on to the wrong side of the copper’s
wooden lid and left to drain, for the water had to be saved ready for the next
boil. The washing was then put through the wringer to extract the rest of
the water … Mother struggled to the sink with the bath of dirty washing
water and emptied it. Then it was filled with cold water and placed under the
wringer. The washing was rinsed once and put through the wooden rollers.
If the weather was fine, it would be hung out to dry … On each packet of
‘Sunlight’ soap there were the words ‘Why does a woman look older sooner
than a man?’ It went on to explain the merits of the soap, but it was small
wonder that women did look old at forty. This one day alone was truly an
exhausting one, for not only was the washing done but the children had to
be cared for, the meals prepared and a thousand and one other things done
before the day was over.46
Grace Foakes reflects on the absence of political feeling among the people she lived among, but she notes that the hymn she and they carelessly
sang was misguided in ascribing social class status and distinction to God’s
will (All Things Bright and Beautiful). Women, she says, were worn out by
age 40, men lived only to ‘eat, drink, sleep and work’, as her father said.
‘Poor education, bad conditions, want and poverty’ were the ills these
people bore.47
In some city areas there were public wash-houses (and baths). Dorothy
Scannell, who lived in Poplar, describes how the women looked, doing
this work:
Inside the wash-house they looked like Amazons with their sleeves rolled up
above their soapy elbows, but when they came out and packed their prams
with sacking-covered washing they looked old. With rusty black hats, or a
man’s cap fixed flat with a large bead-ended hat-pin on top of their scragged
hair, they seemed very small and bent. They would have to hold the large
bundle of washing with one hand and push the go-cart with the other. Their
ankles seemed to be bent over and their shoes never looked as though they
belonged to them.48
Her account vividly shows how she reacted to these sights; the detailed
description shows first her admiration for these apparently strong women
and then pity for the burdens and the deformities inflicted on them. We
may add that it is small wonder that washing clothes was a chore that some
women could avoid, by paying a shilling or two to another woman to do
it. And this meant that for some women (such as Our Kate) wash-day was
every day or most days. The impact on women’s health of hard physical
work, long hours standing, together with frequent pregnancies, led to
varicose veins, as is detailed in the letters from working women sent in to
Margaret Llewellyn Davies in 1915.49
So, the third major task for the mothers was bearing and trying to rear
many babies and young children. The ways in which people write about
this are revealing. Thus in Silvertown we read this description of a family:
‘the Smiley’s – Jack, Violet and their nine or so children, the number varying according to whether there is a new arrival that year to balance the one
or two carried off by the whooping cough or TB.’50 This description, with
its careful ironic distancing, its pretence of simply describing, points
instead to anger at the conditions in which people lived and died. Kathleen
Dayus writes that she found out by chance that her mother had had seven
babies who had died before she was born; these babies were not mentioned in her family. She says that she then reflected on whether these
children were happier in the other world and on how her parents could
have fed so many children had they lived51 As an adult writer she is saying,
perhaps, that children had no recourse other than to accept the incomprehensibility of many events, including the deaths of children and the silence
surrounding their short lives.
In passing we may note that while many families were large by today’s
standards, it seems that contraceptive methods (including ones that could
be made cheaply at home) were widely known about by the beginning of
the twentieth century.52 Some mothers pleaded with men to stop having
sex with them, or resorted to drugs in attempts to abort unwanted children.53 No doubt some mothers—and fathers—thought it unrespectable
or even immoral to limit the numbers of children; and since some children
would die, it was important to replace them with other children who
would contribute financially from the age of eight or so. However, it is
hard to know how to think about the ways in which these writers deal with
the frequent child births and with infant mortality. Several writers point to
the ignorance of girls and boys about sex, even though everyone lived and
slept in close proximity. But they also write of how girls particularly were
closely monitored; allowed out with friends for only limited and infrequent expeditions. It seems unlikely that they did not know why they were
so closely monitored.
An interesting example here is given in Grace Foakes’ 107-page account
of her childhood in Wapping. She notes at the start that she had three
brothers and a sister, all past babyhood. Yet early on she mentions that her
mother rarely went out without a baby attached to her.54 But then chapters go by with no mention of these children until page 92, when she
reveals that her mother gave birth to a baby annually, and that she, Grace
‘cannot remember ever going out to play, without having a baby or
younger brother or sister to mind.’ But these babies died; they were ‘poor
delicate creatures who should never have been born’.
One way of looking at this is to do with how she organises the material
in her book. She has 42 chapters in her 107-page book, each one centring
on a topic and most only one or two pages long. Babies are the topic of
chapter 34. So the book is not a straightforward chronological account of
her childhood but includes a series of snapshots. Her aim may be to provide a panorama, wide-ranging rather than detailed, and less of a study of
her emotional life, more an account of childhoods and family life more
generally in the physical, social and economic context of that area, at that
The death of children imposed grief and also cost on the family. Pember
Reeves details the cost of a child’s funeral: £2. 1s. 9d. The family in question had insured the child’s life for 2d. a week and they received £2 towards
the cost of the funeral.55 Elizabeth Roberts gives another kind of commentary on the death of children, when she quotes the memories of a
woman who, when aged twelve, was told by her mother to take charge of
a still-born baby lying in a cardboard box next to her mother. She was to
take it to the graveyard and hand it over to the sexton, who would ensure,
when he next buried someone, that the baby was put in with the deceased
adult. This saved the cost of a child funeral.56
In her thirty-page interview, Annie Wilson, on the other hand, recounts
the birth of babies to her mother when she was small herself; and the subsequent funerals. We may wonder why she chose to recount this episode;
perhaps partly to excuse a young child’s comment, but perhaps partly to
acknowledge how commonplace the deaths of babies were.
I remember the funerals of the last two babies. One was eighteen months—
that was Ruth—she was next to John. And the other little one (that is, John)
died when he was very small. But I was pleased about it because the lady
next door gave me a piece of cake. I said to mother once—I was only very
young myself, ‘Do you think we could have another funeral and the lady
would give me some cake?’ She was furious.57
These distanced, unemotional examples given here are in accounts by
women. Perhaps for most women looking back to those times, childhood
memories of death in the family are too painful to be faced, for these narrators are facing the fact that much was hidden from them by their hard-­
pressed mothers and perhaps they are reflecting that the life and death of
siblings may have led them, as children, to develop hard hearts. As young
adults they themselves may have been pressurised by husbands and social
norms to endure frequent pregnancies. But it may also be that the narrators want to point out that in grim times, when struggling to survive was
a daily battle, child death just had to be accepted; you had to move on. It
may or may not be relevant that one of the authors who does give a moving account of how the family experienced child death is a man: Jasper,
who recounts how both his elder sisters’ babies died in infancy. This is the
first of the deaths:
About this time we had a visit from Gerry who came in one night frantic
with worry. He told Mum little Jo’ had got pneumonia and was in a bad
way. Could she go back with him at once … When we got to Mary’s, Gerry
had to go back to work. The fish shop was open to midnight and he had to
be there to clean up. Poor little Jo’ was in a bad way and the doctors didn’t
hold out much hope. Mary, Mum and Jo’ were crying and Mary begged us
not to leave her. Arrangements were made to stop the night. My sister and
I were put to bed while all the others slept in chairs. But there was no sleep
for anyone. Little Jo’ died during the night. Their eyes were red with crying
and loss of sleep. Mum pulled everyone together and we all went back to
our place. Gerry was left to make arrangements with the local undertaker …
After the funeral Mary and Gerry moved to a flat in Hackney Road. The
place they had gave too many memories of the baby.58
The varying accounts are unanimous in making the mother the centre
of the home, keeping the family afloat through the never-ending daily
tasks. Undoubtedly, girls and boys learned that that was the way things
were. It is also clear that fathers were to be accorded respect, as the
breadwinners; they got the best food and if the family had a garden it was
father’s job to grow vegetables. If, like Jasper’s father, they failed in their
breadwinning role, they were still to be respected as head of the household. Thus Annie Wilson’s father had only intermittent paid work, but his
wife made sure of this. The children must not commandeer his newspaper:
‘Put that down, your father’s not seen it!’ and he got the best cuts of
meat.59 We read of father having his special chair, which no-one else should
sit in. Daughters take their father’s boots off when he comes home weary
after the day’s work. Fathers have no jobs to do at home, and may even
have the time and energy to talk with the children, play with them, and
bring them home a little treat, some toffee, some fruit.
Thus, undoubtedly, children learned how life was gendered and this
gendering began early on. It was girls who were expected to mind the
babies and help with the wash-day. Girls had to have long hair, even
though this increased the risk of nits. Boys learned that they would be
responsible for the economic welfare of their future family; and many
learned what kinds of jobs they might later do through the casual work
they carried out.
As already indicated, many mothers earned money to help with family
finances, in some cases when work for fathers was in short supply.60 Jan
Jasper’s mother made clothes for sale. Annie Wilson’s mother was the
steady earner in her Nottingham family, working at home for the hosiery
trade, whereas her husband found it hard to find permanent work. And
Florence Atherton’s mother was also the main earner, again in an area—
Lancashire—where traditionally women returned to work after marriage;
she worked at dressmaking. Taking in other families’ laundry was another,
arduous, kind of work and cleaning other people’s houses also featured.
Catherine Cookson’s mother Kate worked for many hours at a huge range
of jobs and always had swollen ankles, and later on burst varicose veins.
Mothers in rural families often worked in agriculture, as indicated in the
account given by Len Thompson. Picking stones was common; also weeding, pulling thistles and docks, harvesting potatoes and the main wheat
harvest, gleaning after the harvest.
Children’s Jobs
As already indicated above, children were expected to help out at home,
and this included both unpaid and paid work. Children in cities and countryside would collect wood, in London from wood yards and from the
shores of the Thames. Scavenging for coal near coal yards was another job.
Girls were expected to take a major part in cleaning the home; and, as
exemplified by Grace Foakes, were assigned considerable responsibility for
childcare. Where mothers ‘took in’ other families’ laundry, it was often
children who fetched and returned it. We have seen how Jan Jasper helped
bring in money to the household. Work in the countryside and on farms
included harvesting, pulling weeds, animal care; also picking stones, and
acting as scarecrow. Edna Bold, born in Beswick, Manchester, in 1904,
gives an account61 of the shopping street and children’s work running
errands. Children knew the shops and shopkeepers because they went
shopping every day and, in some cases, twice.
The road was a social centre where everyone met, shopped, talked, walked.
The butcher, the baker, the grocer, the milliner, the draper, the barber, the
greengrocer, the pawnbroker, the undertaker were friends, confidants and
mines of information. All needs from birth to death could be supplied from
these little shops. As soon as arms and legs were strong enough, every child
joined the ‘club’ that supported these small businesses, for every child was
obliged to run errands for mothers, relations, neighbours.
Of all the many resentments that every child harboured in its exuberant
heart, this running of errands was the chief. It interfered with and subtracted from the play-way of the beautiful, long intoxicating excitement of
the day.
Robert Roberts points to how women managed their small budgets.
His mother ran a corner shop in Salford, and wore an apron with two
pockets for the takings: one for copper and one for silver. His job was to
count the money at the end of the day. The vast majority of the coins were
copper: pennies, ha’pennies (half-pennies) and farthings.62 As Pember
Reeves points out, women had to buy by the day, because they had no
safe, clean, mice-free place to keep food; also because, in some cases, the
father was paid by the day, and there was no certainty that he would be
paid the next day, or what he would be paid.63 Black’s survey of married
women’s work, also points to the prevalence of uncertain jobs and uncertain pay, for employers attempted to bargain down the rates.64
Perhaps the hardest childhood was lived by children working half-time.
But that modern view has to be set against the pride some children felt
when they could contribute financially to family income. The tradition of
half-time work, half-time school persisted in some industrial areas in the
first twenty years of the century; and James Brady (born 1898) describes
what this meant—emotionally and physically—for him in Rochdale. When
he was almost 12, his mother arranged for him to start work as a half-timer
at the mill.
I was glad and proud that I was to be given the opportunity of starting my
work-a-day life in one of their mills. And, with father bringing home less
than 30-bob a week, it gave me satisfaction to know that I would soon
become a breadwinner to help the family budget. Mother arranged everything. I was to be paid 3s.6d. per week for a morning shift of twenty-six
hours, and 2s.6d. a week for the afternoon shift of twenty hours. The early
morning period meant getting up at 5 a.m. to be at the mill, three miles
away, before the buzzer finished wailing at six. We half-timers knocked off
at half-past twelve; then it was a race home for a quick meal, change from
corduroys and scarf into knicker-bockers and collar and button-on bow,
then a final dash to Spotland School at two o-clock. The afternoon shift
worked in reverse; school in the morning and work in the afternoon until
5.30 p.m. Life was worth living!65
In addition he had a ‘moonlighting’ job for a wealthy family, hauling
coal in buckets from cellar to upstairs rooms and keeping garden paths
clean and tidy (for one shilling a week, plus a cup of tea and a rock bun on
Fridays). ‘My Mum was glad of the extra bob.’
He left school at 13 for a full-time job at the mill, working a 55 and a
half hour week for ten shillings and sixpence: ‘a fortune for mother and
there was always a chance to do a bit of newspaper-work selling sports editions on Saturday nights as well.’66
Just to round off this account of children’s experiences and learning, I
note that most of our informants said they found much to enjoy in their
childhoods. Many memoirs point to close, loving and supportive family
relations. Local events were tied into religious and agricultural traditions
and children were participants in these. We read of widening horizons in
both town and country. Newspapers and children’s comics were becoming
available, if not at home, then in reading rooms and libraries. Children
were amazed to discover that they could borrow books, for free, from the
library. Children went to ‘the pictures’ and enjoyed silent films and newsreels. Some homes had a range of books, not just the Bible. There was, we
may note, more of a point in gaining literacy than fifty years before, for
newsprint allowed people to explore wider worlds; and of course ‘doing’
history and geography at school could complement the new media. Most
accounts also say something about play and friends, in town and country.
Some town children delighted in the variety of the urban setting, as exemplified by Edna Bold above and by Dorothy Scannell in Poplar, East
London. She gives a detailed description of the shops on Chrisp Street
near her home—the shopkeepers, the huge range of goods on sale, the
colours, smells and sounds of the street. She loved ‘the people, its places,
its atmosphere’ and sums it up thus:
…Poplar, to my mind, was a lovely district, for it contained all that anyone
could need. Beautiful churches, schools, parks, a library, hospital, docks, a
pier, public baths and even a swimming bath. We had a nautical college and
a bookshop famous all over London.67
She notes, as do other memoirs, the sheer presence of children, their
social and economic importance made visible in the streets, for example
on Saturdays when it fell to them to carry home the disinfectant provided
by the council for people to clean their homes:
High Street Poplar on a Saturday morning was a human ant colony, a never-­
ending stream of children hurrying along, or having a rest, with clinking
bottles. Well, we hurried one way when the bottles were empty, on the way
back we carried the bags in different positions to relieve the strain on our
Two other features of children’s social life must be mentioned, in order
to be true to people’s accounts. They are the salience of Sunday rituals,
including Sunday school; and; perhaps above all, music in the lives of poor
people. These will be considered in Chapter Four.
Interlinked Fortunes of Women and Children
The memoirs make clear how closely linked were the fortunes of children
and their mothers in the daily struggles to survive. And these memoirs can
be seen as providing everyday, local examples of the exploitation of women
and children; these women were not unionised, but they were victims of a
capitalist system that disregarded their interests, for poor pay, poor housing and utterly inadequate healthcare systems defined their daily lives.
Their children had to help as best they could. The struggles outlined in
Chapter Two—where working women fought capitalist exploitation,
gendered inequalities and generational unfairness—provide a context to
the stories told here. Both the working women’s unions and organisations
such as the Women’s Co-operative Guild campaigned for socialist answers
to the prevailing poverty and hard lives of men, women and children; their
work towards insurance cover for women in childbirth is a case in point.
As to the children, immersed in the daily struggles of families to survive, it
will be of interest to see whether they thought schooling could provide
some value, some answers, some ways forward.
Crucial to making public how some of the poorest families lived, was
the work of middle-class women such as Clementina Black and her colleagues in the Women’s Industrial Council and Maud Pember Reeves and
others in the Fabian Women’s Group (FWG). Black is clear that the central problem was that both men and women were paid scandalously low
In 1888 Black presented a paper to the Fabian Society on the working
conditions of the Bryant and May factory girls. Annie Besant added to
thinking on this topic, by investigating further. Their research formed a
factual basis for the strike of 1888.70 Black also argues, as did other women
at the time, that the endless toil of housework should be addressed through
modernising tools for the work; she touches on co-operative housing
schemes, with centralised washing and cooking facilities. And she argues
for communal childcare by trained persons—in line with Gilman.71
In the last chapter of their report, the Fabian women discuss what can
and should be done; notably with respect to infant mortality. A central
discussion topic is wages, for one of the fndamental arguments socialist
women put forward was that women had to work towards economic independence.72 This argument also echoes the work of Gilman (discussed in
Chapter Two), who insisted that women’s economic dependence on men
was fundamental to their subjection. Thus, the first aim of the FWG,
declared in 1913, was as follows:
To study the economic position of women and press their claim to equality
with men in the personal economic independence to be secured by
This economic independence was to be achieved through the full and
equal participation of women in paid work; by the training of skilled
domestic workers and/or the provision of co-operative households; and
by state support for maternity and the costs of child-rearing, that is, the
State Endowment of Motherhood. Fabian women identified the problems
currently facing middle class women and working class women as distinctive; for the former had been reduced to idleness and exclusion from valuable work and the latter had been subjected to endless toil and starvation
wages. Yet the two classes had in common the necessity for economic
Pember Reeves and her colleagues argued that the concept of the family wage, which had to stretch to cover no matter how many children, was
faulty in conception. What was required was for the state to accept its
responsibility towards the nation’s children. Children must be regarded as
children of the nation; and so the state owed them care. This could be
provided by the appointment of guardians who would assess each family’s
situation and provide maintenance grants. ‘The final responsibility for the
child’s welfare, the paramount authority in securing it, belong to the
We see in the work of these campaigning women a recognition that the
fortunes of women and children were linked. Women could not achieve
their goals for themselves as members of society unless the responsibility
for childhood was recognised as, in part, state responsibility. In making
these points, women were arguing that the status of childhood itself was
up for rethinking: children were too valuable to the state to be left to the
destruction caused by unchecked capitalism.
The Economics of Childhoods—What Children Learned
The accounts of childhoods lived in poverty clearly point to children’s
close engagement with the economic fortunes of their families. The
authors show that as children they learned their proper place in the family
in relation to its economic welfare, their duty to contribute as and when
they could to family welfare. The huge burden of household work fell on
women, and it was also children’s duty to carry out some of the tasks.
The retrospective accounts given here show how children learned
through their observation of and participation in the material realities of
their lives. They learned, among other things, about the hard work their
parents, and especially their mothers did. They knew, from experience,
that they too should engage with the work that had to be done as members of a family. Children also learned—both at home and in the neighbourhood—how unequal were people’s life-chances, though, as I shall
argue in the next chapter, school was also a good teacher on this topic.
Above all, we learn about the material circumstances of these childhoods,
dictated by poverty and poor housing, sustained by the responsibilities of
both adults and children for maintaining the family’s survival.
Central to children’s learning, as the memoirs explain, was that childhoods were gendered, as indeed were adulthoods. Though both boys and
girls were sent out on errands on a daily basis, for food, wood, coal and, in
some country areas, for water, yet girls were more tied to the home than
boys. Girls had more responsibility for keeping the home clean, were usually responsible for minding the baby, and were closely monitored as to
their behaviour out of the home. Boys were more likely to roam more
widely: they engaged in casual paid jobs; they began to make connections
in the working world early on, starting with taking messages, fetching and
carrying, and moving on to small jobs in local trades and in agriculture.
So what also emerges from the accounts given is how busy the lives of
children were. Domestic work, responsibility for younger siblings, scavenging for goods, doing casual work, were the daily lot of many children.
They also found time for play. You wonder how they had time to go to
More generally, we may point to what the memoirs tell us of what children learned in their social lives in and around the home about childhood
itself, the status of childhood, the responsibilities of childhood. Thus,
firstly, generational relations were central to children’s experience; for it
was made clear to children that they were subordinate to adults, under
their command, but also under their protection. Children had to do what
they were told to do, and parents had the right to inflict physical punishment—though some informants stress that they had never been hit at
home, or only very mildly and rarely (in contrast to some schools, as we
shall see). Child–adult relations included a range of feelings on both sides:
love, duty, solidarity, resentment, conflict.
The second theme that our informants stress is about children’s task in
childhood to become a good enough person in the social worlds of family
and social life around. As a child, you learned the practical routines and
the morality of the family and were expected to conform. This conformity
extended to dress codes, to behaviour, to responsibilities; it also included
the expectation that you did not challenge the family’s moral code and
that you obeyed parental edicts. Most of the informants for this project
recall that they also attended some form of religious service, mostly
Church of England and this could include attendance at Sunday school
and at church.
A third theme, beginning to emerge in the accounts quoted in this
chapter, is how children engaged with their own futures. There will be
more to say on this in the context of the schooling children got, but
already it is clear that engaging with the project of one’s own life is a topic
explored as part of remembering childhoods. Again, this is gendered. Girls
may have seen their futures as housewives and mothers as inevitable, both
because there were few other models in evidence and because they may
have seen marriage as the natural order of things. On the other hand,
some of the accounts show that girls saw some promise in the opportunities offered by the education system and in the opening up of new kinds
of employment for young women (notably office work). Some teachers
encouraged girls to widen their views of their futures. In the memoirs by
men, we see that they assumed that they would bear financial responsibility for a family, and their lives would be dominated by work. But ‘getting
on’ and ‘getting out’ are themes in both city and rural areas, and for boys,
learning a craft through an apprenticeship-style course of learning was one
way to do this.
Clearly, as stressed by our informants, elementary school children in the
early years of the twentieth century had busy lives. Not only that, but
these lives consisted very largely of learning and practising what you
learned. This point raises the question whether school complemented
these busy lives and added to them. Did school in any way take account of
the home life of the children and seek to provide an education that related
to and/or built on it? In turn such questioning leads to other topics: how
did children experience, understand, and respond to what was offered in
school? Did school make sense for children? Was it just an interlude in
their busy day?
1. See for discussion, Hendrick 2003, chapter 2.
2. Pember Reeves 1913, republished 1988 by Virago.
3. Pember Reeves 1913, p. 176.
4. Pember Reeves 1913, p. 221.
5. Pember Reeves 1913, p. 222.
6. According to Rolph 1980, p. 67, the cost of the simplest funeral for a child
was from £6 to £10, but Pember Reeves, on the basis of her research, gives
a lower figure: about £2.
7. Pember Reeves 1913, p. 194.
8. Carol Dyhouse’s 1981 book Girls Growing Up in Late Victorian and
Edwardian England is important here. Jane Lewis’ 1986 book Labour and
Love provides valuable discussions, including her own chapter and chapters
by Lynn Jamieson, Ellen Ross and Elizabeth Roberts. Anna Davin’s 1996
book Growing Up Poor is a key text, but focuses mainly on the nineteenth-­
century period from 1870 when state education was introduced.
9. See Karl Marx: Selected Writings, edited by Bottomore and Rubel 1978,
p. 67.
10. Rolph 1980, p. 13.
11. Jasper 1974, A Hoxton Childhood.
12. Jasper 1974, p. 59.
13. Jasper 1974, p. 59.
14. Jasper 1974, p. 65.
15. Jasper 1974, p. 77.
16. Cookson 1977, p. 27.
17. Cookson 1977, p. 37.
18. D. H. Lawrence, ‘Nottingham and the mining country’. In Selected Essays,
1954, p. 119.
19. Black 1983, first published 1915.
20. For my earlier explorations of sociological approaches to childhood see, for
instance, my Towards a Sociology for Childhood (2002).
21. For instance, Mayall 2002, chapter 6.
22. Pember Reeves 1913, p. 189.
23. Blythe, 1972. Akenfield is the fictitious name of the village Blythe
researched, in fact Chelsfield, north of Ipswich.
24. Blythe Akenfield, p. 32.
25. Blythe Akenfield, p. 33.
26. Len Thompson’s 13-page account is an interview transcript in Ronald
Blythe’s Akenfield.
27. Blythe Akenfield, p. 34.
28. Rural employment, which for women and for men was largely agricultural,
is documented in the chapter entitled Rural Districts in Black’s Married
Women’s Work.
29. Blythe Akenfield, p. 34.
30. Cliff Hills’ account covers 22 pages in Thea Thompson’s Edwardian
31. T. Thompson, p. 51.
32. Rowse 1942, chapters 1 and 2; Wightman 1968, chapter 1. See also Lee
1976, pp. 125–129 and 196–197.
33. In these transcripts, I: refers to the interviewer and his words in brackets
are an abbreviation of his longer questioning. This excerpt is from the
interview with Gwen Hall, page 2 of the typed transcript.
34. Margaret Buntin, page 4 of the typed interview.
35. Wightman 1968, chapter 3. His village is one of many pictured in a book
on Thomas Hardy’s Wessex (Lea 1915).
36. Robert Roberts 1977, chapter 1.
37. Robert Roberts 1977, especially chapter 1.
38. Hannah Mitchell 1977, The Hard Way Up, p. 113.
39. Pember Reeves, Round About a Pound a Week, 1988. Diets are discussed
in detail in his chapters 7 and 9.
40. Pember Reeves 1988, chapter 2.
41. Pember Reeves 1988, p. 109.
42. Jasper 1974, p. 77.
43. The poorest of all were in the workhouse, described in Chapter Four.
44. Dayus 1982, p. 15.
45. Dayus 1982, p. 10.
46. Foakes 1974, pp. 15–17.
47. Foakes 1974 , p. 52.
48. Scannell 1974, p. 43.
49. Davies 1984, Maternity.
50. McGrath, p. 7.
51. Dayus 1982, p. 9.
52. Roberts 1977, p. 51.
53. Dallas 1984, Introduction. No pagination.
54. Foakes 1974, p. 19.
55. Pember Reeves 1988, p. 71.
56. Roberts, R. 1977, p. 21; Roberts, E. 1984, p. 21.
57. Thompson, T. 1981, p. 81.
58. Jasper 1974, pp. 48–49.
59. Thompson, T. 1981, p. 74.
60. For a full account of the many kinds of work married women did, see Black
61. Edna Bold’s account is in Burnett 1994, p. 107.
62. Roberts, R. 1977, p. 104.
63. Pember Reeves 1988, chapter 8.
64. Black 1983, passim.
65. James Brady’s account is in Burnett 1994, p. 321.
66. James Brady in Burnett 1994, p. 321.
67. Scannell 1974, p. 41.
68. Scannell 1974 , p. 46.
69. Black 1983, p. 8.
70. Jackson and Taylor 2014, p. 27.
71. See discussion of children’s communal living in Gilman 2015 [1915]
Herland, in chapter 2.
72. Sally Alexander gives a clear analysis of this topic in her Introduction to
Pember Reeves Round about a Pound a Week, 1988, pp. xv–xvi.
73. These arguments are set out in Mabel Atkinson’s Fabian Tract of 1914:
The Economic Foundation of the Women’s Movement. For detailed analysis
and discussion see Dyhouse 1989, chapter 2.
74. Pember Reeves, pp. 226–227. See also for discussion of the merits and
demerits of financial endowment of motherhood, Dyhouse 1989,
pp. 88–98.
Black, C. (Ed.). (1983). Married women’s work. London: Virago. First published
Blythe, R. (1972). Akenfield: Portrait of an English village. London: Book Club
Associates Log Book.
Bottomore, T. B. & Rubel, M. (1978). Karl Marx: Selected writings in sociology
and social philosophy. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Burnett, J. (1994). Destiny obscure: Autobiographies of childhood, education and
family from the 1820s to the 1920s. London: Routledge.
Cookson, C. (1977). Our Kate: An autobiography. London: Corgi Books.
Dallas, G. (1984). Introduction. In M. Llewelyn Davies (Ed.), Maternity: Letters
from working women: Collected by the Women’s Co-operative Guild. London:
Davies, M. L. (1984). Maternity: Letters from working women: Collected by the
Women’s Co-operative Guild. London: Virago. First published 1915.
Davin, A. (1996). Growing up poor: Home, school and street in London 1870–1914.
London: Rivers Oram Press.
Dayus, K. (1982). Her people. London: Virago.
Dyhouse, C. (1981). Girls growing up in late Victorian and Edwardian England.
London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Dyhouse, C. (1989). Feminism and the family in England 1880–1939. Oxford:
Foakes, G. (1974). My part of the river. London: Shepheard-Walwyn.
Gilman, C. P. (2015). Herland. London: Vintage. First published in Great Britain
Hendrick, H. (2003). Child welfare: Historical dimensions, contemporary debate.
Bristol: Policy Press.
Jackson, S. & Taylor, R. (2014). East London suffragettes. Stroud, Gloucestershire:
The History Press.
Jasper, A. J. (1974). A Hoxton childhood. Hackney, London: Centreprise
Lawrence, D. H. (1954). Selected essays. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Lea, H. (1915). Thomas Hardy’s Wessex. London: Macmillan.
Lee, L. (1976). Cider with Rosie. London: Longman.
Lewis, J. (1986). Labour and love: Women’s experiences of home and family
1860–1940. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Mayall, B. (2002). Towards a sociology for childhood: Thinking from children’s lives.
Buckingham: Open University Press.
Mitchell, H. (1977). The hard way up. London: Virago.
Pember Reeves, M. (1988). Round about a pound a week. London: Virago. First
published 1913.
Roberts, E. (1984). A woman’s place: An oral history of working-class women
1890–1940. Oxford: Blackwell.
Roberts, R. (1977). The classic slum. Harmondsworth: Penguin/Pelican.
Rolph, C. H. (1980). London particulars. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Rowse, A. L. (1942). A Cornish childhood. London: Jonathan Cape.
Scannell, D. (1974). Mother knew best. London: Macmillan.
Thompson, T. (1981). Edwardian childhoods. London: Routledge and Kegan
Wightman, R. (1968). Take life easy. London: Pelham Books.
Experiencing Elementary School
Socialism in Policy-making: Mary Bridges Adams (1855–1939)
Mary Bridges Adams was one of the many pioneering women who
worked for a socialist education system, but whose work has been
largely neglected in histories of education. But Jane Martin’s book,
Making Socialists, explores and describes Mary’s life-history.1 Mary
worked firstly as a teacher in an elementary school and headteacher,
was a member of the London School Board and later wrote and
spoke to challenge the social class basis of the state education system and to advocate measures to improve the health of children. In
the early twentieth century, she argued for a free, secular education
system from primary to university levels, with maintenance grants
to help people finance education.2 During the debates towards the
1906 and 1907 Education Acts, she argued for state provision of
the material needs of poor children3 and she was an important
voice, through her trade union, in speaking up for free school
meals, and for medical inspection and treatment. She was instrumental in the establishment in 1907 of an open-air school in
Woolwich, for children at risk of tuberculosis (one of the main
causes of child death).4
Mary’s arguments challenged many of the assumptions of policy-­
makers and the policies they then implemented. The state education
system was to be cheap, since its aims initially were narrow (training
© The Author(s) 2018
B. Mayall, Visionary Women and Visible Children, England 1900–1920,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-61207-2_4
children for their lot in life). As it developed, it moved away, onwards
or outwards from the restrictive assumptions that had shaped it; but
in material terms it remained narrow. So her demands for buildings
with classrooms for no more than thirty children, for instance,
remained unimplemented. And her vision of a system that broke
with social class assumptions, but instead provided common schools
for all, free at the point of use, is still a matter for debate. Her vision
provides an explanation for the school-related experiences of our
This chapter has to be considered in the light of the previous one,
which showed how busy were children’s lives at home and in the neighbourhood. Children had clear duties to their families, including domestic
work and paid work where possible. These points raise questions about
what they made of elementary school, and whether they thought school
contributed to their well-being and ability to live good lives.
Development of the State School System
and of Welfare Provisions from 1902
My purpose in this section is not to consider in detail the changes in policy
and practice that may have affected the lives of children in the early years
of the twentieth century. These topics have been fully investigated elsewhere, as I note along the way. In Appendix B, I set out the main legislation relating to children for the years 1870–1918 and some of the sources
of basic information. Here, I aim rather to note a few salient measures of
particular relevance to children’s experience.
Perhaps the first point to note is that women were early on recognised
as having a rightful place in influencing the development of the education
system, since, as Hollis says, they did not hesitate to use the separate
spheres card: because most children were nursery age, infants and girls,
women’s motherly care had to be harnessed in the work of providing for
them. So from 1870 onwards, women—some of them on school boards,
some as teachers, some as school attendance officers—worked for the children, for their mothers, for the young girl teachers. They provided nurseries, taught Froebelian methods, established evening groups for girl
workers, improved physical education in schools, restricted needlework
sessions for girls, organised lectures—which later became university extension services.5 These innovations laid the basis for the development of
further services after the 1902 Act.
The legislative changes that took place in the first ten years of the twentieth century were innovative. They included measures to protect children
against neglect and harm, to diagnose and treat children’s medical conditions, and to feed hungry children. Indeed these measures, alongside the
1902 Education Act, have been seen as reconceptualising children as children of the state, a topic to which I shall return. However, there is likely
to be a mismatch between rhetoric at national level and experience on the
ground; and it is the memoirs that I want to focus on here, especially for
the years 1910–1920.
The 1902 Act provided opportunities for an expanding education service. It created new local education authorities which could plan and provide better for all the ‘provided’ and ‘non-provided’ schools in their area.6
It also allowed these authorities to raise the school-leaving age to 14. The
system of inspection, of both religious instruction and of the 3Rs, tested
the children, as a basis for their advance through the ‘standards’, and these
secular subjects were themselves becoming more extensive, varied and to
some extent child-centred. These changes can be seen as encouraged by a
range of people: psychologists, historians, artists, physical education theorists, and so on. The progressive movement in education, as evidenced by
the Froebel Society (founded 1884) and the Montessori Society (founded
1914, but active earlier) and by maternalism theorists, who focused on
mothers’ unique sensitivity to the needs of young children, also had influence. We shall come back to these. As suggested in Chapter Two, the work
of many people, including many women, had enlarged people’s understandings of what a state education service could provide; and in response
to observation of the children who attended the schools, people were
starting to think that children could benefit from a longer, more humane,
progressive, varied education than had originally been envisaged.
During the first years of the twentieth century, more secondary schools
were established.7 These centralised tuition for the older children from
several elementary schools, and could provide more specialised teachers
and classrooms devoted to, for instance, science, housewifery and woodwork. Recruitment for teacher training was now to come from secondary,
including grammar, schools; numbers of places at training colleges were
increased; and the pupil-teacher system was gradually abolished.8 These
secondary schools were called, variously, central, secondary, junior
technical and area schools. Some struggling elementary schools were also
closed and the children moved to larger, better-equipped and staffed
schools. This centralisation could be difficult in rural areas, where, in the
absence of any rural transport services, the LEA might find it necessary to
lay on school buses and to give bicycles to the older children, as for
instance in north-east Suffolk.9
The Code of 1904 contained a general statement of aims for the elementary system, written by Robert Morant, Permanent Secretary of the
Board of Education from 1904. It is widely quoted as a humane and noble
statement; thus it is included in the Handbook of Suggestions (first ­published
in 1905), as late as the 1937 edition (reprinted in 1944).10 The character
of the stated aims indicates considerable change from the restricted and
restricting vision that informed the 1870 Act.
“The purpose of the elementary school is to form and strengthen the character and to develop the intelligence of the children … and to fit (the children)
practically as well as intellectually for the work of life.’ So it should ‘train the
children carefully in habits of observation and clear reasoning … and arouse
in them a living interest in the ideals and achievements of mankind … give
them power over language as an instrument of thought and expression.’ …
‘It should encourage to the utmost the children’s natural activities of hand
and eye by suitable forms of practical work and manual instruction, and afford
them every opportunity for the healthy development of their bodies11.”
A further statement in the 1905 Suggestions is important, since it gets
to the heart of good teacher–child relations. ‘The teacher must know the
children and must sympathise with them, for it is of the essence of teaching that the mind of the teacher should touch the mind of the pupil.’12 It
is notable that, according to the memoirs, experience of this connection
between teacher and child was most often reported by those few who
made it to secondary school, as examples given later in this chapter show.
But the memoirs also show that some teachers of younger children connected best with children where they told stories, and encouraged the
children to sing; it was through enabling children to build on their own
creativity and imagination that teachers could reach out to them.
In response to these statements in the Code on teacher–child relations,
a teachers’ journal, School World, noted that these were brave words, but
that children’s physical welfare at school was woefully neglected; and that
the crowded classrooms militated against teachers’ success.13 Indeed, it is
worth noting, with hindsight, and in the light of the work of women such
as Mary Bridges Adams, these most glaring immediate gaps between rhetoric about state purposes and reality, reflecting as they do the class-based
vision determining state funding for state schools.14
The wider social movements discussed in Chapter Two, and the developments set in place in the education system noted here, had implications
at day-to-day levels for children’s experience. But other factors prevailed.
First and perhaps foremost, school attendance was compulsory for those
who could not pay for education. With large classes in inadequate
­buildings, teachers were ill-prepared for coping; and children were obliged
to sit still, to obey and listen rather than participate actively in learning.
Though the curriculum had been widened (as compared to 1870), teaching of facts still dominated—as Edmund Holmes (1912) notes in his diatribe written at the end of his career as school inspector (see page 47).
Christianity continued to inform not only the first lesson of the day, but
the ethos of the school, and was linked, via history (‘our island story’) and
geography to support for the British Empire, celebrated compulsorily each
May 24th. Gendered assumptions continued to dominate the
Meanwhile, progressive ideas were making some headway both in training colleges and in some elementary schools; women played the maternalism card to achieve their aims.16 For instance, Jane Roadknight in
Nottingham launched a programme of reform in the 1890s that fundamentally changed the early years of the education system there. She started
a kindergarten on Froebelian lines, organised teaching courses in the new
ideas, ran an evening group with songs, games and stories for local children and, through her work as an inspector, established Froebel in the
infants sections of the city’s schools (children aged 5–7).17 Some women
headteachers inaugurated open air classrooms; Alexandrina McGillivray,
headteacher of Emmanuel School, West Hampstead got the LCC to agree
to a garden room for outdoor classes. Girls helped to prepare the site, and
portable desks and chairs were provided. She also encouraged her teachers
to visit other schools to see new methods of teaching.18
Experiencing Elementary School
In this section, I point to the varying experiences and perspectives set out
in our informants’ accounts. These vary from rejection of the education
service to enjoyment, benefit and engagement. We have to remind ourselves initially that the data available are problematic. Almost by definition,
the authors of memoirs are exceptional among the millions who went
through the elementary school system: these authors set out to convey to
later generations what it was like, and their accounts may be influenced by
their later lives. Perhaps they are more likely than most adults to have had
some measure of success (in their own eyes at least), and this may affect
their story-telling about their past. By comparison, interviewees may be
more faithful, more naïve, and, depending on the interviewer, may give an
account that is less focused on life as a journey. And finally, on this, if my
own memories are anything to go by, the early years of schooldays often
leave few traces; it is secondary education that people remember in more
detail—this was true of several of our informants (for instance, Liz Flint
and John Bennett).
As I emphasise throughout this book, how people talk about their
schooling has to be considered in the context of their understandings of
their lives at the time and later. Thus for many children, the duty to help
support their family took priority. For some this duty conflicted with the
project of their own life: delight in learning and a vision that they might,
through education, arrive at a better life. So some children were faced with
conflict between duty and self-fulfilment.
These individual accounts may be set against the evidence from surveys
and wider studies. A retrospective study, where people were asked to evaluate their schooling, found that two-thirds of working-class people (classified according to their father’s occupation), liked their elementary school
days; but one-third would like to have stayed on beyond the then school-­
leaving age. However, this study referred to schooling over a 50-year span
(1875–1924), during which many changes took place in the education
system.19 Humphries’ 1981 study, using a wide range of evidence, focuses
on people who were disaffected with school, and so gives a biased account.
School Did Not Provide Education
Perhaps it is convenient to start with those who argued that school offered
nothing valuable. In Chapter Three we heard from Len Thompson, whose
socialist views, learned in the trenches, taught him—or reinforced his
view—that schooling in his village (Akenfield) was worthless. Here are
three more testimonies from the village on what constituted education:
Wheelwright and blacksmith (born 1907): I went to the village school but
left when I was 13 because I wasn’t learning anything. I did my learning in
this shop. Two women taught us; one had been a missionary abroad. All
they did was keep us silent and caned. Boys and girls were caned every day
… These two teachers taught us nothing, only to sit still. I was glad to leave
school and begin learning in the shop.20
Gravedigger (born 1906): I started digging graves when I was 12 years
old and before I left school. I began by helping an old man and by the time
I was 13 I could do the job as well as I can now … I’ve been at the church,
official-like, since 1918. I was the legal sexton when I was 13 and I’ve buried
damn-near the whole of the village, every one of them.21
Saddler (born 1906): I lost my father when I was 9 so I had to think
about work. In those days families didn’t have money and boys hurried to
work as early as they could, to earn something … [He says he was always
fascinated by saddler’s shop and so…] When I was 12 and a half I forced
myself to go inside and talk to the owner, Mr Peterson … and I told him
how I had watched him at work and how I would like to be like him. He
listened and then said, ‘Very well, I’ll take you on. I will give you sixpence a
week.’ I wasn’t a bound apprentice. I worked a four-year apprenticeship and
then one year as an improver. I worked from 7 to 7 each day and after I
became 14 I got 1s a week. The war had just started and there was a lot to
do, and soon the old gentleman was giving me 18 pence a week. Two saddlers were called up and that left only the foreman and myself, which meant
I had to do a man’s work. So my wages rose to 5s a week, which wasn’t a
man’s money.22
For these boys, learning a craft was what counted as an education. For
girls in these rural areas, there were no such craft-learning opportunities;
for them, agricultural labour or work ‘in service’, followed by marriage,
housework, many children and poverty, beckoned. How girls were taught
the value of schooling and their station in life was illustrated by Len
Thompson speaking about the control exercised by the church and its
representative, the parson.
The parson was very respected. He could do what he liked with us when he
felt like it. One day he came to our house and told my eldest sister, who was
eleven, to leave school. ‘I think you needn’t finish,’ he said. ‘You can go and
be maid to old Mrs. Barney Wickes, now she has lost her husband.’ Mrs.
Barney Wickes was blind and my sister was paid a penny a day out of Parish
Relief to look after her.23
These informants say almost nothing about their experiences at school.
As suggested in Chapter Three, for many children it was clear that they
had to earn money as soon as they could, and some worked during their
school-days, as the example of James Brady, the half-timer, illustrates.
Some of the informants listed in Appendix A were glad to leave as soon as
possible, others enjoyed elementary school, and some wanted to go on to
secondary school. Examples of each follow.
School Not an Important Part of Childhood
Some of the memoirs do not include any detail about school. Edith Hall
(born 1908 in Hayes Middlesex) documents her family’s struggle for
survival during the war years. She describes the ‘canary girls’ who
worked in munitions and who lodged with them (and created extra
laundry work, dealing with their yellowed clothes). After school, at 14
she did dead-end jobs, but later trained as a nurse and later still worked
in insurance. Her education took place outside school, it seems. As
noted in Chapter Three, Jan Jasper barely mentions school, but focuses
on the struggles his family faced, to survive and how he did what he
could to help. Mrs. McEwen (born 1899), lived in dire poverty, with a
drunken father who did not hand over his earnings and a mother who
took in washing. She attended school in Manchester and left at age 14
(in 1913). This is her account of school (in one of the Ambleside
When we went to school we learnt laundry, cookery and laundry. And we
had this stove in the middle of the classroom, with all these irons round it …
And we used to go half a day to laundry and half a day for cookery … And
she used to tell you what to bring to wash and iron, you know, like ‘Fetch a
I: When did you leave school?
Well, when you was 13 you passed what they called the Labour Exam24 and
you went in what they called X7. Well, Standard 7 was the highest, so you
was in the same class and you didn’t learn any more, all you did was either
wash the plants or go errands for the teachers, because you knew all the lessons. And of course I was furious because I wanted to go to work. I didn’t
like school. And so I left immediately I was 14 and my name was down six
months at Gorton Factory and I started there six o’clock in the morning till
five o’clock at night, twelve o’clock on a Saturday, half a crown a week.
So she remembers the practical learning school offered, and her irritation at being required to stay, marking time until her fourteenth birthday.
She then gives a detailed description of the work she learned to do at the
factory and the social life there, with the girls helping each other at the
work and chatting together over their midday meal. She joined a trade
union and recounts how it stood up for the employees. The cotton mill
factory was the only local employer, she says and that is why her name was
down in advance, to secure a job there. The interviewer asks if she liked it.
She said, ‘Well, there was nothing else.’
Her account shows that she did not value what school offered and
she contrasts that experience with the complexity and interest of her
working life with the other girls, where she learned skills, valued by
employers. Several of our informants tell a parallel story, of knowing all
the school offered, and filling in time, sometimes as unpaid helper to
the teachers, before leaving for the real world of earning and learning.
School was a thin experience for some. For them, family and neighbourhood life and working life were much more absorbing than school.
Edna Bold (born 1904) details with delight the games they played, the
pantomimes, as well as the variety and liveliness of the shopping street
(see above, page 77). After leaving elementary school, she went on to
secondary school, and later trained and then worked as a teacher. She
says she barely remembers elementary school, but what she does
remember is the oppressive atmosphere of the classroom and the dictatorial teaching.
I remember little of the school room, with its high bare walls, its high small
windows and grey light. The sun never shone on the greens, greys and
browns of that featureless, colourless room in which we were ‘incarcerated’
morning and afternoon.
The backless rows of benches ran the length of the room. Little boys and
girls sat close together, side by side with their arms folded across their chests
or clasped behind their backs. They never moved or turned their heads or
spoke except to chant in unison or write on squares of slate with thin slate
The teacher in a black, shiny apron, yellowing, celluloid cuffs, a high-­
necked blouse and long sweeping skirt, stood beside a large blackboard, a
stick in one hand, a piece of chalk in the other. Both these instruments of
her trade were used to such good effect that by the time I left this room I
could read, write and spell. Everyone could read, write and spell.
How this miracle came about, or where I had been during those lesson
times, I have no idea. No sound echoes, not an image flashes on that ‘inward
Valued School But had to Leave for Work
Among our informants several describe how they valued (some of) what
was offered at school and would have liked to stay in education beyond
elementary school. They thought that education beyond the elementary
stage was intrinsically interesting, in that they liked learning. Thus Bessie
Wallis (born 1904), a child in a Yorkshire mining village, gained a
­scholarship to secondary school, but the family could not afford to pay for
fares, clothes and books, so she had to leave elementary school at 13 to go
‘into service’, which she hated. Like the craftsmen quoted earlier, however, she managed to gain valuable skills, by moving into clerical work and
studying shorthand and typing at evening classes. She explains that she
then had a successful career in banking.26
Robert Roberts (born 1905) provides a fuller picture of what school
meant to him. He came from a poor but literate family in Salford. His
elder sisters revelled in books and poetry and taught the younger ones to
read before they started school. Roberts describes his school: it was one of
three church schools locally; and his was the worst academically, according
to the inspectors.27 It had 450 children and eight teachers ‘for the most
part highly unqualified’. There were four classrooms for the 450 children
and so some teaching took place in the main hall, where teachers struggled
to make themselves heard by the several groups of 50 or more children
assembled there. School noise competed with noise from the marshalling
yards directly outside the school.
Drawing on what he later learned in his socialist and union work,
Roberts’ account is full of the ironies of his school-days. ‘The school staff
patronising their flock were condescended to in turn by the rector, visiting
clergy and His Majesty’s inspectors’; clerical visitors impressed upon the
children the ‘necessity of missionary work in India’.28 In 1910 the headmaster asked the school to vie with each other, class against class, boy
against girl, to raise money for the King Edward Memorial Fund. A month
later they had collected 6s. 4d.
Yet, Roberts records, in spite of the poverty of the education offered,
the school
still gripped the young mind through the variety and intensity of experience
to be gained there. Within it we received the first intelligence about the
planet beyond the railway lines, where, we understood, there were ‘five
oceans and five continents’, most of which seemed to belong to us …
History lessons ran, all kings and queens, right to the awesome Victoria.29
Aged eight, they had a teacher who was a ‘gay, flossy-haired young
woman, who filled out a sateen blouse and smelled delightfully of scented
soap’, thus stirring their romantic interest in her life, notably the flirtations
going on with a young male teacher, behind the blackboard.
With her we grew forests from carrot tops in saucers of water on the classroom window ledge and one hyacinth in a puce glass vase. She brought
twigs from home too—‘off the tree in my garden’—(this made a profound
impression) and we put them in water and saw the miracle of the bursting
From this school, most children left:
in droves at the very first hour the law would allow and sought any job at all
in factory, mill and shop. But strangely, I myself wanted to go on learning,
and with a passion that puzzled me: an essay prize or two, won in competition against the town’s schools, had perhaps pricked ambition.31
On his mother’s suggestion he asked the headmaster, if he could take
an examination. The head replied vaguely that there were bursaries for
secondary schools, but that for the exam you would need things like algebra and geometry, which the school did not offer. ‘“Some homework
then,” I suggested. He shook his head. He didn’t give homework.’ Yet
this man knew the boy was talented, and had often called on him to demonstrate his knowledge to inspectors. But, presumably weighed down by
his job, he could not find time to help. So Robert took the exam, failed
and went out to work in an engineering works, where he learned about
socialism, and he later wrote scripts for radio broadcasts, taught in prisons
and wrote books.
By contrast, one of the Ambleside interviews, with John Ellis (born
1910), gives a wide-ranging account of the many activities of this country
area, moving backwards and forwards through time, and including, along
the way, some notes on his schooldays. The interviewer suggests topics,
but allows for wide-ranging comments. The account does not lend itself
to long quotations, since the bits about school are dotted about, alongside
his memories of their house, his mother’s baking and washing days, the
games the children played, the local customs and culture.
John Ellis describes one of the annual amusements, egg-pacing at
Easter time. This involved obtaining an egg, hard-boiling it wrapped in
anything that would dye the shell (nettles, herbs) and then racing the eggs
downhill. Also part of this customary event were performances of a mummers play in which the children recited a story, each taking parts, including
Lord Nelson, St George and the Black Moroccan King; they took this
round the villages, performing it again and again.32 He explains that his
teacher in the infants class taught the children the words at school and
they remembered them down the years. (Aged 92 he could quote some of
the verses.)
He remembers his first days at school: ‘I can remember playing in the
sand trays to start with, riding on the rocking horse, if it was wet playing
games in the corridor there.’ On the headteacher, he said, ‘she was strict,
definitely, but she was always very good, very kind, but she wouldn’t
brook any nonsense, which was good training.’ He progressed through
the (mixed) infants, into the junior school (also mixed) and then into the
boys school, where his main memory is of football. They played against
each other, but later against Ambleside’s newly established Kelsick
Grammar School.
A feature of schooldays in both rural and city areas, was going home for
the mid-day meal. There was generally a two-hour break from mid-day.
John Ellis notes that for the children this was the main meal of the day,
and in Ambleside it usually consisted of a hotpot or stew, with lots of vegetables. He also notes that it was a good long walk—or run—from and to
the school. And from this and other interviews, I gather that children
enjoyed this mid-day change of scene for it broke up the day well; you
walked and played with your friends and were freed from school control.
‘It was quite a party,’ he comments. Those who lived too far away to do
the mid-day journey, brought their own meal to school and played with
friends in the playground.
John Ellis gives an account of an enjoyable childhood, including schooldays without terrors or boredoms worth mentioning. He left school at 14
and went as an errand boy at the local co-operative shop. He says,
Though I had the opportunity of going to Kelsick—or studying for Kelsick
Grammar School, I didn’t because I thought my parents were not so well
off, I thought the best thing to do was to get to work … I started at five
shillings a week, which was a help, I suppose, to my parents in those days.
So he must have had some understanding that his school thought he
was a possible candidate for secondary education, but he made his own
decision to leave school for work.
For some informants, the regret they felt about the impossibility of going
on to secondary education remained with them over their lifetime. Florence
Atherton was born in 1898 in a Lancashire mill town. Her father worked
for an insurance firm, and spent some time at home, looking after the children. Her mother was the main earner, doing dressmaking at home.
Florence stresses that they were respectable working class, not among the
poorest and roughest. Florence explains how she learned early on about
how poverty controlled the character of childhoods. Like others of our
informants, she observed gradations in poverty and status among her
schoolmates, and in particular the sad spectacle of the workhouse children.
Now these children were pathetic. All their hair was cropped and they had
thick clogs, thick caps and all their hair was almost shaved off. Now they
were something apart. We could tell they were something different. Well, I
think myself they felt it. They felt it. But the teachers didn’t punish them.
But they were always at one side. We knew they were workhouse children
but we didn’t bother with them because we didn’t understand what those
children were feeling. We didn’t know, we had a good mother and father,
see. They had what they call a mother, bringing them and taking them back,
you see, and I was always in the concerts and used to sing and go on the
stage. But the poor workhouse children had to go home.33
In her own family, she knew, poverty levels were going to limit her
schooldays, whereas children from wealthier families could go on.
I liked going to school very much but I didn’t learn enough. I always wanted
to learn more. But we were too poor to be sent anywhere else. I was always
quick at a lot of things, I never missed a class. But I always remember
those—their parents were teachers and they had a good job. Now those
were the children that always won the scholarship. If they got a scholarship
they went to Mount St. Joseph’s. They had to pay so much, because my
niece won and her father had to pay for her. Well I longed to go, but my
mother and father was too poor, they couldn’t have us going there. I have
known a lot of people get to the top if they’ve been educated. Always
through education.34
Florence left school at 14 (in 1912) and went to work learning weaving
at the mill, a skilled and valued trade. She stayed in mill work for 36 years.
She joined the union and was a shop steward in the 1930s. But her account
of schooldays shows that she flourished at school, appreciated the kindly,
helpful teachers, and enjoyed participating in shows and social events put
on at the school.
By contrast, Dorothy Scannell (born 1909 in Poplar) came from a large
family, of ten children. The family was poor enough for Dorothy to qualify
for a week’s holiday with the Children’s Fresh Air Fund (a disaster, since
her mercenary hostess lived in a small terraced house, where Dorothy was
kept all the week, made to share a bed with two other girls, acquired nits
and was offered poor, monotonous food). Her parents managed to let
several of their children go on to secondary school. But she writes that
they thought of her as delicate, she was often ill and they were protective.
Her teachers must have thought her capable, since they put her in for a
scholarship exam—which she failed (she writes that she was so nervous she
could not concentrate). When she then won a London County Council
essay competition, her headteacher, Miss Wilkie, recommended her for a
central school place and she was accepted.
I was so excited I fell over twice on the way home and arrived with my knees
bleeding and stockings torn which made Mother tut. While she was bathing
my knees I stammered out my marvellous news. Mother said quite calmly,
‘Thank Miss Wilkie for her kindness, but we don’t think a mixed school is
suitable for you.’ My father had seen the boys and girls larking about on the
way home and had conveyed his views to Mother35.
Dorothy Scannell notes that when she told Miss Wilkie of her parents’
decision, the teacher said, ‘Such a pity! Such a pity!’ She goes on to
describe how she envied her older sisters and other girls who had great
times in the Girl Guides. Yet again, however, her mother told her that the
Guides would not be suitable for her. So school ended and she sought
work, doing a succession of office jobs, and through training at an evening
secretarial college, she advanced through the ranks in clerical work.
Dorothy Scannell’s 180-page account is a mixture of chronological stories and topic-led chapters. She is determined, it seems, to present a cheerful account of her childhood, and also to recount some dramatic events,
such as the bombing of a nearby school (see Chapter One, p. 16). We do
not hear until much later (60 pages later), and only briefly, that she was
very saddened by her parents’ decision to refuse her secondary schooling;
and that she felt throughout her childhood that somehow they did not
include her in the family, in the sense that they had not allowed her to feel
valued for who she was.36
Valued School, and Went on to Secondary School
By 1914, the odds against a child from an elementary school obtaining a
free secondary education place were 40 to 1 and 56 elementary school children in every 1000 of the 10–11-year age-group were finding their way to
secondary schools.37 However, steady expansion of places, mainly in urban
areas, meant that by the year 1920–1921, the odds had reduced to 21 to 1:
97 in every 1000 were going to secondary schools.
The school system was established and maintained in concepts of social
class; for those who could afford it, secondary school was available to all;
for those who could not, the chances were severely limited. Secondary
schools in receipt of government grants were required to keep 25 per cent
of places free for each annual intake; but in practice they did not all do
this. For instance, in Lowestoft, a secondary school in 1910 had 330 children in attendance including 25 free places in all.38
There is clear evidence that children living in wealthier suburbs of
London (north, south and west) were more likely than other children to
gain secondary school places.39 Among the logbooks I consulted, one—
Hitherfield in Streatham—stood out: this school was successful in gaining
secondary school places and presumably its fame had spread far. An inspection report in 1915 noted that the children were of a ‘superior elementary
class’ and some came ‘from a considerable distance’ to attend the school.
The memoirs indicate that some children engaged with the curriculum
and the ethos of schooling to the extent that they wanted to go on to
secondary schools. Indeed, one way of thinking about children’s experience of schooling is to consider the demand for secondary education.
Maclure documents a trebling of secondary school places in London in
the years 1904–1919, partly through grants and scholarships;40 and he
notes that other cities did better, having ended fee-paying in maintained
secondary schools.41 Some of this London growth reflects the increase in
the school-aged population by 45 per cent. But the growth in demand
met by these school places is much greater than is accounted for by the
population increase. The figures do act as a marker, suggesting some
London children’s interest in continuing their school-based education.42
By way of contrast with Robert Roberts, Edward Ezard (born 1901)
had an elementary school teacher who coached four boys for exams to
qualify them for secondary school. The brightest boy of all was taught
algebra and duly got a Junior County Scholarship (that is, a free place) to
a grammar school; the next three boys singled out for extra help got into
central schools. Ted lived with his mother and elder sister on the top floor
of a house looking over Battersea Park in south London and by comparison with families living in grinding and relentless poverty were relatively
well off. His father died young, and his widowed mother worked as a (day-­
time) housekeeper in the West End; one year they had a month’s holiday
at the holiday home of her employer. There was always enough to eat,
with special treats for special days, and outings on the trams, over the
bridge, to see how the other half lived in the West End.
Ted writes in detail about his teacher at the elementary school, who
taught them across his school years there, and inspired the boys to do well
and aspire to better things. ‘He made us feel that all things were open to
us, given the will and the effort.’43 Ted does not comment on the fact that
only four of the 52 boys in the class were singled out for special help. On
his central school experiences, he writes with even more detail about the
subject teachers, and the facilities for woodworking, metal work, science
and art. Again, the teachers coached them towards an entrance exam for
the civil service. This was a boy who bought into the educational system
on offer, was helped along by teachers, and did well. He also belonged to
a family that could afford to let him take educational opportunities.
Coming from a much poorer family in Walworth, with a father who did
paid work only intermittently, and where the children were eligible for free
meals—and ‘felt the hurt of feeling really poor’44—John Bennett (born
1902) also managed to get into secondary school and later had a career in
the civil service. But he explains that when he was coming up to 14 his
father wanted him to leave and get a job, in order help family finances. The
compromise reached was that he worked before and after school and on
Saturdays at a local grocery shop.
I would open up the shop on my way to school, put up the shutters, hang
out the baths and pails at the front of the shop and then run to school. I
usually just got into assembly by the grace of the monitor before the opening hymn. We had two hours for lunch and I would call in at the shop on
the way home and bring up any supplies from the cellar, like boxes of soap
or condensed milk. Then home to lunch and return to school. In the evening I would serve in the shop from five o’clock until I pulled down the
shutters at eight, nine on Fridays, and, until Lloyd George’s Shop Hours
Act, midnight on Saturdays. I would work on Saturdays eight in the m
­ orning
until midnight and arrive home so tired that I sometimes fell asleep on the
bed without undressing…45
This job enabled him to stay on at secondary school. He also had
homework to do; and he notes that he had no time for games or play; he
also gave up singing in the church choir. He was coached by helpful teachers for the Boy Clerks exam for the civil service, when he was 15. This set
him on his way to the career he wanted.
In the east end of London, near Aldgate, Elizabeth Flint (born c. 1906)
lived with her parents, elder brother Ted, elder sisters Dolly and Mabel,
Sid and younger sister Marjorie. They had two bedrooms and a kitchen,
where all of life was lived. Her father was a ‘jobber’: he bought vegetables
at Covent Garden market and sold them on to stall-holders. Her parents,
she tells us, were affectionate to the children and tolerant of their varying
characters and interests. Her story gives perhaps the most vivid illustration
of how the new education system could challenge child–parent relations.
Encouraged by her teacher, Liz Flint wanted to try for a scholarship to
a grammar school. By this time, her three eldest siblings were out at work,
and helping family finances. She tells how she geared herself up to talk
with her mother, who was illiterate, had left school at 11 and saw no point
in school. She needed to ask her mother’s permission to take the exam to
qualify her for the grammar school. She chose an afternoon when her
mother was waiting for her to come home from school, and had bought
ginger beer for her and a beer for herself. They settled down for a quiet
session, each drinking from their bottles and her Mum stroking Liz’s hair.
Liz asked if she could take the scholarship exam. Mum gave her consent,
but then:
There was a pitfall to tell her about, though. Better to say it now, while her
mood was good.
‘If I go in for it, Mum, and if I pass, I’ll have to stay at school a long time.
Right till I’m fifteen, I will.’
Mum sat up with a jerk. ‘Fifteen?’ as though she could not believe her ears.
‘Never heard of such a thing, I haven’t, not in all my born days, I haven’t.
Doll and Mabel left at thirteen and that was two years too many. Besides’
and curiosity got the better of her, ‘whatever will they find to teach you for
all them years?’46
Having gained her point and her place at the grammar school, Liz Flint
gives a clear account of how delight in learning was fostered there.
The lessons were given in a more interesting way. At the old school most of
the lessons had been drilled into us, as it were, but here we were allowed to
think for ourselves and to discuss things. Great long discussions we had
about practically every topic under the sun. Each day the world opened out
a little, and again a little more.47
Liz, throughout the book, provides an account of tensions between
the children and parents, but within the framework of a valued affectionate family life. It is an account of a new society developing and challenging both the young people and their parents. Like Laurie Lee, she
recreates conversations, presumably drawing on many memories, in order
to dramatise for the reader what she experienced. She gives a graphic
illustration of such tensions and challenges, describing how, during her
first year at the grammar school, she asked her mother to come to a
speech day. But she failed to spot her mother in the audience and when
she got home afterwards she found her mother there dressed in her
Sunday best.
‘I didn’t go in, Liz,’ she answered me. ‘I meant to, honest I did. I meant to
go in all right, I did, but it was all too grand for me, it was.’
I looked at her aghast. That someone had the chance to enter the heaven of
my new school, and turned the chance away was a thing I was not yet capable of understanding
‘Why not, Mum, why ever not?’
‘It was them other mothers, Liz, that’s what. Why some of them came in
cabs, they did, right up to the door. I couldn’t go in with them, I couldn’t.
That was Mum’s first and last attempt to come into my school life. I knew
after that, with only a dim understanding at first, that there was a gap
between us.48
This theme, the social class divide which permeated the education system, does not seem to have bothered Liz at her school, though others of
our informants did relate how, at secondary school, they faced snobbery
and discrimination from wealthier schoolmates (Bim Andrews; Annie
Wilson). Liz explains that she had a very supportive and encouraging
neighbour, who had interested herself in the child, taught her to read
before she started school and was keen to hear about her experiences at
the grammar school. Liz describes how she would go next door to talk
about her school day and to do her homework, for it was quiet there and
there was a table to work at.
Her book ends with a cliffhanger; and Liz calls this last short chapter
“The End of Childhood”. Ted had been killed in the war; Doll, pregnant,
had stormed out to live with her boyfriend; Mabel was preparing for marriage; and Liz felt that her days at school were numbered.
Dad was kind still. He had never been anything but kind, but he had begun
to look old and tired. He was thinner than ever.
Sometimes Mum would say, ‘Poor old Dad, everything’s a top of him.
Doll and everything and the bad trade to cap it all.’
At that an icy hand would grip my stomach because any day now I felt
Mum would say, ‘You better leave that old school of yours, Liz, and get a
proper job.’49
Children’s Evaluations of School
School, Home and Neighbourhood as Sites of Learning
The accounts quoted here point to general themes crossing places and
characters. The family context is crucial. Children had to learn how to be
a good enough person in their family and society more generally. So children had a duty to contribute to family finances if money was short. This
could mean leaving school, or doing paid work alongside school. If they
had a vision of their own future, the project of their own life, this often
had to take second place, as some of the examples given above show. Some
of the examples also show, as in the case of Liz Flint, that acutely felt generational issues were at stake. An illiterate mother, who managed her life
without needing to read, was poorly placed to understand her daughter’s
delight in reading and in learning itself.
However, many of these accounts point to the education that took
place outside school and after you left school, through learning a trade, a
skill or a craft; and in some cases through membership of unions. Hannah
Mitchell, who was born in 1871 near the start of the state education system, had only two weeks’ schooling before her mother tried to turn her
into the family drudge. She left home aged 13 for a hard life in domestic
service and the clothing industry. But then she learned her socialism and
her feminism through her work in the Labour Party, on Poor Law committees and in the suffrage movement in Manchester.
So, if we are thinking about education, as opposed to schooling, then
an important theme running through the accounts is children’s engagement with learning in the social world outside school. We learn from many
of the accounts that children learned more that they valued out of school
than in. Their paid work (both during their schooldays and after) taught
them valued skills. This high evaluation of skills can be seen as paradoxical,
since the elementary school curriculum focused, not just the basics of literacy and numeracy, but on gendered skills for their future lives, such as
carpentry, gardening and housewifery. But what we learn from the memoirs was the value young people assigned to specific knowledge for specific
jobs, such as saddlery or weaving, skills that carried economic value. Some
of them valued sociological and political learning about how society
worked and what would make it work better.
As regards their remembered experience of school as a site of learning,
some topics emerge from many of the accounts. Clearly, the memoirs tell
us that people remembered the rote learning, the never-afterwards-­
forgotten multiplication tables and the accompanying boredom of reciting
them time and again.50
More generally, the material experience of elementary schooling
allowed children to firm up their understandings of social class. Those
who regarded themselves as respectable working class, found themselves
in school alongside children who had to line up for tickets for free meals;
though they themselves may have found solidarity in numbers (as
Kathleen Dayus reports). Children could see that it was the wealthier
children who got the scholarships. At the bottom of the social heap were
the sad workhouse children, described by several informants. Some children (such as Jasper) made friends with people of a higher social class and
had to negotiate those friendships in the context of home lives different
from their own.
A central topic is gender. Girls were required to accept the gendered
curriculum. Yet there was considerable debate both nationally and locally
about what exactly the elementary schools should be doing, and in particular how far schooling should be gendered. Some commentators noted
that the efforts to teach, for instance, gardening and housewifery were
superficial, and were more to do with ideology than with practice.51 At
York Road School, north of King’s Cross Station, Theodora Bonwick, the
headteacher, rejected the gendered curriculum, arguing that girls should
not be trained in domestic work, since this implied that they were inferior
to boys.52 She also introduced education based on the concept of the child
as self-activated learner—a version of Montessori’s principles—in her
The absurdity of teaching children artificially what they learned hands­on at home was demonstrated, for instance, by Grace Foakes, debunking
the housewifery course:
…we were taught to sweep, dust, polish, make beds and bath a life-size doll.
We had great fun on this course, for it was held in a house set aside for the
purpose, and with only one teacher in charge, we were quick to take advantage when she went to inspect some other part of the house. We jumped on
the bed, threw pillows, drowned the doll and swept dirt under the mats. This
was the highlight of the week, the one lesson we never minded going to.53
As the memoirs show, children had varying experiences of special help
from teachers to enable them to go to secondary school. Robert Roberts
was forced to leave school because no help was given him. Ted Ezard and
John Bennett were helped. It was clear that the demand for secondary
education was rising, and so elementary schools would have to consider
how to respond. For children might now need education in topics such as
algebra or a foreign language, subjects that might help children compete
for places; and teaching styles might have to change: children’s active
thought rather than their obedience was now at stake. It is interesting, for
instance, to read the views of a school inspector, Alfred Swinburne, looking back over his career in a rural Suffolk area, up to about 1910. He
deplores the national control over what should be taught; the curriculum
should be designed locally to suit the children. He rails against the teaching (‘cramming’) of facts and the endless testing. He also deplores the
training for craft skills; he wanted instead a general, academic education,
enabling children to think. For, he argues: ‘Never forget, you must make
men before you make craftsmen.’54
Perhaps central to children’s experience was the quality of the teachers. At
one extreme, were the teachers who treated the children as objects, to be
instructed and forced to learn whatever the formal curriculum demanded.
It has been argued that there was fierce resistance from children to harsh
punishment and in particular to caning. Thus Humphries makes the case
that the resistance was class-based. He chose his sample of resisters from a
large database.55 In my small (unrepresentative) sample I did not find massive resistance, only some fear and disrespect for caning. Elizabeth Roberts
argues that where parents complained to the school about caning their
complaint was not so much class-based as a response to the difference
between punishment practices at home and school; for at home physical
punishment might be light, rare or nonexistent.56
As already documented, some children saw their teacher as authoritarian, even cruel; others found helpful, kindly teachers. The knowledge that
teachers purveyed may have been of minor importance, for many children,
compared to whether they were happy during their schooldays. There are
many examples in the memoirs of women teachers making a point of
encouraging girls: showing them they were capable, widening their visions
of what they could do in life. However, it was mainly at secondary school
that children valued and remembered their teachers for their knowledge
and enthusiasm for subjects. Elementary school teachers faced a stressful
job, with long hours and often impossible conditions. During the early
years of the twentieth century, many of the teachers were recruited from
the elementary schools themselves and given part-time training alongside
practice. But there was increasing dissatisfaction with this pupil-teacher
system. As one education pioneer, Sarah Bannister, said, the girls coming
forward were ‘often girls with very little in them; they are nice girls as far
as they go, but then they go such a very little way’.57 It was slowly realised
by the education authorities that people with higher educational qualifications were needed, not least because the curriculum had broadened and
was now educating some children towards secondary education. The
pupil-teacher system was phased out and, for instance, ended in 1913 in
London, and was replaced with a training system recruiting from secondary schools.58
But many of the people who authored memoirs of their childhoods,
would have been taught by people who had come through the pupil-­
teacher system. No doubt some of these had learned from experience how
not only to ‘manage’ their class, but also to teach them. Others may have
taken a more authoritarian stance. There could also be discrepancies
between teachers in the classroom and those overseeing their work: the
headteacher or the inspector. Thus school teachers sometimes overstepped
the mark, in trying to teach children morality. For instance, a school
inspector was the uneasy witness in a village school to a teacher telling the
children a moral tale and looking towards him for approval. I paraphrase
and shorten his account of the story-telling here. A boy sees some buns
newly baked, takes one and eats it. Enter his mother. Should we tell her?
NO! says a boy in the class. ‘Did you say No, Charlie, you naughty boy?’
And when the mother beats the boy who took the bun, she does it out of
love, doesn’t she?’ ‘NO,’ say the children, ‘she HATES us.’ The inspector
notes that teachers can go too far with their moral tales; and must be
responsive to children’s perspectives and common sense.59
But some children encountered teachers who were kindly and took an
interest in the children, helping out with extreme poverty, providing
boots, food and even small amounts of cash. The memoir of a woman who
lived in a Devon village emphasises that her teachers were ‘so friendly and
even motherly’; they lived in the village community, alongside the children’s homes and took part in local events, on sports committees, running
fairs and money-raising efforts.60 These teachers made sure the school day
included stories, songs and poems. Some teachers worked with the children out of school hours, training them for singing competitions and festivals. Teachers could manipulate the curriculum to make it interesting to
children; to widen their horizons and to encourage children to participate
in learning and in creating knowledge themselves. Earlier we read in
Robert Roberts’ account about the value to him of stories he was told in
geography and history lessons (page 98). A graphic account of the emotional value of story-telling is given in an edition of The School Child, by an
onlooker at an evening play-centre:
It was the story-telling room. Only one gas jet was burning and in the circle of
light sat a man, leaning forward with his hands in his pockets. Surrounding him
were some 30 small boys in rapt attention. Round-eyed and open-­mouthed,
they were drinking in his every syllable. For them the familiar classroom had
vanished, and they were away over magic seas ‘in faery lands forlorn’.61
Finally on this, we learn from a teacher, that it was possible to enable
the children to take charge of learning. D. H. Lawrence (1885–1931) was
one of the new generation of teachers; he attended elementary school and
then grammar school, worked as a pupil-teacher for four years, and then
took a two-year teaching certificate course at Nottingham University.
After these six years of teaching experience and learning, he was probably
confident and capable and it seems that he was a successful teacher in his
next job at an elementary school in Croydon (according to a report by his
headteacher). He encouraged the boys to draw and paint freely, and to
engage actively with, for instance, Shakespeare. Together, they painted
scenery and enacted scenes from The Tempest. In his poem, The Best of
School, Lawrence describes a creative session.62 He sits with the boys, quietly while they write:
As I sit on the shores of the class, alone,
Watch the boys in their summer blouses
As they write, their round heads busily bowed:
And one after another rouses
His face to look at me,
To ponder very quietly,
As seeing, he does not see.
And then he turns again with a little, glad
Thrill of his work he turns again from me
Having found what he wanted, having got what was to be had.
And very sweet it is, while the sunlight waves
In the ripening morning, to sit alone with the class
And feel the stream of awakening ripple and pass
From me to the boys, whose brightening souls it laves
For this little hour.
Lawrence’s point about the teacher’s function: to open up to children
the knowledge that they could participate in learning, and could contribute to knowledge through their own work, finds echoes in, for instance,
the delight in learning described by Liz Flint. It also echoes the points
made in the 1905 Suggestions, quoted earlier (page 92) on good teacher–
child relations: that the mind of the teacher should touch the mind of the
child; that he should encourage to the utmost the children’s natural activities of hand and eye.
Sunday School and the Power of Music
For many children, experiences of schooling also included Sunday school.
It has been said that six million children were enrolled in Sunday school in
1906.63 However this seems unlikely, since if the population of England
and Wales in 1911 was 36 million (45 million in the UK)64 and one fifth
of them were under the age of 18, that would mean almost all children
were enrolled. The figures are discussed by Philip Cliff, who notes the difficulties of arriving at useful numbers, for both membership and attendance. Not all the memoirs tell of Sunday school attendance; for these
schools made a small charge (1d. or 2d.) for entrance, and a child had to
have Sunday best clothes to attend. As well as these deterrents, some families, as our informants make clear, had other concerns on their minds.65
However, some of the memoirs record that Sunday was taken up almost
entirely with Christianity, for children went once or twice to Sunday school
and once or twice to church or chapel. Many working-class children were
not allowed to play, or to read (except Christian texts).66 Annie Wilson in
Nottingham explains that her parents made Sunday into a very special day:
the children were not allowed to play or to read books, except ‘these two
religious books, I think it was Home Companion or Family Circle’.67 Her
parents, though not churchgoers, insisted on the children going to Sunday
school and to other linked organisations. Thea Thompson, in her introduction to this account, suggests that middle-class parents were allowing
their children some amusement on Sundays—tennis and reading; but that
working-class parents were often stricter.68
However, a promising line of advance was pioneered in the Sunday
school movement. In the early twentieth century, about 50 books had
been published in the UK showing how the ideas of the child study movement could be used in Sunday schools.69 In 1905, G. H. Archibald, a
Canadian, came to England, and again in 1913, and began to popularise
the work of Froebel in Sunday schools. His messages proved very popular,
as measured by the hundreds of teachers from both Sunday and elementary schools who came to hear him speak. Under the patronage of the
Cadbury family, he established a model Sunday school run on Froebelian
lines in Bournville and in 1907 a training institute for Sunday school
teachers. This movement had the side-effect of highlighting the relatively
top-down regime imposed on elementary school teachers—and the children—by the system of drilling facts and inspecting children’s knowledge
of them.
We learn that children themselves generally found the ethos of Sunday
school more relaxed and welcoming than that of elementary school. The
teacher told stories and sometimes took children home with her for tea.
The children spent weeks practising songs and recitations and then gave
performances in poor areas of the city, as Annie Wilson records:
We’d go and recite to them or sing to them. They trained us to do this kind
of thing. But we had to go. The only way you got out of it you’d got to be
ill and she knew whether you were shamming or not. You couldn’t get away
with it.70
Annie also sang at a church mission:
We had flower services, we had concerts. Oh I loved that little mission …
We belonged to the Band of Hope and each little Band of Hope—all of
them from Nottingham—went to Circus Street Hall … And they would
sing, for prizes you see and recite and give readings and all that kind of
thing. We really looked forward to it. It was a red-letter day and it was a
great honour for the mission if you won anything. I once won first prize for
It seems that one upside of Sunday was music; indeed delight in music
emerges as a key theme in the accounts. The Ambleside interviews emphasise the homemade character of music-making.
And then you see we always used to have concerts and that, didn’t we, and
all, in’t school in them days—some great dos, we had you know, two or
three in’t winter. They would be all school kids and lots of grown-ups, oh,
full houses and all. All that’s gone now. Locals, school kids or anyone that
could play a fiddle or tell a joke—we used to have two or three a winter.72
And Alfred Creighton asked to recall school-days, focuses on music:
I: And what about your early school days. Were they happy days, was discipline very strict?
Oh, it was quite a happy time, yes. In those days we had the Band of
Hope and the Boys’ Brigade in those days, now there’s nothing of that now.
All gone, you see there were two bands in Ambleside, the town band and
there was the Volunteer band, the Volunteers. We’d a lovely band in
Ambleside once over, two bands, good bands too. Then the war came.73
Our informants choose to relate occasions when teachers taught them
to sing. They record how people sought out music, listened to, learned
and practised the songs sung in music halls and theatres, enjoyed the music
at church, chapel and Sunday school and gathered around the open air
services to hear the hymns and join in. Thus for example, Grace Foakes
describes Sunday afternoons in a Wapping street, where the children gathered to play their singing games; and later an open-air service was led by
an old man of eighty years, with a flowing beard, who preached hell fire
and damnation.74
His daughter played the harmonium, the hymn was announced, books were
given out and we all sang Onward Christian Soldiers. Windows were flung
open, and people leaned out, listening to the singing … When the prayer
finished we sang Fight the Good Fight.
Grace comments,
I wish you could have been there, for this was a sight so moving to see, the
deserted road, the closed wharves and warehouses, the people standing or
watching from their homes, none of whom had two half-pennies for a
penny; some who would tomorrow have to pawn their belongings before
they could get a meal; some with no work to go to. And yet they could all
sing, and listen while the old man gave his sermon.75
The linkages between music, the words of hymns and what was happening in the battlefields was made clear to children through the martial
tone and content of many hymns. Ralph Wightman, who was then away
from home, boarding at a grammar school in Dorset, describes the power
of these linkages:
I think the first time that words moved me in that strange way which brings
smarting uncomfortable tears to your eyes, was at Morning Assembly when
we had the hymn for ‘those in peril on the sea’. The words which mattered
were ‘our brethren’, possibly because at that time the war had come much
closer. So many men I had known as warm human beings were dead in
Flanders dirt. My brother was over there.76
And, he adds, he knew that he himself might be called up when he
reached 17 ½ ‘to go to that senseless slaughter’.77
School also provided opportunities for music, not only during the religious service that started the school day and in the patriotic songs on
Empire Day, but also, as the education service developed, through singing
lessons in and after school; and through singing competitions across
schools; for instance, in London these culminated in an annual festival at
the Albert Hall.78 Catherine Cookson79 records her delight in participating in a Christmas concert at her school. Clifford Hills adds a special note
on music in his Essex village. As well as hymns in church and Sunday
school, and singing in the choir, he describes funerals, which were followed by a big tea, including homemade wine.
And as kids we used to go up to the funeral and have good tuck in … I
had an uncle who played the accordion and after the funeral with this
homemade wine which was getting the better of them Uncle would play
the accordion and those who could dance would dance and those who
could sing would sing and it ended up with quite a nice gay evening. We
enjoyed people dying in those days. They used to know lots of songs in
those days, and I’ve heard my father sing perhaps a dozen or fifteen
It seems very likely that many if not most children responded with
acquiescence and even enthusiasm to the patriotic and religious messages
purveyed to them, especially as heightened by powerful music. It would
have been a strong-minded child who stood out against these frequent
messages and exhortations. One of the Londoners, Evelyn Shelley, did
so, recording that she resented the punitive character of religious teaching; and the kindly but patronising behaviour of Sunday school
Our religious instruction was of the sin and punishment order (in fact one
realised it was a sin to enjoy anything) and I could never grasp why we had
to be ‘saved’, nor why boys and girls had to be kept strictly apart on Sunday
school outings. I must have been an odd child and a trial to grown-ups. I
hated the condescension of Sunday school treats, the bun and the orange
and pat on the head handed out on leaving.81
Robert Roberts’ account of his schooldays is concentrated into one
chapter of his book about the society he grew up in, both locally in his
Salford ‘village’ and more broadly. On school, he packs in many details,
and many comments, ending with his verdict on the relentless religious
teaching. This is a polished, caustic account by a writer who knows exactly
what points he wants to make.
Daily exposure for nine years to Christian teaching left me with an active
distaste for the Lord … For many among us, the son of God had long
become the epitome of misery and boredom.82
John Bennett, who had spent his early years as a chorister and
attended both Sunday school and church, writes that he experienced a
set of stages in his disenchantment with Christianity—the most powerful, perhaps, being when a choirmaster refused to pardon a boy who
was late for practice and when a clergyman preached that God was obviously on the side of Britain and that our duty, therefore, was to kill
Women’s Work for Children
Children’s experiences of school can be usefully set in the context of those
pioneers, exemplified here by Mary Bridges Adams, who challenged the
assumptions of male politicians. Thus it was obvious to many people, and
not just women, that feeding children had to be a pre-condition of educating them; and women added their voice, on committees, on school boards
and through trade unions to those of, notably, male doctors who agreed.84
More fundamentally, women such as Mary challenged the social class basis
on which schooling was organised. The setbacks experienced by some of
the children in this chapter stem largely from the fact that the government
was not willing to fund a free service for all children, encompassing the
teenage years. And the quality of the service was severely jeopardised by
large class sizes.85
Further challenges were posed to the education system, throughout the
early years of the twentieth century, by women theorists, and notably by
‘revisionary Froebelians’. With solid training to back up their ideas for
reforming the curriculum and indeed the ethos of elementary schools,
they proposed loosening up Froebel and promoting children’s active
exploration as a basis for learning. They had most influence with the
under-fives and the infants (age 5–7). We have to add that the memoirs
give little indication of their influence, which, given these women’s socio-­
political position, is not surprising. A few women could not make much
headway against the large classes and the rigorous fact-promoting and
testing regime. However, these women continued to lay the basis for the
changes that began to take off after the Great War.86
As later commentators have noted, the idea that elementary schooling
for girls should teach them to be good mothers and housewives was pervasive and difficult to counter.87 When the Girl Guides were established in
1910–1911, their leader, Agnes Baden-Powell, endorsed this aim for the
movement too.88 Feminist critiques include that by a Mrs Marvin, who
gave evidence to a Board of Education Consultative Committee in 1909;
she said it was better to provide girls with a liberal education ‘to raise the
woman’s status, to elevate her character and to widen her intellectual outlook’. In 1918 Rebecca West argued that emphasis on domestic subjects
reduced girls’ chances of education.89 However, there is a story still to be
told about the work of individual women teachers in encouraging children, and especially girls, to step out of gendered assumptions, and engage
with the opportunities being opened up for further education whether in
school or through paid work and evening classes. Some of the memoirs
give credit to this encouragement, as exemplified by Miss Wilkie on behalf
of Dorothy Scannell. In the next chapter I use a school logbook to show
how a headteacher could affect her girls’ activities in school hours (Atley
Road). Women headteachers were well-placed to initiate reforms in their
girls’ departments of elementary schools, as I suggested with reference to,
for instance, the head of York Road Elementary School who challenged
the gendered character of the curriculum (page 108).
It is notable that among the more successful ventures women engaged
in, was running girls’ clubs in city areas.90 These provided young workers
aged 13 to 18 with an environment that parents could approve of and
which offered escape from poor housing and domestic responsibilities.
They provided a place where girls could get together and have a good
time, without being preached at or condescended to. The girls’ clubs
movement was under the umbrella of the Women’s Industrial Council,
led, from its inception in 1894, by Clementina Black. It was concerned
with the education of women and girls, training and citizenship.91 So the
clubs provided opportunities to engage these young workers with the
politics and economics of their working conditions in factories and workshops and to raise their consciousness of the battles that had to be fought
for better working conditions. Emmeline Pethick, who ran the Espérance
Club in West London, offered seminars on economics and trade unionism
and encouraged the girls to become activists in their workplace. She said:
‘we also had to give them a conscious part to take in the battle that is
being fought for the workers, and will not be won until it is loyally fought
by the workers as well.’92
Experiencing Schooling
As discussed in Chapter Three, city and rural environments differed in the
ways they affected children’s lives at home and in the neighbourhood. As
regards schooling, what seems most apparent is that rural children were
more heavily, or more directly, under the power of church and gentry; that
opportunities for schooling beyond the elementary level were few and the
demands of paid or domestic work were paramount for children. George
Ewart Evans reports (referring mainly to the first 30 years of the education
system) that school had little impact on rural children; literacy was not
encouraged at home, where there were no books. He argues that the gentry and the clergy opposed any liberalising of the school experience, since
it might disrupt the acquiescence of the labouring poor to their lot in the
divinely ordered social system.93 However, judging by the memoirs and
interviews, it seems that some rural children could gain an education elsewhere—through engagement with political and social movements in the
City children were also subjected to indoctrination into Christianity
and the British Empire, through the school curriculum; but they perhaps
had easier access to other sources of information—newspapers and comics,
films and music hall—and these provided social and political commentaries on societal movements. There were somewhat wider employment
opportunities awaiting city children—in industries, offices and factories.
For a few young people, training was available towards these better-paid
jobs, at commercial and technical institutes, some offering evening courses.
However, both city and rural children had only a slim chance of secondary
education. By the early 1920s, only 9.5 per cent of elementary school
children went on to secondary education, and of these one-third had free
places and two-thirds paid fees.94
Children’s experiences of school are contextualised in their experiences
of family and social life. As children, their social status at both home and
school was as subordinates to adults. Both sets of adults demanded obedience and work, whether domestic and/or paid work, or school-related
work. Thus the two halves of children’s lives had continuity. They expected
to do as they were told. Being a good enough person required listening to
and obeying adults. These points help us to understand children’s negotiations with their parents and schools for the opportunity to proceed on
to secondary schooling. If the price was to bring money into the ­household
by doing a part-time job alongside school and homework, then that was
what they did and in some cases were glad to do.
But doing a part-time job was easier for parents to contemplate in the
case of boys than of girls; and secondary education in itself posed problems for parents of girls, as offering them more freedom from the mores
of the home.95 Secondary schooling also offered a vision of a future working life for girls in office work or teaching, distinctive from the normal life
of wifedom, motherhood and domesticity. Perhaps Dorothy Scannell’s
parents worried about her future, as a too independent person? Our
women informants give some suggestions about their pity for their
mothers’ hard lives. One—Edna Bold—gives a particularly forthright
account of her rejection of sex and motherhood—she went on to be a
teacher all her days.
Adults who observed children’s experiences of schooling often brought
a critical view, based on current views about how children learn. From the
beginnings of the state education system, battles were fought about the
place of ‘progressive’ educational ideas in the education of the poorest
members of society. Letting children learn, rather than telling children, was
a hard lesson to learn for many educators. It is interesting, in this context,
that Sunday school was for many children not only relatively pleasant, but
also enabling; children were actively engaged through singing and story-­
telling and through more relaxed relationships with their teachers.
A particularly eloquent appeal for more child-centred education was
made, after his years as a chief inspector of schools, by Edmond Holmes.96
His vision is set out in the preface to his book:
My aim in writing this book, is to show that the externalism of the West, the
prevalent tendency to pay undue regard to outward and visible ‘results’ and
to neglect what is inward and vital, is the source of most of the defects that
vitiate Education in this country, and therefore that the only remedy for
those defects is the drastic one of changing our standard of reality and our
conception of the meaning and value of life.
His book is a tirade against the regime of testing for facts, still prevalent
in elementary schools in 1912, even though the payment by results system
had been formally abandoned in 1895. As log books show, annual testing
of children in religious ‘knowledge’ and testing in the three Rs as a basis
for moving up the Standards was routine. In his opening chapter Holmes
sets out his vision: that the child must do the growing, must take in the
nourishment and exercise his organs and faculties. By contrast, the current
system put all the activity into the hands of the teacher, and reduced the
children to ‘mental lethargy’ and ‘fatal inertness’, ‘which was the outcome
of five or six years of systematic repression and compulsory inaction’.97
As I have very briefly suggested in this chapter, our informants’ accounts
suggest that most children survived schooling with their spirits more or
less intact, and many then took advantage of educational opportunities
offered through evening classes, their work and social contacts. Children
may have been subjugated at school, but their social lives outside school
provided a supportive framework within which they could endure school
and even profit from it.
In the next chapter, I concentrate on the years of the Great War, the
socialist feminist work carried out and the work of both children and
1. Jane Martin Making Socialists, 2010. See especially chapters 5 and 6.
2. Martin 2010, chapter 6.
3. See Appendix B.
4. Martin 2010, p. 149.
5. Hollis 1994, pp. 185–190.
6. The ‘provided’ schools were those supplied by school boards from 1870 to
fill the gaps left by the ‘non-provided’ schools already in existence in
England in 1870. Non-provided schools were mainly under the wing of
religious organisations (notably the Church of England).
7. See Maclure 1970, chapter 6 for this movement in London; and Gowen
(no date) on the history of education in Lowestoft.
8. Maclure 1970, pp. 91–93 details these developments in London.
9. A description of the closing of a struggling elementary school after the
Great War is given by the Rector of the parish of Uggeshall in North East
Suffolk. Uggeshall is about 8 miles north-east of Southwold. (Ashton
10. This is the short title of Handbook of Suggestions: For the consideration of
teachers and others concerned in the work of public elementary schools. (Board
of Education 1937)
11. Suggestions: For the consideration of teachers … 1905, p. 9.
12. Suggestions: For the consideration of teachers … 1905, p. 14, quoted in
Cunningham, P. 2002.
13. Cunningham, P. 2002, pp. 14–15.
14. For instance, Robert Roberts, in The Classic Slum 1977, describes the
scene at his school in Salford, in the ironically titled chapter ‘Alma Mater’.
15. Dorothy Barrow (in Ambleside) remembers taking the exam for the grammar school, and tells of her indignation when, after the boys and girls had
written the English and Arithmetic papers, the boys were sent home and
the girls had a needlework exam, ‘which I thought was highly unfair’.
16. For the growing influence of Froebel in training and in schools, see
Liebschner 1991.
17. Bloomfield 2000. For careers of other Froebelians in schools’ policy and
practice, see also Brehony 2000.
18. Trevor Jones wrote a school history of Emmanuel School and gives this
information. No publication date. Available to read at the Camden Local
Studies and Archives Centre.
19. Rose 2002, chapter 5. Rose gives a full discussion of the merits and demerits of the study, alongside quotations from many autobiographies.
20. Blythe 1972, p. 128.
21. Blythe 1972, pp. 281–282.
22. Blythe 1972, p. 136.
23. Blythe 1972, p. 33.
24. The Labour Exam allowed a child to leave school, provided that the child
had reached a certain standard in the three Rs; one source says a child had
to have reached aged 12 and to have reached Standard 5 (Evans 1977,
p. 206). A child must also have had to put in a certain number of attendances at school. These requirements varied across LEAs.
25. Burnett 1994, p. 111.
26. Burnett 1994, p. 94.
27. The quotes below are from Robert Roberts’ The Classic Slum, chapter 7,
titled ‘Alma Mater’, pp. 129–145.
28. Roberts, R. 1977, p. 138.
29. Roberts, R. 1977, p. 140.
30. Roberts, R. 1977, p. 141.
31. Roberts, R. 1977, p. 141.
32. This play sounds like the mummers’ play, described in Thomas Hardy’s
novel, The Return of the Native, though that takes place at Christmastime.
33. Atherton in T. Thompson 1981, p. 116. Elizabeth Atkinson 1987 sets out
memories of children’s lives in institutions and workhouses.
34. Atherton in T. Thompson 1981, p. 117.
35. Scannell 1974, p. 84.
36. Scannell 1974, p. 143.
37. Lowndes 1969, pp. 89–91.
38. Gowen (no date), p. 6. Typed manuscript held in Lowestoft Record Office.
39. Marsden 1991, chapters 4 and 10.
40. Maclure 1970, p. 88.
41. Maclure 1970, p. 121.
42. By way of examples, I note that of the 28 people whose childhood memories are discussed in Chapter Three, 21 left at the school leaving age for a
working life, including at least three who wanted to stay on but did not
(Roberts, Scannell, Atherton) and seven went on to secondary schooling
(Andrews, Bennett, Bold, Ezard, Flint, Foakes, Wightman).
43. Ezard 1979, p. 102.
44. Bennett, H. J. 1980, p. 4.
45. Bennett, H. J. 1980, p. 37.
46. Flint 1963, p. 99.
47. Flint 1963, p. 108.
48. Flint 1963, p. 110.
49. Flint 1963, p. 183.
50. See for example Laurie Lee’s account of reciting tables (p. 14).
51. Dyhouse 1981, pp. 101–103.
52. Kean 1990b.
53. Foakes 1974, p. 47.
54. Swinburne (no date, c. 1911) made these points in his farewell speech on
retiring from his work as inspector of schools in Suffolk.
55. Humphries 1981on resistance to school.
56. Roberts, E. 1984, p. 28.
57. Sarah Bannister, quoted in Robinson 2000, p. 140.
58. Maclure 1970, p. 92.
59. Swinburne, pp. 227–228.
60. Horn 1978, p. 293.
61. The School Child was a journal that documented new initiatives in the education system, including evening and holiday classes. This account was in
the April 1911 edition, page 7; it describes children’s playing centres,
offering painting, modelling, boxing, singing, dancing and story-telling.
They ran in the evenings and on Saturday mornings. The centres were
promoted by Mrs Humphrey Ward from 1904.
62. D. H. Lawrence, born into a miner’s family, got a scholarship to grammar
school. He details the searing experience of his first teaching job in a mining village, where he was confronted by rebellious boys (in The Rainbow);
and the more creative and rewarding work he did at Croydon. See Moore’s
1960 biography for the headteacher’s assessment of Lawrence’s work,
quoted on pp. 113–118; also Lawrence s collected poems (1932).
63. Laqueur 1976, p. 246.
64. David Thomson 1985, p. 19; the census of 1911 has the population of
England and Wales as 36 million.
65. Efforts to increase people’s interest in Christianity included week-long
revivalist enterprises, with visiting speakers, as detailed in Arnold Bennett’s
novel Anna of the Five Towns, chapter 5.
66. For discussion, see Burnett, pp. 18–26.
67. Thompson, T. 1981, p. 86.
68. For discussion, see Thompson, T. 1981, p. 66.
69. All the information in this paragraph comes from Cliff 1981.
70. Thompson, T. 1981, p. 86.
71. Thompson, T. 1981, p. 87.
72. Bowness and Hodgson interview, p. 6 of ten-page interview.
73. Alfred Creighton interview, p. 11 of 17-page interview.
74. Foakes 1974, pp. 28–30.
75. Foakes 1974, p. 30.
76. Wightman 1968, p. 55.
77. The hymn ‘Eternal Father, strong to save’ was used to great effect by
Benjamin Britten in his Noyes Fludde, performed by children. His orchestration adds to the hymn’s rolling majesty and brings the opera to a close.
78. In his history of Fleet Road Elementary School (London), Marsden documents the success of the school in these LCC-sponsored competitions; as
well as the many shows with singing and recitations put on by the
79. Cookson 1977, pp. 36–37.
80. Thompson, T. 1981, p. 50.
81. Shelley, p. 3.
82. Roberts, R. 1987, p. 144.
83. Bennett, H. J., p. 39.
84. For instance, Dr James Kerr worked alongside Margaret McMillan in
Bradford and then in London on the London School Board with her and
others to promote measures to improve child health.
85. For discussion of class sizes, see, for example, Cunningham and Gardner
2004, p. 114.
86. See Brehony 2000, for discussion of some of the Froebelian pioneers.
87. Dyhouse 1981, Davin 1996, Roberts 1984 and Turnbull 1987, for
instance, give detailed analysis of the gendered assumptions prevalent in
the education system and of how these were played out in practice.
88. Dyhouse 1981, pp. 110–111.
89. Dyhouse 1981, p. 170.
90. In terms of numbers who attended, these girls’ clubs can be deemed successful. For discussion of measuring success, see Vicinus 1994, pp. 231–234.
91. Mappen 1983, pp. ii–iii. See Jeffs and Spence 2011 for a history of girls’
92. Vicinus 1994, p. 233. See also Turnbull 2001. Note, however, that some
commentators see girls’ club work as essentially neither feminist not socialist, but rather maternalist, with the aim of training girls for traditional roles
(e.g. Spence 2006).
93. Evans 1977, p. 21.
94. These figures come from a survey conducted by Kenneth Lindsay, under
the guidance of R.H. Tawney. See Maclure 1970, p. 120.
95. See Anna Davin 1996, Carol Dyhouse 1981 and Elizabeth Roberts for
analysis of mothers’ work at home.
96. Holmes’ book What Is and What Might Be was published after he retired,
in 1912. I discussed his utopian ideas, in Chapter One.
97. Holmes 1912, p. 155.
Ashton, A. (1996). Fifty years’ work in a Suffolk Parish. Suffolk: Sole Bay Printing.
Atkinson, E. (1987). Strict but not cruel: Living in a children’s home 1903–43.
Oral History, 15(2), 38–45.
Bennett, H. J. (1980). I was a Walworth boy. London: The Peckham Publishing
Bloomfield, A. (2000). ‘Mrs Roadknight reports…’ Jane Roadknight’s visionary
role in transforming elementary education. In M. Hilton & P. Hirsch (Eds.),
Practical visionaries: Women, education and social progress 1790–1930. Harlow:
Blythe, R. (1972). Akenfield: Portrait of an English village. London: Book Club
Associates Log Book.
Board of Education. (1937). Handbook of suggestions for the consideration of teachers and others concerned in the work of the public elementary schools. London:
Brehony, K. J. (2000). English revisionist Froebelians and the schooling of the
urban poor. In M. Hilton & P. Hirsch (Eds.), Practical visionaries: Women,
education and social progress 1790–1930. Harlow: Longman.
Burnett, J. (1994). Destiny obscure: Autobiographies of childhood, education and
family from the 1820s to the 1920s. London: Routledge.
Cliff, P. (1981). Myths—Utilities and a meaningful existence 1900–1980. In
J. Ferguson (Ed.), Christianity, society and education. London: SPCK.
Cookson, C. (1977). Our Kate: An autobiography. London: Corgi Books.
Cunningham, P. (2002). Primary education. In R. Aldrich (Ed.), A century of
education. London: Routledge.
Cunningham, P., & Gardner, P. (2004). Becoming teachers: Texts and testimonies
1907–1950. London: Woburn Press.
Davin, A. (1996). Growing up poor: Home, school and street in London 1870–1914.
London: Rivers Oram Press.
Dyhouse, C. (1981). Girls growing up in late Victorian and Edwardian England.
London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Evans, G. E. (1977). Where beards wag all: The relevance of the oral tradition.
London: Faber and Faber.
Ezard, E. (1979). Battersea boy. London: William Kimber.
Flint, E. (1963). Hot bread and chips. London: Museum Press.
Foakes, G. (1974). My part of the river. London: Shepheard-Walwyn.
Hollis, P. (1994). Ladies elect: Women in English local government 1965–1914.
Oxford: Clarendon.
Holmes, E. (1912). What is and what might be. London: Constable and Co. Ltd.
Horn, P. (1978). Education in rural England 1800–1914. Dublin: Gill and
Humphries, S. (1981). Hooligans or rebels; An oral history of working class childhood
and youth 1889–1939. Oxford: Blackwell.
Jeffs, T. & Spence, J. (2011). The development of youth work with girls and
young women in the nineteenth century. In R. Gilchrist et al. (Eds.), Reflecting
on the past: Essays in the history of youth and community work. Lyme Regis:
Russell House Publishing.
Kean, H. (1990b). Deeds not Words: The lives of suffragette teachers. London: Pluto
Laqueur, T. W. (1976). Religion and respectability: Sunday schools and working
class culture 1780–1850. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Lawrence, D. H. (1932). The collected poems of D H Lawrence. London: Martin
Liebschner, J. (1991). Foundations of progressive education: The history of the
National Froebel Society. Cambridge: Lutterworth Press.
Lowndes, G. A. N. (1969). The silent social revolution (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
Maclure, S. (1970). A history of education in London 1870–1970. London: Allen
Lane The Penguin Press.
Mappen, E. F. (1983). New introduction. In C. Black (Ed.), Married women’s
work. London: Virago.
Marsden, W. E. (1991). Educating the respectable: A study of Fleet Road Board
School, Hampstead, 1879–1903. London: Woburn Press.
Martin, J. (2010). Making socialists: Mary Bridges Adams and the fight for knowledge and power, 1855–1939. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Montessori Conference. (1914). Report of the First Montessori conference, East
Runton July 25–28, London (NB no further details appear on the citation—In
the Institute of Education library archives).
Moore, H. T. (1960). The intelligent heart: The story of D H Lawrence.
Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Roberts, E. (1984). A woman’s place: An oral history of working-class women
1890–1940. Oxford: Blackwell.
Roberts, R. (1977). The classic slum. Harmondsworth: Penguin/Pelican.
Roberts, R. (1987). A ragged schooling: Growing up in the classic slum. Manchester:
Manchester University Press.
Robinson, W. (2000). Sarah Jane Bannister and teacher training in transition
1870–1918. In M. Hilton & P. Hirsch (Eds.), Practical visionaries: Women,
education and social progress 1790–1930. London: Pearson Education Limited.
Rose, J. (2002). The intellectual life of the British working class. New Haven: Yale
University Press.
Scannell, D. (1974). Mother knew best. London: Macmillan.
Spence, J. (2006). Working with girls and young women: A broken history. In
R. Gilchrist, T. Jeffs, & J. Spence (Eds.), Drawing on the past: Studies in the
history of community and youth work. Leicester: National Youth Agency.
Swinburne, A. J. (no date, perhaps 1911). Memories of a school inspector. Published
by the author, Snape Priory, Saxmundham.
Thompson, T. (1981). Edwardian childhoods. London: Routledge and Kegan
Thomson, D. (1985). England in the twentieth century. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Turnbull, A. (1987). Learning her womanly work: The elementary school curriculum 1870–1914. In F. Hunt (Ed.), Lessons for life: The schooling of women and
girls 1850–1950. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Turnbull, A. (2001). Gendering young people—Work, leisure and girls’ clubs:
The work of the National Organisation of Girls’ clubs and its successors
1911–1961. In R. Gilchrist, T. Jeffs, & J. Spence (Eds.), Essays in the history of
community and youth work. Leicester: National Youth Agency.
Vicinus, M. (1994). Independent women: Work and community for single women
1850–1920. London: Virago.
Wightman, R. (1968). Take life easy. London: Pelham Books.
Women and Children and the Great
War Years
Socialist Feminism in Action: Sylvia Pankhurst (1882–1960)
Sylvia Pankhurst, daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, was influenced
in the early 1900s by the active working-class suffrage movement in
north-west England.1 In 1912 she established a base in the East End
of London, and for ten years she and a group of women worked in
the East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS), to mobilise
working-class women and girls in a fight for better conditions of
work (equal pay for equal work), as well as the vote.
During the war years, when her mother’s suffragette movement
(WSPU) supported the war, Sylvia broke away in favour of pacifism,
and as poverty in the East End increased (especially in the early years
of the war), she and her colleagues took direct action to help women
and children. A central feature of the ELFS’s war work was to act as
a welfare organisation. A restaurant provided cheap meals for starving women and children, and milk for babies. In order to enable
women to go out to work, they started a nursery for the children
(run on Montessori lines),2 and a clinic, staffed by women doctors,
provided medical care for the children. A toy factory and a boot factory were established. By 1914, the ELFS had rented a hall, known
as the Women’s Hall, on Old Ford Road, and this provided a space
for a library, lectures, concerts and choirs. It was the first port of call
for women needing help.
© The Author(s) 2018
B. Mayall, Visionary Women and Visible Children, England 1900–1920,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-61207-2_5
The ELFS also enlisted children in a Junior Suffragettes group, to
engage them in socialist and political action. This work included festivals, marches and parties. In order to get the messages of the movement out to a wider audience, they established The Dreadnought, a
journal distributed at factory gates and at the dock gates, which provided women, men and children with information about gendered
class politics and the fight for a better society for all.3
The Immediate Impacts of War on Women and Children
My focus on people’s memories of working-class childhoods has drawn on
both autobiographies and interviews. As I have suggested in the previous
two chapters, many of these people recall very hard lives as children; many
of them did paid work alongside schooling; and I think all of them did
unpaid jobs around the home. It is in the context of what we have learned
about the material conditions of their lives that this discussion of the war
years has to be approached. The principal topic emerging from their accounts
is the additional economic pressure on families when war started and the
work, paid and unpaid that women and children did to help withstand these
pressures. It is clear that the work of women in the household and as paid
workers was crucial to the survival of families. And there are many instances
in the memoirs of the kindly contributions women made, helping out those
of their neighbours who were facing particularly hard times. Children took
part in domestic work and did paid work when they could get it.
When the Great War started, fathers and elder brothers enlisted, and it
took some time for separation allowances to come through to the women
running the household. The bureaucracy was slow-moving and inefficient,
leading to delays, mislaid documents—and hardship.4 These allowances
did not take account of the numbers in the household who had to be fed
and clothed. Thus for instance, the Dreadnought journal published the
case of a woman with five children, whose weekly expenses, including rent,
came to £1.10s.2d., but whose allowance was 27s.6d. a week.5 The
Dreadnought argued, in line with Pember Reeves, whose study had been
published in 1913, that the allowance should relate to the numbers of
people in the household needing to be fed and cared for. Meanwhile,
unemployment in cities increased, since firms closed their doors in response
to wartime uncertainties; and imports of food were reduced as a result of
enemy blockades. Food prices rose, food shortages increased and since
one-third of families in some cities had an income of 24s. or less per week,
many families were in severe financial difficulties.6 Some were helped out
by relatives who lived in rather better circumstances in rural areas. The
ELFS workers found that they had an immediate task: feeding mothers
and children.
During the war, increasing numbers of women began to take on paid
work traditionally done by men in factories, in transport, in offices and
shops; also in women’s traditional work in the clothing industry, whether
at home or in dressmaking establishments. Factories recruited women for
war work, in munitions, supplies and clothing. Many women left domestic
service for these jobs. Overall, numbers of women in paid work rose from
just over 3 million to just under 5 million by early 1918.7 Married women,
who traditionally worked only in the home, were now welcome in industrial jobs, and during the war years, they made up 40 per cent of all women
in paid work.8 But women were paid half or one-third of a man’s wages,
not enough to live on9 Thus it was common for women to be paid 10s. or
less for a long week’s work.10
Alongside the poverty and its consequent endless worry, women and
children might suffer the loss of fathers and brothers. Thus Liz Flint (born
1906), who, like Bennett and Ezard, was focused wholeheartedly on
learning and enjoyment of experiences at her secondary school, records
the main event of the war years, from her family’s point of view. This was
the day when they received news that Ted, the eldest son, newly married,
and with a baby son, had been killed.
It was Dad who took it the worst. He sat at the table and great sobs shook his
body. His arms were folded on the table before him and his head was cradled
on his arms. His breath came in great gulps and the whole of him shook.11
With the father distraught, the mother tried to help by revealing a long-­
held secret: Ted was her son, not her husband’s. The whole family sat in
tears, and Liz thought about Ted’s son who would never see his Dad. Liz
later explains that this was the great event of the war for her family:
The war went on through all this, and I only heeded bits of it as they might
come directly into my life. I heard bits from talk at school, and most clear
days Mum swore she heard ‘them guns’ banging away in France. Most of all
I remember an explosion. It was in Silvertown, they said. Aunt Rogue was
killed there. No one cried for her, that I remember, not in our house at any
rate. It was just one of those things, that was all. The war for us had begun
and ended with Ted. Other than Ted the war meant very little.12
This is one of the many dramatic stories of war deaths. For the people
looking back at their childhoods, these deaths overshadowed every other
event of the war. Families also endured years of worry about fathers and
brothers in enemy prisoner-of-war camps. Letters were exchanged between
soldiers and those left at home13 Families sent Red Cross parcels to men at
the front and in prisoner-of-war camps and these parcels cost a hard-­
earned 2s. a month, as James Brady reports—for he had joined the army
in 1915 and was taken prisoner.
But there are many accounts of neighbourly help. May Bowness in
Ambleside remembers that her mother used to act as midwife locally, for
no financial reward, though farmers might offer her a dozen eggs or other
food in thanks. ‘You just did it because it was friendship,’ she said.14
Pember Reeves notes that people in the Lambeth area of London where
her research was carried out felt deep attachment to the local community
and helped out families when they faced crises.15 In cities, rural areas and
small villages, we read of the kindly work of women, based in response to
need. Thus Mrs Savoy was described by George Lansbury (Labour MP for
Bow and Bromley from 1910) as the best woman in Old Ford: ‘she was
bringing up two orphan boys, and was ever ready to share her last crust,
or perform any service for a neighbour, from bringing her baby into the
world to scrubbing out her room. Or minding her children at need.’16 Mrs
Savoy was one of six women who went on a deputation to the Prime
Minister in June 1914 (organised by Sylvia) to press for women’s suffrage.
She explained in her speech that she worked as a brush-maker, and was
paid 2d. for each, though they sold at 10s. 6d.
As I have to work so hard to support myself I think it is very wrong that I
cannot have a voice in the making of the laws that I have to uphold … I do
not like having to work 14 hours a day without having a voice in it, and I
think when a woman works 14 hours a day she has a right to a vote, as her
husband has … We want votes for women.17
Women’s Community Work
As suggested at the start of this chapter, women were working in the community to help the poorest families in their struggle for survival during the
war years. This work has been documented by Vicinus, who notes the
proliferation of settlements set up by educated men and women in the cities, including London. As she argues, the hands-on work done by women,
(as contrasted with the more centre-based work done by men—for
instance, in running lectures at Toynbee Hall) provided a foundation
stone of the profession of social work, where women worked with the
people, as well as for them.18
It is said that more settlements were established during the war years
than previously.19 A notable example was the work of Muriel and Doris
Lester, who founded Kingsley Hall in 1915, having already worked for ten
years in the East End.20 This settlement became famous partly because
Gandhi insisted on staying there on his visit to London in 1931. But it
became clear that no numbers of individual workers attempting to alleviate individual problems could deal with what were essentially political
questions: how to ensure that people had decent living conditions and
decent working conditions. Given the huge scale of urban poverty, most
people living under poor conditions were not helped by the settlement
workers and indeed would probably have indignantly refused advice and
A crucial feature of the socialist work Sylvia Pankhurst and colleagues
carried out in the East End was that it combined helping people with their
immediate problems alongside mobilising them into political consciousness and action. In this work they built on the industrial unrest that continued through the war years.21 Through journalism and through public
meetings, they reached out directly to a range of groups. Sylvia wanted a
transformation of the daily social and working lives of people; indeed it has
been argued that her aims were rooted in the utopianism of William
Morris.22 They mobilised women to march on Downing Street, demanding better pay. They worked with the dockers in support of men’s
Pankhurst and her colleagues also worked with children. They characterised children not as objects of pity and protection but as participants in
the movement. The East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS)
organised a Junior Suffragette Group to activate young people. Festivals
and processions were held in Victoria Park during the war years; and
Christmastime parties were held, attended by 600 or so people, mostly
women and children.24 It is noteworthy that photographs of the time
show children as participants. For instance, in John Bennett’s memoir a
photo of a trade union march, features children. The photos taken by
Norah Smythe on ELFS work feature children engaged in the political
work of the movement, attending meetings and taking part in marches, as
well as enjoying social events.25 This work, engaging with children in
political education, resonates with the Socialist Sunday School movement,
described in Chapter One, which similarly opened up to children ideas,
values and practices that challenged those taught at elementary school.
An example of how these socialist messages could work out in practice
is given by the story of Rose Pengelly. She joined the Junior Suffragette
Group, and participated in a children’s festival in the summer of 1916,
held in Victoria Park. In 1914 she had gone to work in the Backs Asbestos
Pipe Factory on Old Ford Road; this was heavy work, carrying the piles of
moulded clay for firing in the furnace; and her work also included running
errands for the housekeeper, peeling potatoes and even washing the governor’s shirts and sheets. In 1914, aged 14, she led her colleagues out on
strike, marching down the road to the Women’s Hall (part of Pankhurst’s
house). As a result she lost her job.26
It is interesting that children’s engagement with politics was the impetus for the most famous children’s protest of the time: the strike in 1914
by the children of Burston, Norfolk, who objected to the sacking by the
education authority of their headteacher and his wife, who were not only
nonconformists, but also active trade unionists. The Higdons had campaigned alongside agricultural workers for improved conditions of work.
The children were encouraged in their protest by their socialist teachers;
they set up a strike school and invited Sylvia to come and give a talk in
support.27 This case also exemplifies again, the power of conservative
forces in rural areas, noted in Chapters Three and Four, for the local
school management committee members included both Church of
England clergy and a farmer.28
However, it is worth noting another movement opening up women’s
rural lives: the growth of the Women’s Institutes. These had been founded
in England in 1915 and proved to be important during the war years. By
the end of the war, there were 773 institutes, numbering 12,000 members. These provided a meeting ground for women and girls, across social
class divisions, and can be seen as offering informal education. In particular, they performed an important function during the war years in growing, preserving and providing food. The also provided a network of
women carrying out informal social work in villages. Some of the key
leaders in the movement were feminists and identified opportunities for
political education; among them was Grace Hadow who worked as a civil
servant during the war and later headed St Anne’s College, Oxford.29
In Chapter Three, I discussed the work of the Fabian Women’s Group,
a largely well-educated set of women who worked for socialist change.
Also important was the Women’s Co-operative Guild (WCG), which
worked for better maternity and child services and campaigned (successfully) to improve insurance payouts for women in childbirth (see pp.
32–33). By 1930 the WCG numbered some 67,000 married women,
both housewives and women in employment.30 They came together
through the Co-operative movement, which offered company, education
and training for work on public committees and campaigns. They learned
through experience ‘what an immense power united action can be and
how the humblest may attain to it in its best form’.31 During the Great
War, they worked to give direct help to families, as well as working towards
better policies for women and children. Thus a middle-aged woman
reports on WCG work in Stockport during the war, where she was helping
on Relief Committees.
Miss Wilkinson (now M.P.) was one of the first to open a workroom in
Stockport, to find work for girls in making old clothes for new for the poor
children. We went round begging old cast-offs, and good work was done.
Miss Wilkinson helped towards getting the Maternity Centre formed in
Stockport. When investigating cases for relief we came across many pitiful
homes where father had gone to the war, and four or five children had to be
fed. I don’t think we should have had war if the women could have had the
vote before, and a voice in it. There’s no mother or wife in England nor
Germany that would give their loved one to be killed. Now we are working
for peace.32
The reports WCG women give about their meetings with policymakers
indicate how little many of the men knew or understood about the lives of
ordinary people. However, they also indicate that men were sometimes
willing to listen and to accede to what the women proposed. One example
from the war years is a visit by Mrs. Layton and Margaret Bondfield to
discuss with the Executive of the Prince of Wales’ Fund, its proposal not
to give financial help to unmarried mothers (on the argument that married
women would object to sin being rewarded). The WCG women explained
that ordinary working women would not wish for such discrimination and
Mrs. Layton, as a midwife, emphasised that the important issue at stake
had to be not marital status but the health of mother and child. After further discussion, the men agreed to treat all women equally.33
Keeping the Country Going—Children’s
Alongside women’s work during the war, children in turn had more jobs
to do, including caring for younger siblings while their mothers worked.
Women and children spent hours queuing for what food there was.
Children took on paid work and ‘substitute’ work, doing the jobs fathers
and brothers had done.34 The war changed everything, including family
relations. An account that encapsulates most of these points is given by
Catherine Cookson, living in Jarrow.
I was only eight years old when the War broke out but the feeling of change
that came over the country was felt in the kitchen, as it was in every house,
and I can recall the atmosphere that pervaded the world—my particular
world at that time. It was full of bustle and urgency. I seemed to spend my
day standing in queues. Sometimes at Allen’s, the butchers, I would stand
for hours, because meat was scarce. And then again in the evening, hours
and hours in the beer queue. I have only isolated pictures of the War, such
as returning from The Crown and meeting me Uncle Jack on the road. He
was solid and sober and it was a Saturday afternoon. I recollect the happy
feeling of this day; he was in his khaki uniform and he gave me a penny …
When he went to France I wrote to him every week … In return he sent me
cards with silk patterns woven on them. I have one still. It has a mandolin
on it … (They heard that Jack had got promotion, then that he had been
wounded and was due home on leave; and Kate went out to buy new things
to welcome home the wounded hero.) And before she came home a telegram arrived. I took it into the kitchen where me granda was feeding the
canary. He had a way with canaries. I read out the wire to him and he sat
down. It was one of the three times in my life that I saw him cry.35
Catherine’s jobs at home also took up even more time than before. On
a Friday night after school, her new job was cleaning ginger beer bottles—
her mother’s latest commercial venture (‘we did a roaring trade during the
War’). On Saturday morning she had to buy a stone of wheat and carry it
home, for the hens. Then she still had routine weekly cleaning tasks at
home—scrubbing floors, polishing the steel fender and the brasses, cleaning the windows.
An important feature of the early war-time years was the conscription of
boys to work on the land. We recognise here the power of the farmers to
intervene in children’s schooling; and these events also suggest difficulties
experienced by teachers, trying to deliver the curriculum to children who
might be removed from school for the day or for ever, without notice.
Agricultural production became a regular matter of concern for the Times
Educational Supplement (TES), from the beginning of the war. It notes
that boys of 12 and upwards could be exempted from school attendance.36
The TES records increases in boy labour in the fields, in local education
authority areas up and down the country. It also observes that apparently
farmers were happier to employ boys, who came cheap, than to raise wages
and so perhaps attract men. Factory owners were quick to take up the
argument that productivity demanded boy labour. Thus, in 1915, a nut
and bolt manufacturer in Darlaston, Staffordshire, asked that boys aged
13 be released to work in the factory. The TES worried that if one such
release be adopted in one area, it would be quickly copied elsewhere;37 and
a month later the request was turned down by the Board of Education.38
But the TES recorded increases in the numbers of school-age children
engaged in paid work and not attending school;39 also increases in children
in paid work alongside school attendance (for instance in street trading).
According to H.A.L. Fisher, Minister of Education, 600,000 school-age
children were withdrawn prematurely from school and worked in industry
and agriculture during the war years.40 These debates continued; employers continued to want cheap boy labour; but women, too, could be paid
less than men, and they began to take up employment not only in factories
but also on the land.41
Another journal provides evidence of thinking among educationalists.
Throughout the war years, The School Child deplored child labour in cities
and fields. It also proposed schemes to get city children out into the countryside. In October 1915 the journal quoted a letter by the Countess of
Warwick (Mary Bridges Adams’ colleague and patron), who pointed to
the social class basis of the move to recruit children into factories and
fields. She asked why it was that the children of the poorest were targeted.
Why not call on privately educated children, healthier and stronger? Their
parents could easily pay, after the war, for the lost classroom time. In similar vein, the journal reported in November 1915 on the words of Miss
Burstall, headmistress of Manchester High School, who argued for more
parent representation on school governing bodies, since it was wrong for
one set of people to provide education for another set. And, she added, all
children should be given a chance, for ‘children are greatest treasure of the
nation’. In particular, she argued for girls to be offered greater educational
opportunities. Immediately after the war, in December 1918, the journal
called for the Board of Education to take a lead in providing schooling for
those who had missed out during the war years.
Two examples from the memoirs about children’s conscription into
agriculture will suffice. Clifford Hills, whom we met in Chapter Three (p.
66), worked as a kitchen boy at the local farm in Essex, before school each
day and also after school. In 1916, when many men had left the countryside to go to war, Cliff was 12:
The farmer came to the school one morning and said he wanted me to work
regular every day, all day, could I leave school because his gardeners had
gone to the war. And I left school and I went to work for him every day from
six in the morning until half past five at night and then till five o’clock on
Saturdays for five shillings a week, all those hours for five bob, and I was still
doing the paper round every night, because when the war broke out there
was a big camp at the bottom of the hill, hundreds of soldiers there and I
had to take newspapers to this camp, and I sold many more papers, of
course, and I got one and three a week then because I was selling so many
papers, but I had to work about three hours for it, plus a black eye sometimes, the troops used to put us in boxing gloves to fight the band boys
down there.42
Similarly, Bernard ‘Hoffy’ Riddlestone, born in 1906 in a Suffolk village, found himself co-opted into farming work, during the war. He later
rose through the ranks and became a police superintendent, and he writes
his memoir as if compiling a police report; all relevant points must be set
out in an orderly factual account. It is interesting that he, alone among the
memoir-writers, identifies his activities specifically as helping with the war
effort; perhaps he wants to justify his non-attendance at school. Thus he
entitles the passage quoted here ‘The Children’s War Effort’. All the other
memoirs describe the work children did in terms of necessity, keeping the
family afloat, or doing the essential work on the land.
I was one of a number of boys excused from attending school on some days
to assist the farmer, Mr Jack Daking of Ponds Farm, Polstead, in harvesting
the potato crop. The cloakroom and resting place was a shepherd’s hut in
the field. I used to think what a joy it would be to sleep in it. There was a
shortage of farmworkers because most young men were called up for
To conserve cereal crops and corn a special effort was made by the government to reduce the vermin and sparrow population. One penny was paid
for a rat’s tail and a halfpenny for a sparrow’s head. The collecting centre
was at Ponds Farm. All this enthused the boys to make themselves catapults.
I can recall becoming proficient in the use of the catapult and earning myself
pocket money. Often when I left home for school in the morning I would
have in my pocket two rat’s tails and a few sparrow head to be delivered to
the collecting centre during school lunch break. As children we never had
regular pocket money so you can guess how much we appreciated those
pennies. One penny would buy six aniseed balls or six caramels.43
A further large-scale contribution made by children to the war effort
was as boy soldiers. It has been estimated that 250,000 boys aged 14–18
served in the war.44 The official age for registration as a full-time soldier
was 18; and for service overseas 19. But early in the war, some men and
boys enlisted without checks on their birth certificates. In Dorothy
Scannell’s family, for instance, her father, aged 49, immediately enlisted
(as aged 46) and so did her eldest brother aged 17. The next brother, aged
15, enlisted, got as far as France and was then sent home (and signed up
again when he turned 17).45
Children and Schooling
The first point that has to be made here concerns children living in some
of the poorest families, where continuous effort was required by everyone
just to survive the war years. In these circumstances, both school attendance and rhetoric urging children to engage with the war effort may have
felt inappropriate. The start of the war put additional pressures on these
families, since food supplies became scarcer and more expensive. In addition, the war caused death and injury. Thus in Jan Jasper’s family, two
elder brothers were away in the war, and this reduced the family’s income.
Living in the East End of London, the family was faced with bombing
raids every night, and the family, along with others, sheltered where they
could. The husband of his elder sister, Jo, was killed in the war, leaving her
with a small child. Jo herself had been working in a munitions factory,
painting ammunition boxes with a poisonous substance, from which she
contracted a disease, was hospitalised and was ill for several months. His
eldest sister, Mary, also fell ill and was in hospital. The care of both these
sisters’ young children fell to Mum. An elder brother came home from
war service in the Far East, having caught ‘some sort of tropical disease’
for which he had to attend hospital.46 Another came home suffering from
‘shell shock’ for which he was kept in hospital for a time. The roll call of
disasters in this family increased both stress and workload for everyone left
standing. For Jan, who at the time was working for his mother on her
dressmaking venture47 (see Chapter Three, p. 59), war meant that he also
had to increase his domestic work, queuing for food and caring for a
younger sibling; it was his responsibility to get her (and himself) to school
each morning. Jasper interweaves his chronological account of the events
of the war with their impacts on his family. For him, the war brought many
disasters and challenges to the family; and school did not provide any sustenance. This is all he says about it:
I was still at the same school and the masters and teachers were tyrants in my
eyes. Looking back, they had something to put up with. They had to be
tough to survive. I am sure the discipline they dished out did us the world
of good in later years.48
Jasper’ assessment of school as occupying a very minor role in his life is
matched in many of the memoirs; it has been described by several who
have attempted to explore the topic.49 Seen in the context of the complex
home and neighbourhood life many children experienced, such comments
become comprehensible.
Secondly, as I have suggested, many of the children were very busy,
since they were doing part-time (paid) jobs alongside school. It has been
noted that two-fifths of elementary school boys were in such paid work.50
John Bennett (born 1902) was working before school, in the lunch break,
after school and all day until midnight on Saturdays in a local shop; and
was also working hard at secondary school, and catching up on homework
on Sundays. As he explains, he had to give up sports and any other out-of-­
school activities, in order to fit it all in.51 In his memoir, he, like Ted Ezard
(born 1901), who was similarly at a secondary school, remembers that he
was focussed on advancing his own career prospects. Both of them point
to ambitions for a future life in a secure well-paid job and in this they were
supported by teachers who took time to promote their learning and prospects. Ted notes that when war broke out in August 1914, he and his
classmates were starting their last year at school. And:
Back at school Mr Milton left us in no doubt that, war or no war, we must
get stuck into our work, particularly those who were to take the Civil Service
entrance exam in the following April. Time was indeed short, for not only
had we to cover exam subjects, but shorthand and bookkeeping as optional
extras. Additionally typewriting was taken after normal school hours on two
days a week.52
It seems that school was important to some children for other reasons,
for instance, to A.L. Rowse in his Cornish village. He says he found much
to enjoy at school—for there was so much to learn.53 He records that one of
his exercise books survived, kept by a teacher. Given that he must have been
an exceptionally clever child (and perhaps was given extra, more demanding
work than his peers?), it is still interesting to see the range of war-related
topics some children at elementary school were asked to consider. His exercise book reveals that children learned a lot of ‘facts’ and wrote essays about
such topics as: the War, St. George’s Day and Empire Day; there is a letter
to a British prisoner of war and a letter to the Kaiser. There are records of
the dimensions of the Lusitania (a British ship torpedoed and sunk in the
North Atlantic) and an essay on the US War of Independence.
School attendance reinforced children’s exposure to patriotism and
Christianity, in line with the basic aims of the state education system: to
rear new generations of children who conformed to state agendas. No
doubt, too, politicians and educationalists thought in terms of morale-­
boosting; it was important for everyone to maintain a united, cheerful
front. Clearly, pro-war rhetoric was on display everywhere, from recruiting
posters, to newspapers, films, children’s comics and story-books. The
school day began at 9 with a prayer and a hymn, followed by a session until
10 of instruction on Christianity. Ministers of the churches were frequent
visitors to the school, and some taught the religious session. Annual
inspections aimed to ensure that this work was satisfactorily carried out.
Thus, for instance, at Wrentham elementary school, north-east Suffolk, in
July 1914, the headteacher copied into the school logbook the inspector’s
report on religious instruction. It was based on three questions:
Was it apparent that the Syllabus has been conscientiously taught? Yes. Did
it appear that the instruction had been given in a reverent manner? Yes. Was
it apparent that the lessons had been made to illustrate their practical bearing on the life and character of the scholars? Yes. Verdict: all infants and
Standards 1–7 very good on all counts.
The celebration of Empire Day on 24 May was an important occasion
for reinforcing messages about national pride and achievement. Usually it
was a half-day event, followed by a half-day holiday. Here is an example of
the 1916 programme devised by the local education committee for
Wrentham School in north-east Suffolk:
The band of the Norfolks played, and a bagpipe band of scouts played.
Colonel Mornement gave the children an Empire Address.
The Reverend Wingfield addressed them on the Roll of Honour.
Children saluted the flag and sang the National Anthem.
Sir Thomas and Lady Gooch entertained the children to games and tea,
in Benacre Park, during the afternoon.54
What Schools Provided—And What Children
Perhaps the first thing to note about elementary schooling in wartime
conditions is that schools became the province of women teachers. They
were already in charge of the infant classes and girls’ divisions. By mid-­
1916, half of male elementary school teachers had signed up to the armed
forces and their places were taken by women.55 However, educated
women could by this time find better paid and more agreeable work in
commerce and civil service jobs; and recruitment of teachers remained a
problem, during the war years, in both urban and rural areas, as logbooks
Secondly, school buildings were liable to be commandeered to serve as
hospitals or as billets for soldiers. This then led to some temporary buildings being hastily erected. For instance, in Nottingham ‘marquees’ were
put up in the town parks; and teachers reported that children benefitted
from this open-air schooling. In some areas, schools ‘double upped’ use of
premises, so that one school operated in the morning and another in the
afternoon. This of course provided opportunities for children to use the
spare time for paid work.57
So thirdly, there were increases in both rural and urban areas in the
numbers of children in paid work. This included agricultural work, factory
work and work in small enterprises, such as trading in goods (newspapers,
groceries). Thus, by 1916, nearly 16,000 children had been exempted
from school to become agricultural labourers. Girls’ domestic work was
not recorded, but must have been considerably increased as their mothers
went out to work.58 The Board of Education and local education a­ uthorities
were pressurised to release children aged 12 or younger from school; for
instance in Birmingham the LEA was urged by local employers to lower
the school-leaving age to 13.59 In practice, children combined paid work
with some school attendance; and teachers had to cope with this
Fourthly, there were some changes in the formal and informal curriculum during the war years. Gardening, previously only for boys, became a
suitable occupation for girls.60 Producing food for the nation was now a
duty. Schools were urged to join in with National Savings schemes. At
secondary schools, military cadet groups were formed. Schools received
visits from ‘old boys’: young soldiers, on leave from war service. For
instance, an east London school received over 90 such visits in 1916.61
Recording and celebrating old boys’ contributions to the war effort
included keeping and displaying records. Thus at Christ Church School,
in north-west London, a leather-bound book was produced; it was hand-­
written, in immaculate italic script, listing the four teachers and 82 boys
who had fought; of them 21 were killed.62
So what were children’s experiences of school during the war years? In
their memoirs, most people do not say much about school, beyond noting
the top-down teaching, the physical punishment, the boredom and—on
the upside—the kindliness and helpfulness of some teachers. Another
source of information is school logbooks. It may be that consideration of
the material character of school, the succession of timetabled events, the
expansion of the topics included in school life, the outings, the input from
experts other than teachers, give us one kind of insight into what it was
like going to that school.
City schools found that some children failed to attend during the worst
of the bombing raids, and were reported by headteachers in the logbook
entries as ‘traumatised’. Logbooks and school histories record that children absented themselves from school, in the interests of doing paid
work.63 In Lowestoft, which had been a particular early target of German
bombing campaigns, a logbook records in 1915 that some families walked
out of the town each evening and slept in the countryside to escape the
risks; other families stayed awake with worry all night; and their children
were less likely to turn up at school next day.64 A year later, in 1916, the
log notes that one-third of the girls were absent from school, after an air-­
raid. And finally, in this roll call of difficulty, women whose husbands and
sons had gone to war, were more likely than before to go out to work, and
required their daughters to stay at home to mind the baby.
Here is a summary drawn from the logbook kept by the headteacher of
the girls’ department of an East London elementary school. Atley Road
School, London E 3 was sited five minutes’ walk from Victoria Park in
North Bow.65 The school had about 300 girls on the roll.66
1914: Headteacher to meeting to discuss school feeding in the area.
Girl awarded Domestic Economy scholarship to Shoreditch Technical
School. Annual inspection of the school. December: girls entertained by
staff: conjuring, ventriloquism, Punch and Judy show. Also oranges,
sweets and buns distributed.
1915: Swimming medals distributed. Five girls began attending cookery classes and another five went to combined domestic economy
classes. 51 girls to Victoria Park to study trees. 20 girls to Nature Study
Exhibition at Whitechapel Art Gallery. 40 girls to Tower of London.
175 girls to Zoological Gardens. 39 girls to study trees and flowers in
Epping Forest. Annual distribution of medals and prizes. Annual swimming competition. Atley girls came second in both races. October: The
Rev. Hunt addressed the parents on ‘Saving and Economy during the
War’. October: air-raid; many girls ‘suffering from nervous breakdowns’
and absent from school. Mentions of girls obtaining scholarships and
bursaries for secondary education.
1916: Headteacher attended meeting about making garments for
Belgian and Serbian children. April: Shakespeare tercentenary celebration—‘by order of the LCC’. Empire Day. Visits to: Zoo, Westminster
Abbey. Prize-giving. Swimming competition; Atley Road girl presented
with a cup.
1917: Six girls chosen to attend central school. June: ‘terrible air-raid’
at 11.35 am. Six more air-raids reported in late 1917 and early 1918.
Several families have left the area.
1918: Woman from Ministry of Food addressed the girls on ‘Food
Economy during the War’. Visits: to exhibition of war pictures, to
Victoria Hall for The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night’s
Dream.67 Nine girls accepted for central school (six of the parents agreed
to let them attend). Military distinctions of three old boys (from the
boys department of the school)—school granted holiday (13 September
1917) and again (17 October 1918). During bombing raid, ‘all staff
and children observed the rules calmly and bravely and hymns were
sung by the girls while bombs exploded in the neighbourhood.’
This logbook tells us of a headteacher who made the most of what
London could offer her girls. These city girls were experiencing a wide
range of activities, both in and out of school premises. They visited museums, theatres, exhibitions; they went to swimming lessons in the municipal baths and competed against other schools. Nature study, in the local
park and Epping Forest was given high priority by this headteacher (who
was pioneering a nature study course), and further widened the girls’
experience. Though the ladder to secondary school was shaky, girls could
see that some made it and it was a possibility. The girls were living very
close to the war: with bombing raids during the school day as well as by
night; former students at the boys’ department of the school, on leave
from the army, visited the school and reminded children of life at the
front; and some girls visited a local exhibition of war pictures. Girls were
encouraged to take part in the war effort, via cookery classes, dressmaking
and through promoting patriotism.
School histories and logbooks tell us that during the war years schools
in both rural and city areas were sometimes struggling to keep going, to
teach and to satisfy the inspectors. In rural areas, where some children had
no or inadequate footwear, bad weather could lead to dramatic falls in
attendance. Snow, rain and floods seem to have been frequent in the war
years. Schools were breeding grounds for illness; it is common to read of
a school closed for weeks at a time because of cases of ringworm, scabies,
diphtheria, measles or mumps. Rural schools had seen some falls in the
numbers of children attending, in the wake of a general decline in village
populations in the 30 years from 1890,68 but some schools also saw
increases in school numbers, as city children whose parents could manage
it came to rural areas to escape the bombing. Thus, Busbridge School,
Surrey, saw a doubling of the school roll from 90 to 180 in 1917.69
Disruption to staffing at this school in 1916, as men were called up to the
war, left three women teachers faced with 172 children; and when one of
the women took leave because of her father’s death, the school had to be
closed until she returned.
Here are some points from the logbook of a rural school, which may
help us understand children’s experiences. Uggeshall and Sotherton
School was situated in north-east Suffolk, 4 miles north-east of the nearest
town, Halesworth.70 Sotherton is a hamlet about a mile from Uggeshall
village. The school had about 60 children on the roll.
1914–1915 saw a succession of temporary headteachers. The logbook
for the war years records frequent checking of children’s heads for nits;
and a mother was prosecuted for repeatedly sending her girl to school
with infestations. The school was closed for a day in August 1914 for
an outing to Dunwich. Wet weather sometimes meant closing the
school; and in December 1914 wet weather reduced attendance to
1915–1916: during the 1915–1916 winter, bad weather and children’s
illnesses reduced school attendance by up to a half. Each December the
school was closed for a day and the children attended a Christmas service at the church. Each summer, the school was closed for several
Sunday school treats (Church of England, Methodist). Many children
took the day off in 1915 to go to Trinity Fair in Southwold. The attendance officer and the school nurse visited the school regularly and often,
the doctor less often; the Rector took some of the religious instruction
sessions. The children were tested annually on their religious knowledge
and on the secular subjects: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, History,
Geography, Conversation, Singing, Drawing, Needlework and
Observation. Their performance in ‘drill’—physical exercises—was also
inspected annually.
In December 1916, the local gentry—Lord and Lady Stradbroke—visited the school and distributed buns.
In 1917, eight children took Labour Certificate exams and five passed.71
The logbook records some war efforts: the school started a war savings
scheme; the school held a concert in aid of soldiers’ comforts; and the
children picked 55½ pints of blackberries in September 1918. In
November 1918, as in other schools, the influenza epidemic closed the
Extra points on Uggeshall village life are added by the Reverend
Ashton, who was the Rector there from 1885–1935.72 He organised evening sessions for villagers in the school building: magic lantern shows—
secular and religious. A mothers’ meeting was held at the rectory: making
clothes. It started with prayers and a hymn led by the Rector and featured
‘a good secular story containing a healthy moral read by my wife.’ He also
organised the annual Sunday school treat in the Rectory garden, and
weekly clubs for men and boys.
Children’s experiences of life at this rural school must have included
their understanding that schooling was not the all-encompassing daytime
routine we perhaps imagine. Attendance was heavily influenced by the
weather and by childhood illnesses. And, as in all schools at the time, a
two-hour break in the middle of the day allowed for children to walk
home for a meal; though for the Sotherton hamlet children it must have
been a run, to cover the mile there and back. School was for a limited
period of time, until at age 12 you could leave for paid work, in agriculture
or ‘service’. There were very few opportunities for further schooling
beyond the age of 12 or 14.73 The school encouraged the children to take
part in the war effort, through savings schemes and a money-raising concert, and a half-day blackberry-picking expedition. Out-of-school activities were provided through church and chapel treats, and outings to the
Children learned at this school that both the church and the gentry
oversaw their schooldays and their lives outside school. A graphic example
of noblesse oblige is explored by George Ewart Evans, in his account of the
elementary school in Helmingham—a ‘closed village’, where the villagers
were in economic subjection to the lord of the manor, as the sole local
employer.74 This was offset by the patronage, or charitable work, of the
Hall—no-one starved. Mrs. Manning (born 1900) recalls:
During the worst part of the winter—that would be just before Christmas or
just after—Lady Tollemache used to provide soup for the poorest families …
The bigger boys and girls, if the mothers couldn’t go, used to bring their
cans to school and then they’d be let out at half-past eleven to go up to the
Hall and fetch it—which they could do and leave it until they went home
from school.75
She goes on to describe Lady Tollemache’s charitable work, organising
coal clubs, and clothing clubs, into which families paid during the year;
her ladyship added to the totals saved by each villager. On the appointed
day, village women collected material for making the family’s clothes. She
recalls her mother’s pleasure.
The club came in very handy. It was just what she wanted. Later we had a
Christmas celebration at the school. Lady Tollemache used to come down
and certain boys and girls used to have a nice present for attendance and also
for being the best boy or girl in the class.76
Evans records similar gentry activity at Rendlesham Hall (near
Woodbridge, Suffolk). Beef was distributed at Christmas and Lady
Rendlesham visited mothers who had newborns, bringing a baby basket
with clothes and blankets. But these charitable acts were directed only ‘at
those who behaved themselves’.77
It was this same gentry that recruited village children to work on their
lands. Children would sit for the labour certificate and if they passed could
leave school at 12. The headteacher of Helmingham School from 1915
recorded that in his first year there, none of the children passed this test
and the school inspector agreed with him that this result was ‘a jolly good
job’ because the exemption system meant schools tended to lose their
brightest children.78 Clearly, compared to urban children, rural children
had fewer educational opportunities. However, by this time, with so many
men away in the armed forces, the government had had to force up agricultural wages and had also begun to import tractors (from the USA). For
a brief period, until the slump after the war years, agricultural work became
a slightly more attractive job.
A sidelight on children’s experiences of war, and in particular of
bombing raids, is given in an account of 945 essays written (10–14 days
after two raids) by boys and girls aged 8–13, who attended five London
schools nearby. In his lecture on the essays, Dr Kimmins (Chief Inspector
of Schools for the LCC) reported that 96 per cent of the children had
experienced one or both raids. He said that 8-year-olds emphasised the
noise of the firing, but did not express personal feelings ‘and there was
no evidence of fear’. The boys at all ages showed no fear but said they
found the raids exciting. Girls wrote that they looked after the younger
children and girls of 12 were notable: they said they were ‘really frightened but would not show it’. Few children (only 5 per cent) mentioned
their fathers.79 This was an interesting project, in that it sought to
record children’s experiences, at a time when one might think few
adults would find them important. The stark gendered differences
reported suggest that children felt obliged to live up to social expectations of them (and/or that the report simplified and emphasised gendered differences). It seems that this essay-writing scheme may have
related to LCC planning concerns for wartime. For some efforts were
made during the war to ‘save the children’. For instance, a leaflet issued
by the Hampstead Council of Social Welfare, urged mothers ‘whose
children’s nerves have been badly shaken’ to apply for help; ‘We may be
able to get some away’.80 In the 1930s, officials would have used these
kinds of information when planning for the welfare of city children in a
future war.81
School and the War Effort
Whilst logbooks and school histories tell us what children were urged to
do to help with the war effort, it is notable that only one of the memoirs—
where people choose what to write about—included notes on their contributions; Hoffy is the one exception (see above). Such information as we
have comes from the interviews where a few comments are made in
response to direct questions from the Ambleside interviewer (as exemplified below). This point provides justification (if required) for the emphasis
in the foregoing parts of this chapter: on what mattered in children’s lives
as recorded by themselves in adulthood.
Asked if she remembers the Great War, Gwen Hall—in Ambleside—
Oh, we were brought up on the war. And we had maps on the wall, you
know, where the front was and moved flags about. And then we used to take
all sorts of things to school and make parcels, for those … And the Atkinsons
… they had three daughters and five sons. And four of them were killed in
the war and the other one lost an eye. And then there were various others
and we used to send them parcels to the front.
The interviewer adds that there was a hospital locally for wounded soldiers. That reminds Gwen to record that she and her brother, as guides
and scouts respectively, used to help out at the hospital, by chopping wood
and carrying coal. Her account typifies how people’s memories are sparked
off. The interviewer’s mention of the war reminds her of school. School
promoted knowledge about how the war was proceeding; and at school,
she remembers, they made up parcels to send to soldiers. And that reminds
her about the Atkinsons, who lost so heavily.
Undoubtedly, considerable efforts were made by the churches and the
schools to enlist school-age children in support of the war effort, though
as preceding sections have indicated, children were already taking on
extra duties in response to the exigencies of war. However, at school,
they were a captive audience. One aim was to maintain morale among
children (and their families) by showing that everyone could contribute.
Since over five million men fought in the war, probably most people
knew someone who had enlisted, and doing your bit for the war effort,
including sending parcels to those at the front, was one way to
The logbooks make clear that children were specifically targeted by
government and education authorities to participate in the war effort.
Teaching of Christianity, history and geography emphasised the rightness
of the cause, and promoted patriotism. It was mandatory to celebrate
Empire Day each May and in April 1916, on the three hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, schools were required to spend a day in celebration of the national bard. Children were asked to contribute to war
savings schemes, to work on allotments, to gather blackberries, to contribute to knitting schemes. Girls were reminded of their duty to train themselves for motherhood and domestic work, not only by attending
housewifery centres, but by participating in National Baby Week.
School histories also document children’s contributions to the war
effort; and all the elementary school histories used in this study make
some mention of these (see Appendix A). Thus, at Darsham, East Suffolk,
a small village of no more than 100 dwellings, it is recorded that 75 men
joined up and left the village. This must mean that everyone in the village
knew someone who had left to fight. The school history records that the
academic year was shortened from 400 sessions to 320, specifically so that
children could help in the war effort. The children were formed into Busy
Bees (girls) and Active Ants (boys) and they sent parcels to the village men
in the forces, containing knitted items and food. A girl’s exercise book
survives from the time; it records that (like Rowse, quoted earlier) she
wrote ‘compositions’—including a letter to a soldier at the front; an essay
on submarine warfare; and an essay in 1918 on economising with food
and clothing on the Home Front.83
A useful summary of children’s work is given by the headteacher at
Stoke Poges village school, Buckinghamshire, who looked back in 1919
on the war years and listed for the parish magazine the children’s contributions. This summary lists types and volumes of work to be found in many
school histories.
Our children’s work
We are now able to give a list of the patriotic and charitable work done
by our schoolchildren during the past 2½ years. They have collected over
three tons of waste material, including 30 cwts of waste paper, 3 loads of tins
and half a bushel of nutshells and fruit stones for gasmasks. Further they
have gathered 1½ tons of horse chestnuts for munition making, 60 bushels
of acorns, 5 bushels of herbs for medicinal purposes and 1920 lbs of blackberries. The boys have grown 30 bushels of green vegetables on their ‘Navy’
plot for the Fleet and the girls have made 86 garments (socks, gloves and
handkerchiefs) for the soldiers. Together they have also supported 24 charitable funds by contributing the sum of £52.4s.8d.
An important contribution to our knowledge about children’s participation in the war effort is provided by Rosie Kennedy in The Children’s
War: Britain 1914–1918. She gives a full critical description of the rhetoric
engaged in by government, religious organisations, the education authorities and the schools to encourage children’s engagement with the war.
Her book also provides information about the wide range of activities
children participated in to help with the war effort and about their feelings
about the war. She discusses the implications for children of family members being away at war, and gives detail on letters exchanged between
children and relatives (Chapter 2). She shows how war toys, comics and
story-books engaged children with the war and affected their play (Chapter
3). Chapter 4 deals with the encouragement to join organisations such as
scouts and guides and to play their part through organised activities.
Finally, in Chapter 5, Kennedy considers the work carried out in schools:
how the curriculum was altered to engage with the war (history and geography); and how children were encouraged to contribute to the war effort.
As regards children, the purposes of this current book are rather different; and I think the two books together can be seen as companion pieces.
My book is about the social and political status and character of working-­
class childhood, about how children saw their duties in the family, how
they tried to make something of their lives and what they enjoyed during
their childhoods. I continually try to site children’s experiences in their
family and social lives and I draw mainly on autobiographies and interviews to investigate these experiences. My book is also exclusively about
children who attended elementary schools, and though this includes a
range of people spanning the poorest through to lower-middle-class families, many of our informants belonged to some of the poorest and most
hard-pressed in society. I think it is interesting that whilst schools and
youth organisations give full accounts of children’s war work, the memoirs, in general, do not. Other matters preoccupied the authors.
The early years of the twentieth century saw huge industrial unrest, as
working-class men and women fought for better conditions of work, for
better pay and for equal pay.84 For instance, in 1911 strikes by male
transport workers were followed by an impromptu walk-out by women
and girls in Bermondsey, who worked in biscuit and jam factories. Women
were paid 8s. or 10s. for a long week in poor conditions; and girls even
less. These working-class movements, alongside the studies of poverty in
the UK (Charles Booth, Rowntree), provide a context for the lived experiences of women and children.85 Sylvia Pankhurst was able to build on the
spirit of militancy among working people. It is indeed a remarkable feature
of her work alongside her colleagues, that they managed to keep political
work going through the war years, distributing their journal the Workers’
Dreadnought at the dock gates, and organising marches and celebratory
events locally.
Middle-class women tried to affect policies nationally, through campaigning and writing; and also worked through committees on schooling
and welfare to influence services locally. During the war years, they worked
to alleviate the worst effects of poverty, unemployment and appalling
housing conditions. It seems that the most successful kinds of services
were those which got women and children out of their homes, into relatively clean and bright environments, offered food and togetherness, without preaching or dogma. Thus clubs for working girls flourished and so
did play centres and various forms of childcare, which also enabled mothers to go out to work. Many organised groups, such as men’s trade unions,
were wary of women and allowed them only to belong to subsidiary women’s groups. The Labour party was an exception to this, and provided an
arena for women’s education and welfare activity. So too did the Women’s
Co-operative Guild, which spread, mainly, across northern England, and
involved thousands of women.
Mothers’ work was clearly crucial to the survival of families during the
war years. This included poorly paid work. One of the ongoing debates
has been about why the health of children improved during these years.86
Was it the fact that mothers had a steady income, under their own control, derived from separation allowances and their own earnings? Did
state-­organised measures to inspect and treat poor health effect improvements? It has been suggested that higher demand for labour as the war
progressed and higher wartime wages, may have been influential87 but it
may also be that schemes to feed schoolchildren expanded in some areas
and had an effect.88 One wonders whether schools themselves had an
impact on children’s health. Undoubtedly, as some of the memoirs and
interviews show, individual teachers—notably women—kept an eye out
for the poorest children, and helped in kind and in some cases with
money. Through the Poor Law, the poorest got a breakfast at school.
Perhaps the school régime was beginning to influence child health,
through physical exercise (‘drill’) and swimming lessons, through nature
study expeditions and through gardening, at first for boys only, but as the
war continued, for girls too.
However, children themselves continued with their domestic tasks: and
with their duty to their family to help with bringing in much-needed
money; their work towards a better life for themselves and their family.
More generally, this chapter has raised the question of whether the social
status of children rose in wartime. It seems clear from the protracted
debates towards a new Education Act (in 1913 and early 1914) that children were increasingly described in political discourse as a national
resource, which must be fostered. The health of the children mattered for
the future. Children, all children, should be thought of as future citizens.
There should be secondary education for all.89 However, as I have suggested, many children’s experiences of school did not live up to this rhetoric. And whilst a few children were eagerly taking up opportunities to
work for their own better future, for many children school was a minor
component of a social world dominated by socio-economic pressures on
One of the lessons to be learned from the study of working class childhoods in the early twentieth century is that, in some important respects,
children were fully engaged as members of society. This can be seen in
their participation in the life of the neighbourhood, as they ran errands,
negotiated with shopkeepers, attended the same entertainments as adults.
During the war years, children increasingly worked alongside adults in a
variety of paid jobs, in some cases working as substitutes for men. And, as
this chapter has also noted, some adults thought it appropriate to engage
children directly with social movements, with politics. Children took part
in celebrations, but also in political protests, including marches. They
were there listening when women preached socialism at street corners.
The fact that people called children (under 18s) were fully engaged with
the lives lived by adults may be seen as a marker of children’s status; that
is, children were not a species apart, corralled into children’s spaces, in
preparation for adult life. Children were active in the socio-economic
activity of their neighbourhoods, and some children were directly engaged
in socialist and political movements of the day.
1. Connelly 2013, chapter 2. See also Liddington 2006, chapter 1. Liddington
reproduces the WSPU membership card designed by Sylvia Pankhurst
(1906) which features working class women in shawls and aprons, holding
babies and, in one case a pail and a baby (p. 28).
2. Winslow 1996, p. 95.
3. See Jackson and Taylor 2014, Connelly 2013 and Winslow 1996. The
Dreadnought journal was originally called the Woman’s Dreadnought, but
as the ELFS’ work developed during the war, and included mobilising
men, the ELFS renamed it The Workers’ Dreadnought.
4. Jackson and Taylor 2014, pp. 111–114.
5. Jackson and Taylor 2014, p. 113.
6. Roberts, R. 1977, p. 194.
7. Braybon 1981, pp. 46–47. Women working as domestic servants and in
small dressmaking establishments were excluded from the figures, so some
of the increase in women at work is accounted for by women moving from
these kinds of work into industry—generally better-paid and offering more
8. Braybon 1981, pp. 44–49.
9. Married Women’s Work, edited by Clementina Black, gives a comprehensive account of the work married women did and the rates of pay, which,
as she says, were not enough to live on (Black 1983, p. 8).
10. Jackson and Taylor 2014, chapter 7. For discussion of men’s trade unions
in relation to women’s wages, see Alexander 1995.
11. Flint 1963, chapter 10.
12. Flint 1963, p. 111.
13. See Kennedy 2014, chapter 2.
14. May Bowness typed interview, page 3.
15. Pember Reeves 1988, p. 39.
16. Jackson and Taylor 2014, p. 75.
17. Jackson and Taylor 2014, p. 76.
18. Vicinus 1994, p. 232 seq.
19. Vicinus 1994, p. 350, note 104.
20. Vicinus 1994, p. 245.
21. Connelly2013, especially chapter 4.
22. Rowbotham 1996; Introduction to Winslow.
23. At the time, men had the vote only if they were registered at one place for
a year; and men on poor relief were also not eligible. Thus in Bow only 13
per cent of men were registered to vote; and in Poplar, near the docks,
about the same percentage (Winslow 1996, pp. 70–71).
24. The history of the East London Federation of Suffragettes is told by
Jackson and Taylor 2014. Their book includes photographs of marches,
festivals, a day nursery and a cost-price restaurant. Other books on Sylvia
Pankhurst are by Winslow 1996 and Connelly 2013.
25. Norah Smythe’s photographs are kept in the International Institute of
Social History, Amsterdam. Some are reproduced in Jackson and Taylor
2014. See also photos of outreach suffrage work in Yorkshire, where children feature at outdoor meetings (Liddington 2006, pp. 206–212).
26. Jackson and Taylor 2014, p. 159.
27. Winslow 1996, p. 89. See also Adams 1991 for a history of children’s militancy against schooling.
28. Adams 1991, p.: 43.
29. For a brief history of the Women’s Institute movement, see Stamper 2003.
30. Davies 1984, p. xiii.
31. Davin, Introduction to Davies 1984, p. viii.
32. Mrs Wrigley, a plate-layer’s wife, reporting on her life in Davies 1984, Life
as We Have Known It, p. 65.
33. Davies 1984, pp. 52–53.
34. Roberts, R. 1977, chapter 9, lays out the main effects on households of the
start of the war.
35. Cookson 1977, chapter 7.
36. TES 2 February 1915.
37. TES 2 February 1915.
38. TES 2 March 1915.
39. E.g TES 2 March 1915.
40. Cited in Fisher’s speech presenting the 1917 Education Bill. Quoted in
Van der Eyken 1973, p. 222.
41. Adie 2014.
42. Clifford Hills’ memoir, in T. Thompson Edwardian Childhoods, p. 60.
43. Riddleston 1995, Hoffy, p. 22.
44. Van Emden 2012, Introduction.
45. Scannell 1974, chapter 6.
46. Jasper 1974, p. 106.
47. See Chapter Three, p. 59.
48. Jasper 1974, p. 72.
49. For discussion of self-education in relation to what schools offered, see
Kean 1990a, pp. 43–44.
50. Sherington 1981, p. 49.
51. Bennett, H. J. 1980, chapter 4. And see my Chapter Three, pp. 140.
52. Ezard 1979, p. 150.
53. Rowse 1942, pp. 14–17.
54. Wrentham Modern School logbook (held in Lowestoft Records Office,
ref. no. 450/1).
55. Sherington 1981, p. 49.
56. Sherington 1981, p. 49.
57. TES, 2 May 1916.
58. Sherington 1981, p. 49.
59. TES 8 April 1915 and 2 May 1916.
60. TES 26 December 1916.
61. Oban Street School, London E14, logbook for 1917 (London Metropolitan
Archives, ref. no. EO/ DIV 5/OBA/LB/2).
62. This book is kept with the school’s logbook in the Camden Local Studies
and Archives (ref. no. A/01163).
63. For instance, at Darsham School, girls took days off to mind younger siblings; and boys to work in agriculture (Ginn et al. 2013, pp. 55–67).
64. Cunningham Girls School, Lowestoft, logbook April 1915 (Lowestoft
Record Office, ref. no. 65/3/6/).
65. Logbook held in Metropolitan City Archives, ref. no. EO/ DIV 5/ATL/
66. The school was later renamed George Lansbury. It was knocked down during the work towards a road-building scheme, linking areas north of Bow
to the Blackwall Tunnel.
67. The Vic Hall was a music hall south of Waterloo Station, run by Emma
Cons. On her death in 1912, it was taken over by her niece, Lilian Baylis,
who turned it into a theatre—the Old Vic, putting on Shakespeare and
68. See M. Boyes, Great Rissington Elementary School. He quotes from F. E.
Green, who documented the fall in agricultural village populations in the
years from 1890 to 1920, in The Tyranny of the Countryside.
69. Information from school history of Busbridge School, Godalming, Surrey.
70. This logbook is held in Lowestoft Record Office, ref. no. 465/2.
71. In Suffolk, this exam, taken at age 12, tested whether a child had reached
Standard 5 level of attainment. See for an example of the certificate
awarded, Evans 1977, p. 206.
72. See Ashton 1996.
73. A report carried out by K. Lindsay in Oxfordshire in 1924 found that only
40 of 212 elementary schools were sending children on to secondary
schools, including very few children of agricultural labourers. See P. Horn
1978, p. 271.
74. Evans 1970, p. 204. Helmingham village and school are near Helmingham
Hall estate, 10 miles north of Ipswich.
75. Evans 1970, p. 207.
76. Evans 1970, p. 210.
77. Evans 1976, pp. 63–69.
78. Evans 1976, p. 207.
79. The Times, 10 December 2015. This was a reprint of an article first published in The Times on 10 December 1915.
80. Leaflet printed by Hampstead Council of Social Welfare (undated), re-­
printed in Wartime Camden, eds V. Hart and L. Marshall.
81. Titmuss 1976, chapters 2–5.
82. Kennedy 2014, p. 2.
83. Ginn et al. 2013.
84. Connelly 2013, chapter 4.
85. See, for instance, Bob Holman’s 2010 book on Keir Hardie.
86. Clementina Black’s survey of married women’s work aimed, in part, to
consider the causes of infant mortality, and whether death rates were
related to women’s engagement in paid work.
87. White 2015, chapter 11.
88. For detailed local analyses see Fidler 1981; Hopkins 1981.
89. Sherington 1981, chapter 2.
Adams, R. (1991). Protests by pupils: Empowerment, schooling and the state.
Brighton: Falmer Press.
Adie, K. (2014). Fighting on the home front: The legacy of women in World War
One. London: Hodder and Stoughton.
Alexander, S. (1995). ‘Bringing women into line with men’: The Women’s Trade
Union League 1874–1921. In S. Alexander (Ed.), Becoming a woman.
New York: New York University Press.
Ashton, A. (1996). Fifty years’ work in a Suffolk Parish. Suffolk: Sole Bay Printing.
Bennett, H. J. (1980). I was a Walworth boy. London: The Peckham Publishing
Black, C. (Ed.). (1983). Married women’s work. London: Virago. First published
Braybon, G. (1981). Women workers in the First World War. London: Croom
Connelly, K. (2013). Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette, socialist and scourge of empire.
London: Pluto Press.
Cookson, C. (1977). Our Kate: An autobiography. London: Corgi Books.
Davies, M. L. (1984). Life as we have known it: By co-operative working women.
London: Virago. First published 1931.
Evans, G. E. (1976). From mouths of men. London: Faber and Faber.
Evans, G. E. (1977). Where beards wag all: The relevance of the oral tradition.
London: Faber and Faber.
Ezard, E. (1979). Battersea boy. London: William Kimber.
Fidler, G. (1981). Labour and the children: Labour agitation for the health and
welfare of school children in Liverpool, c 1905–1920. In R. Lowe (Ed.),
Labour and education: Some early twentieth century studies. Leicester: History
of Education Society, Occasional Publication Number 6.
Flint, E. (1963). Hot bread and chips. London: Museum Press.
Ginn, R., Reeve, R., & Campbell, A. (2013). Darsham school. Suffolk: Darsham
Parochial Church Council.
Holman, B. (2010). Keir Hardie: Labour’s greatest hero? Oxford: Lion Hudson.
Hopkins, E. (1981). Working-class education in Birmingham during the First
World War. In R. Lowe (Ed.), Labour and education: Some early twentieth century studies. Leicester: History of Education Society, Occasional Publication
No. 6.
Horn, P. (1978). Education in rural England 1800–1914. Dublin: Gill and
Jackson, S. & Taylor, R. (2014). East London suffragettes. Stroud, Gloucestershire:
The History Press.
Jasper, A. J. (1974). A Hoxton childhood. Hackney, London: Centreprise
Kean, H. (1990a). Challenging the state? The socialist and feminist educational
experience 1900–1930. Brighton: The Falmer Press.
Kennedy, R. (2014). The children’s war: Britain 1914–1918. London: Palgrave
Liddington, J. (2006). Rebel girls: Their fight for the vote. London: Virago.
Pember Reeves, M. (1988). Round about a pound a week. London: Virago. First
published 1913.
Roberts, R. (1977). The classic slum. Harmondsworth: Penguin/Pelican.
Rowbotham, S. (1996). Introduction. In B. Winslow (Ed.), Sylvia Pankhurst:
Sexual politics and political activism. London: Routledge.
Rowse, A. L. (1942). A Cornish childhood. London: Jonathan Cape.
Scannell, D. (1974). Mother knew best. London: Macmillan.
Sherington, G. (1981). English education, social change and the war 1911–20.
Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Stamper, A. (2003). Active citizens, women’s institutes and social action
1915–1925. In R. Gilchrist, R. Jeffs, & J. Spence (Eds.), Architects of change:
Studies in the history of community and youth work. Leicester: National Youth
Titmuss, R. M. (1976). Problems of social policy. 2nd ed. First published 1950.
London: HMSO.
Van der Eyken, W. (Ed.). (1973). Education, the child and society: A documentary
history 1900–1973. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Van Emden, R. (2012). Boy soldiers of the Great War. London: Bloomsbury.
Vicinus, M. (1994). Independent women: Work and community for single women
1850–1920. London: Virago.
White, J. (2015). Zeppelin nights: London in the First World War. London: Vintage.
Winslow, B. (1996). Sylvia Pankhurst: Sexual politics and political activism.
London: Routledge.
After the Great War
Socialist Feminist Politics: Eglantyne Jebb (1876–1928) and Dorothy
Buxton (1881–1963)
Eglantyne and Dorothy Jebb were born into a well-to-do family,
where girls as well as boys went to school and university and where
large families and intermarriages led to cultural and social learning
and to influence in public affairs. Eglantyne read history at Oxford
and Dorothy (married name Buxton), who read political economy
and social economics at Cambridge, converted her to socialism.
Previously Eglantyne had interested herself in the work of the
Charity Organisation Society, which dispensed charity to poor people (‘the deserving poor’), together with instructions about managing their money better. Eglantyne now saw that socialism was
necessary to alleviate socio-economic inequalities. In 1906, inspired
by Booth’s work in London, she researched and had published a
socio-economic survey of Cambridge, a town which had rapidly
grown in population without regard for the living conditions of the
Eglantyne saw for herself the effects of war on children, through
her visit to Macedonia in 1913, where ethnic and religious factions
were tearing the country apart; and she and Dorothy joined the anti-­
war peace movement and published papers in the Cambridge
Magazine about the misery and starvation in European countries
© The Author(s) 2018
B. Mayall, Visionary Women and Visible Children, England 1900–1920,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-61207-2_6
during the Great War.2 In 1919, she and Barbara Ayton Gould, a
peace campaigner for WILPF, were arrested and charged while campaigning in Trafalgar Square for an end to the suffering of children.3
Later that year, she travelled to Vienna with other humanitarian
women (notably Dr Ethel Williams),4 where they saw starving children unable to walk. They fought to end the allied blockade which
in part caused the starvation. In 1919 Eglantyne and Dorothy
founded Save the Children, which soon received large numbers of
donations and was quickly established in several countries. In 1923
Eglantyne wrote one of the first declarations of the rights of the child
(ratified in 1924), known as the Declaration of Geneva.
Eglantyne recognised that children in Africa and Asia were even
more neglected and deprived than those in Europe and she started a
campaign to address these problems. She died prematurely in 1928.
Dorothy continued to fight for women and children through the
1930s, publicising information about concentration camps in
Germany, and keeping contact with underground groups in Germany
during the Second World War.5
Welfare and Educational Developments in Immediate Post-War Years
During the Great War, some national attention was paid to maternity services and infant welfare services. Clinics were established and some expectant mothers and some new-borns received care. But the provisions were
powers not duties on local authorities. After the war, concern about the
state of the nation’s health was a public concern, not least given the
slaughter of so many men. The 1918 Maternity and Child Welfare Act,
again gave powers but not duties to local authorities to establish clinics.6
They were required to establish a maternity and child welfare committee
and this may have helped promote developments in services, though it
seems that local authorities were slow to respond. However, it has been
argued that at least the Act formalised an infant welfare system that had
been slowly developing in the century.7 Judging by the experiences of
women working in the settlements in poor areas on London, few women
and few children benefited from local authority services. Thus, for instance,
many settlements opened in the war years, presumably to meet demand,
or if not demand, then perceived need. Services provided from 1915 by
Muriel and Doris Lester at Kingsley Hall in the East End included baby
clinics, outdoor schools for sickly children, playgroups and
As to the education service: a failed attempt in 1913 and early 1914 to
move the education system onwards focussed on the proposed need to
provide education beyond the elementary school stage; this was seen as
essential if England were to compete with other European nations. In
promoting his bill, the President of the Board of Education, J. A. Pease,
also made broader claims:
If the present generation can attend to the physical condition of their children, enlarge their occupations, widen their sympathies, increase their intellectual freedom and encourage them to use their gifts in mutual service, it
will have done the best thing it can do to ensure the peace, the prosperity
and the independence of our country.9
It is notable that the terms he used suggest a much more expansive
vision of a state education service, than that initially envisaged and currently experienced by many children; also that he emphasises the concept
of children’s duties to their community. This suggests a vision of the
­poorest children as valuable members of society. In particular, the reference to ‘intellectual freedom’ suggests an almost revolutionary vision of
children making their own lives in the spirit of their theoretical understandings of their society. This rhetoric echoes Morant’s 1904 statement
on the purposes of the public elementary school system, quoted earlier.10
Pease’s rhetoric also chimes in well with Sylvia Pankhurst’s encouragement of children to engage with socialist ideas and practices. However,
though this bill failed to gain parliamentary support, increasing sums of
money were spent nationally on education through the war years11; and
this increase was one factor used by the Geddes committee in 1921 to
argue that state education was becoming just too expensive.12
For in 1917–1918 a further attempt was made to expand secondary
education. The 1918 Education Act took account of the earlier effort.13 In
his speech presenting the bill to the House of Commons, Fisher noted
that 600,000 school-age children had ‘become immersed in industry’ during the war. He argued that the demands made by war on the population
should lead on to an ‘extension of the franchise’ and to an education service that recognised that the industrial workers of the country are entitled
to be considered primarily as citizens and as fit subjects for any form of
education from which they are capable of profiting.’14
In raising the school leaving age (SLA) to 14 without exemption, the
1918 Act may have aimed to solidify ideas that children were now to be
thought of, at least partly, as schoolchildren; however, exemptions continued through the interwar years.15 In proposing continuation schooling,
for some hours a week, for 14–18-year-olds, alongside their paid work, it
offered recognition of the educability of all children. In proposing the
development of nursery education, it followed the campaigns, mainly by
women, to advance its importance for the development of young children.
However bye-laws on all three provisions continued through the interwar
years, starting with the slump that followed the war and through the
Geddes Axe that fell on expenditure—and fell heavily on education. Thus
whilst the Board of Education suggested for 1922–1923 the sum of £50
million, the Geddes Committee argued for £34 million. So the proposals
in the 1918 Act were not implemented.16 And it can be argued that one of
the major failures of vision in the Act was reliance on local education
authorities to implement permissive clauses. A stronger national lead was
The response of the Federation of British Industries to the proposal
that young workers be given 8 hours a week continuation schooling was,
according to R. H. Tawney, that this ‘would impose a burden upon many
industries which they would be quite unable to bear’ and this led him to
lambast with fierce irony its assumptions about working-class children:
It is not actually stated, indeed, that working-class children, like anthropoid
apes, have fewer convolutions in the brain than the children of captains of
industry. But the authors of the Memorandum are evidently sceptical as to
either the possibility or the desirability of offering higher education [author’s
note: secondary education] to more than a small proportion of them.18
Tawney worked with the Labour Party on education matters and
authored its 1922 Secondary Education for All. In it he argued strongly
that all children should have schooling until the age of 16; but he also
recognised that this would take time and money; so, tacitly, he accepted
that the divisive, class-ridden system would continue. He also noted the
current situation whereby only 9.4 per cent of children aged 10– 11 in
elementary schools were gaining entry to state secondary schools. That is,
if one-third of all children were above average in intelligence (as current
thinking suggested), then only about one-third of these brightest children
were being enabled to continue their education.19 As a leading member of
the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA), he continued through the
1930s to argue for the merits of secondary schooling for all; and against
the demands of industry for cheap child labour.20
In the post-war years, ‘progressive’ educators continued to press for
change in the state education system, and important was the New
Education Fellowship (discussed in Chapter Two).21 This international
movement held regular conferences, and new thinking coming from
Eastern Europe emphasised reconsideration of the purposes of schooling.
In Russia, for example, after the 1917 revolution, it was argued that the
working class must control education if the transformation of society were
to be achieved.22 At the first post-war New Education Fellowship (NEF)
international conference, held in Calais in 1921, the main theme was ‘the
creative self-expression of the child’.23 In England, an important institution was the Institute of Education, with Percy Nunn and Fred Clarke
(successive directors of the Institute) and child development expert Susan
Isaacs all prominent members of the NEF in the inter-war years. However,
it seems that few changes towards progressive ideas were made in the state
education system; very few nursery schools were established; and schooling for older children remained stuck in prewar policies: that only a few
could benefit.24
Votes for Women
In the last year of the Great War and in its immediate aftermath, two interlocking advances were made. Women (some of them) were at last granted
the vote, and children’s interests were recognised—as objects of welfare
work in 1919, and internationally as holders of rights in 1924. Women
fought for both causes, based on socialist visions of a better society, fairer
for all. They thereby improved the social and political status of both
women and children.
The fact that women did valued paid work during the Great War probably
helped to change (some) male views. This included work in agriculture, in
offices and factories—especially munitions work, in medicine, nursing, policing, in transport. In her 2015 book describing and celebrating women’s
work, Kate Adie has no doubt that the effort women put in paid off, in terms
of the vote. She argues that their contributions to the war effort proved their
case—and she notes that during debate in parliament, MPs supported this
view.25 Millicent Garrett Fawcett, born in 1847, who had worked for women’s interests all her life, gave a more nuanced view. On the one hand, she
The war revolutionised the industrial position of women. It found them
serfs and left them free. It not only opened to them opportunities for
employment in a number of skilled trades, but, more important even that
this, it revolutionized men’s minds and their conception of the sort of work
of which the ordinary everyday woman was capable.26
But she also noted that the vote was granted partly because the war
brought problems requiring solutions, in relation to the local government
electoral register. A man had to be registered on the register as having a
residence. But many men did not qualify, since they had been away fighting or they had insecure tenancies. Yet it was obvious that if they were
required to fight for their country they must have a vote. And women too
had been working for victory. Surely they too should have a vote?
In 1917 Millicent Fawcett (aged 70) led a deputation of women working for suffrage organisations to the House of Commons. Asquith had
been replaced as Prime Minister by Lloyd George, who was more
­favourable to women’s suffrage.27 The 1918 Act (February 1918) gave the
vote to women over the age of 30 who were householders (or jointly with
their husband). At the celebration meeting held by the NUWSS, the overture to Beethoven’s Fidelio was played (celebrating freedom and women
as saviours of husbands!) and they sang Jerusalem, Blake’s poem set to
music by Parry, who gave them permission for this. The song became a
symbol of women’s fight and was later taken up by the Women’s Institutes
organisation as their theme song.
This gain in women’s rights offered the hope that women might be
more influential in working for a fairer society, by addressing issues of both
gender and generation, notably women’s economic independence, and
the health and advancement of children. How this hope worked out in
practice during the interwar years is another story.
Children’s Welfare and Children’s Rights
Immediately after the Great War a number of women went to see for
themselves how people were faring across Europe. One of these was Ethel
Williams (1863–1948). She trained as doctor, was a pacifist and member
of WILPF. She worked as a GP in Newcastle and became famous there as
offering sympathetic, caring help to the poorest people. In 1919 she went
to Vienna and reported on the condition of the children, starving under
the Allied blockade.
Almost all the children under two … were rickety. In the poorer parts of
Vienna I saw no children of two and three walking the streets at all: those I
saw were being carried by their mothers, miserable little morsels of humanity. The [older] children one saw … were white-faced, anaemic, with sunken,
discoloured eyes, and nothing but skin and bone … little children unable to
stand or walk, sitting with crooked backs and twisted limbs like little sad-­
faced chimpanzees … The picture of that Out Patient Department is burnt
into my mind … There was no playing, no laughing, no child running
about. Life for them had become a thing to be endured.28
This account was published in a report issued by WILPF about a congress they held in Zurich in 1919. It points to the specific effects of war
policies on children. Their bodies could not resist starvation. As a social
group they might sustain damage that could not be repaired, since it
related to the age at which the damage was done. This point resonates
with the argument made repeatedly by Margaret McMillan about early
childhood as a critical time in human development; if the opportunity to
nurture the child appropriately was not taken at each stage in its growth,
the deficit could not be made good.29 Whatever may be the rights and
wrongs of this argument, the dramatic evidence uncovered by women
who travelled in war-ravaged Europe, provided ammunition for international measures to save the children, and subsequently to assert that children have rights in society.
Eglantyne Jebb and her sister Dorothy are central to the story of children’s rights. Their expedition to Vienna in 1919 provided shocking evidence of the effects of war on small children. The compelling evidence of
child starvation and mothers’ despair led them in 1919 to establish Save
the Children (SCF), an international organisation devoted to child
An interesting sidelight on this work is provided by an exhibition of art
by children who attended an art class in Vienna, run by Franz Cizek, during the war years. The exhibition was held in 1920, first in London, then
it toured the country and went on to New York, where it also toured. It
was sponsored by SCF as a fund-raising manoeuvre; it aimed to point out
that Austrian children were not enemies but children and therefore fitting
recipients of international help.30 But it had an additional interest, in that
it served as a graphic demonstration that children had perspectives or
visions that adults could be expected to take seriously. Indeed the exhibition was one of several at the time, devoted to children’s art; one of the
first, in 1908, was also of paintings by children working with Cizek.
Exhibitions were held at Roger Fry’s Omega Workshop and at the Grafton
Galleries in 1917, where paintings by girls who worked with Marion
Richardson at Dudley High School were displayed.31 Richardson later
worked at the Institute of Education in London where she promoted children’s freedom, creativity and their own perspectives in art work.32 These
exhibitions are further evidence of a developing movement to open up
education to children’s own activity and engagement.
The work women did to direct international attention to childhood
had a particular focus after the Great War. Childhood was to be understood as affected by politics, in this case by war. The activities of adults,
and specifically of men, had serious impacts on child welfare. But childhood also stood outside nationalist politics, for children everywhere were
to be thought of as an international responsibility. Thus at the first
International Congress on Child Welfare, held in Geneva in 1925 and
attended by delegates from over 50 nations, it was argued that ‘no stronger link can bind the world together than interest in and enthusiasm for
the child’.33 And a resolution was passed as follows:
The First General Congress on Child Welfare is of opinion that in every
country the education of the child, while based in the first place on patriotic
sentiment, should be directed towards a wider love, namely, that of humanity at large, and that sanction must be given to efforts towards stirring in the
hearts of children of all nations a current of sympathy and trust which may
help to hasten the advent of an era of universal peace.34
These noble sentiments provide one sort of explanation for the popularity of the SCF movement, but they also lead into consideration of
Eglantyne Jebb’s subsequent work on children’s rights. This has intrinsic
importance internationally, and is important here also because features of
it resonate with much of the story told in this book.
The Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child 1924
1. The child should be given the means requisite for its normal development, both materially and spiritually.
2. The child that is hungry should be fed; the child that is sick should
be nursed; the child that is backward should be helped; and the
delinquent child should be reclaimed; and the orphan and the waif
should be sheltered and succoured.
3. The child should be the first to receive relief in times of distress.
4. The child should be put in a position to earn a livelihood and should
be protected against every form of exploitation.
5. The child should be brought up in the consciousness that its talents
are to be used in the service of its fellow men.
This Declaration of the Rights of the Child, written by Jebb, was later
printed in a paper she wrote about the work of SCF, published in the
Contemporary Review (August 1925). So it would seem that she saw no
incompatibility in conceptualising child protection as a constituency of
rights. For the Declaration, as has rightly been said, is concerned not so
much with the rights of a person as subject, rather more with child protection and with the enabling environment for the child’s healthy development.35 So its emphasis is on adult duty to protect and foster children. Yet
the fourth article focuses on children as persons taking their place in the
working world; and the fifth article emphasises children’s duty to be active
in the service of their fellow men. Similarly, the 1959 Declaration of the
Rights of the Child, which is rather generally (and expansively) worded
and does not make clear who is to do the work of implementing it, emphasises child protection, but in the last article (Article 10), the same point
about service is given:
Article10. The child shall be protected from practices which may foster
racial, religious and any other form of discrimination. He shall be brought
up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples, peace
and universal brotherhood, and in full consciousness that his energy and
talents should be devoted to the service of his fellow men.36
Quotations from the declarations are important, I think, in the context
of this book, because the accounts I have used to describe how childhood
was experienced, point clearly to the notion of duty, intergenerational
duty, as central to children’s lives. I come back to this point below.
The social environment within which Jebb wrote her five articles is part
of the history of the international development of work on children’s
rights. She extrapolated from her experience of the sufferings of children
caused by adult activity, to press for protection. However, more fundamental thinking was being carried out in Eastern Europe in the immediate
postwar period.37 Korczak, who ran an orphanage in Warsaw, wrote (1919)
on children’s rights to ‘be what he is’, to respect, to self-determination
and to participation. He argued that children should be trusted to run
things, since children are the experts in their own lives.38 In 1928, Korczak
wrote a critique of Jebb’s Declaration, pointing out that it both confused
duties with rights and focused on adult kindness rather than children’s
self-determination.39 There was also a short-lived Moscow Declaration, in
the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917–1918, which made some
truly revolutionary suggestions for strengthening children’s participation
in social and public life as soon as their strength and skills permit; the child
should be seen as stakeholder in and builder of the new society.40 However,
in Western Europe, it seems, more protectionist values prevailed.
Through all my years since I was a little girl the word duty has haunted me.
Our early training seems to have revolved around a key word—duty.41
This statement was made by Mona Chalmers-Watson, who was one of the
second generation of women to train as doctors (she was one of the doctors
who ran a hospital for wounded soldiers in London during the Great War).
It seems that she, like other well-to-do women, felt a strong requirement to
serve and not least a duty to build on their mothers’ hard-­won achievements.
I think we have to look to the history of the women’s movement and to that
of the society they were working in, for and against, to find an explanation of
Jebb’s inclusion of duty in her Declaration of 1924. That is, that the concept
of duty, incumbent on both adults and children, is a key theme, at least over
the preceding half-century, and operating across social class. Once married,
women, as subordinates in marriage, were duty-bound to obey their husband, as the letters on maternity, sent in to the WCG, indicate.42 Unmarried
daughters were taught of their bounden duty to serve their family and were
denied a life of their own. But, as one rebellious daughter wrote:
She has paths of her own she longs to walk in, and purposes of her own she
is eager to carry out. She is an independent being, created by God for the
development of her own talents and for the use of her own time.43
Her point is forcefully presented in Vera Brittain’s account of the desperate work she and other nurses carried out in caring for men wounded
during the war; and how it was interrupted by her father’s peremptory
demand that she return to England to run their household.44 This echoes
the story of George Eliot (1819–1880), who, as the daughter of the family
had to postpone her own career in order to nurse her dying father until his
death freed her for a life of journalism in London.45 She was heard to speak
on duty: ‘taking as her text the three words which have been used so often
as the inspiring trumpet calls of men—the words God, Immortality,
Duty—she pronounced with terrible earnestness, how inconceivable was
the first, how unbelievable the second and yet how peremptory and absolute the third.’46 Similarly, the history of women who fought over many
years for women’s higher education, is infused with their reliance on duty
as their guiding spirit, through many dispiriting years of battles.47
The notion of duty was a general one in social discourse. Pease, quoted
above (p. 163), readily appealed to children to engage in ‘mutual service’.
And we learn from the memoirs that working class children were linked
into the social order through their duties towards their parents; and these
duties were reciprocated—they were intergenerational. Children at school
were taught of their duties to family and society. Children’s Playing
Centres, started by Mrs. Humphrey Ward in 1904, were described in
1911 as ‘fostering love of duty, discipline, self-control, appreciation of
beauty’.48 We also learn, from sad examples, that adults’ duties of care up
the generations sometimes had to give way in the face of dire poverty.
When people became too old to work, their adult children sometimes
abandoned them to the Poor Law and the workhouse.49
In composing the five articles of the 1924 declaration, Jebb drew on
current assumptions about the individual’s relations to others in society,
on the notion of duty. People, including children, were urged to act on
the basis of their duties and responsibilities to those closest to them, but
also towards the improvement of society. This idea was later promoted in
the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR):
Everyone has duties to the community, in which alone the free and full
development of his personality is possible. [UDHR 1948: Article 29 (1)]
Michael Freeman discusses how the concept of responsibilities was discussed by the team of experts drawing up the 1989 UN Convention on
the Rights of the Child. Some argued that this concept was unenforceable
and therefore outside the purposes of an international convention. The
International Labour Organization (ILO) argued that it should be
excluded since it might lead to the enslavement of children by their
parents. More fundamental, Freeman says, is the point that children
should be seen not as objects of concern but as people, just as adults are,
as subjects in their own right and not as having rights conditional on their
responsibilities.50 He notes that debates continue on this point and that
the African Charter, subsequently drafted in 1990, does include the concept of children’s duties, in recognition of the argument that in many
African societies duty to family and community is a key concept.51 I too
have discussed this point in relation to studies carried out in many societies, in which it is normal for children to recognise their duties to family
and community. I suggest that the notion that we are all interdependent
members of communities, is an important consideration that seems to
hover at the edge of debates about children’s rights. Thus ‘respect for
rights seems to be linked into high evaluation of interdependent family
relations across the generations and of the idea of community’.52 On the
other hand, it has been argued that all through the history of work on
children’s rights, children have not been fully recognised as persons with
rights, just as adults have rights; instead, child welfare concerns have
It seems to me, however, that the history I have surveyed suggests that
in the early twentieth century some people did think in terms of children
as subjects. It is true that some measures were protectionist; thus by 1918
adults were to be active in schooling, feeding, inspecting and curing children. But the debates were also couched in terms of enabling children to
grow up as a new generation who would contribute to the future of society. This new generation was therefore the hope of the older generation.
The ferment of interest in education, drawing on ‘progressive’ theories in
the post-war years, and promoted by the NEF, is a testament to this continued interest in freeing children to be the authors of their own education and of their lives. I think these visions come close to what later
commentators, such as Freeman, are propounding—that children are to
be thought of as people, in the same way that adults are thought of as
people, as subjects in their own right. The work of Sylvia Pankhurst in
promoting her organisation of Junior Suffragettes is based on the concept
of children as citizens with participation rights. Or we may consider the
story told by Ed Ezard, for instance, who experienced the work of teachers in helping him forward his career, as of right, towards moving up the
social ladder into secure employment (see Chapter Four, p. 103). His
teacher clearly thought this boy, and others like him (though not all boys?)
had rights to a life of their own choosing; they were not the objects of the
teacher–child relationship but the subjects. They were to make their own
way, through hard work.
Children as a New Generation
As I have suggested, through many examples in this book, women’s work
for their own advancement required them to analyse how society worked
and to propose radical moves to make life better for all social groups.
Some of this work was radical socialist, envisioning a society where the
fruits of people’s work belonged to the people, some was more gradualist
or reflected more conservative ideas about maintaining civilised norms.
But what links together the pioneers described here is that they sited children in the public arena as rightful beneficiaries of state action.
Representatives of the state, in the persons of MPs, were unwilling and
grudging in implementing education and welfare services. However, at
the level of rhetoric, there was the beginning of recognition of children as
a distinct social group and of childhood as a distinct status within society.
These new ideas about children and childhood, feed into a further recognition, gaining ground as the years proceeded: that children were a new
generation with responsibilities to take forward the task of building a better society. I suggested in Chapter Four (pp. 92) that there may have been,
unsurprisingly, a gap between rhetoric and thought as well as a gap
between rhetoric and practice. And I do not want here to suggest that
there was some straightforward progress on this topic in the first twenty
years of the twentieth century. But I think it is worth drawing on some of
the ideas within the sociology of childhood to pinpoint some subtle
changes that may have taken place. Thus we may start with children’s own
perspectives on their lives. I noted in Chapter Three that firstly children
felt a duty towards their parents and family; and that secondly they aimed
to become a good person within that theoretical parameter; thirdly they
wanted to work on the project of their own life. Slow changes in practices,
and thus in the essential material conditions of childhood, did take place
in those years. It did become possible for a small minority of children,
through the school system, to think and to practise in terms of the project
of their own life. They were able to step out of a preconditioned future
within their social class of origin to a future of their own making. Whilst
the education service, or system, may have been oppressive, as many children experienced it and as later commentators have suggested, for some it
was experienced as opportunity. The majority of young people for whom
the doors on formal education in school closed early on, had perhaps
enough of the rudiments—literacy and numeracy—that enabled them to
go on to gain further education in craftwork, in mills and factories, the
trenches, informal groups, girls’ clubs, evening classes, trade unions and
women’s groups such as the Women’s Co-operative Guild. And the
growth of written literature, readily available, made such learning easier to
come by. Socialism was in the air, as, for instance, described by Kathleen
Woodward in her fictionalised memoir, where her protagonist joins a back
street socialist agitators group, and campaigns for better conditions of
work for women.54
Thus I think we can begin to think that children who went through
elementary school by 1920, as compared to those who presented themselves to schools in 1870, presented a different face to adults. Though
literacy had been widespread before 1870, the very poorest had been left
out; now all children attending elementary school had opportunities for
literacy.55 Literacy, however, hard won, was a blessing; it allowed children
and the adults they became access to the knowledge and thinking of the
society. They were now not so much the submerged mass of poor, they
were more solidly part of the mainstream population, in touch with social
movements. This leads on to another point: that children presented a
different face to adults in another set of ways. Though extreme poverty,
ill-­health and poor nutrition continued to be endemic, some education,
health and welfare measures had been set in place, which allowed onlookers to think in terms of working-class children, not as burden on capitalist
society, but as an acceptable new generation. For thinking at the time
undoubtedly embraced the idea of the next generation as the only source
of prosperity for the future; and the children of the poor now began to
take their place within that new generation. Indeed, the changes in the
ways in which educationalists talked about the purposes of education
over the years, suggest a change in their assumptions about the children
of the poor. Some of them were intelligent, it seemed, even intellectual.
Perhaps all could benefit from education through the years to 18. If not
suited to high-grade intellectual pursuits, they could be trained for technological, secretarial, craftsman’s work. All could be trained in good
I am arguing in this book that the work of women, various in character and aim, was instrumental in helping change views about children
and childhood. Some of this was accomplished by promoting changes in
practices, so that children presented a new face—cleaner, brighter—to
their betters. Some pioneers, such as Mrs Humphrey Ward were conservative rather than socialist; she focused on helping children have happier
childhoods and in so doing pointed to commonalities among children,
for she showed that working-class children could enjoy songs, dances
and stories just as children of the wealthy did. Some of the work focussed
directly on changing ideas about childhood, for instance in emphasising
children’s rights. And a central point is that socialist women who argued
for the vote also fought for a socialist society, more or less radically conceived, but one in which the interests of all social groups, all ages of
people, had a right to be enabled to live a better life. And, as I noted in
Chapter Two, the maternalism thesis allowed and encouraged women to
speak up for children. Women could indeed draw on many current
strands in thinking: socialism, feminism, Labour Party visions, alongside
For example, (to take up again the pioneers who front my chapters),
Margaret McMillan, though well read in revolutionary socialism, chose
to go down a gradualist reform route, within the existing system; and in
­particular, she saw children, the next generation, as agents of change.56
Maud Pember Reeves, as a member of the research group within the
Fabian Women’s Group, set out to examine causes of infant mortality.
Her study demonstrated the impossible task faced by women trying to
raise children on £1 a week. She argued for direct financial intervention
by the state to ensure that families were adequately provided for each
child. In the end, she argues, the state is responsible for child welfare.
This was a strong statement at the time (1913), as it is today. Mary
Bridges Adams challenged current assumptions—that education for the
poor should be a poor service—and instead proposed a complete overhaul of education, with common schools for all, free at the point of use.
Sylvia Pankhurst combined many of the facets of women’s work during
the Great War; she provided hands-on services to women and children;
she fought for the rights of women and of men—to decent working
conditions and to the vote; she included children in her thinking and
practice: children were encouraged to participate in political activity.
Finally, the Jebb sisters worked at international levels to advance the
rights of children to protection and to lives of service to their fellow
men. Women’s work for their own advancement involved them in
rethinking the social order and that required them to rethink
Children of the State?
In the light of the above points, and given our journey through this book,
with its chapters on memories of children’s experiences, I return to a
question discussed in Chapter Two: is it appropriate to think that children in the early years of the twentieth century became thought of, in
some sense, as children of the state? I noted that contemporaries asserted
this and that modern historians have, too. I contributed to this debate by
arguing that elementary school children themselves probably thought of
themselves mainly as children of families, with serious duties to contribute to family economic welfare. And I observed that whilst commentators
both then and since may point to legislative reforms and thus to a changing role for the state in relation to children and to childhood, yet I think
we have to take account of other factors as well. It is these I return to
Perhaps the first point is that the education system, though it allowed a
tiny minority to advance, was clearly inappropriate when viewed as a service provided by the state for its children. It had been initiated partly in
response to the widening of the male franchise in the 1860s and partly
through the perceived desirability of schooling the poorest.57 Though the
curriculum broadened and funding levels increased in the years to 1920,
the basics of the system—large classes, testing and inspection—were antipathetic to education as understood by theory-influenced educationalists
of the day. It was difficult to incorporate child-led learning as promoted by
Froebelians and other ‘progressive’ thinkers—though some progress was
made. The example of Jane Roadknight in Nottingham showed that, with
a very determined woman employed in a position of some authority, and
a sympathetic education authority, changes could be made to both kindergarten and infant school classes. But teacher–child relations were conditioned by the large classes; and the barrier to secondary education, for all
but a few at age 11 led either to disenchantment with school or to frustrated ambition. Essentially, no government was likely to provide what
Mary Bridges Adams fought for: a service for all, free at the point of use,
and of a character and quality MPs would want for their own children.
This analysis draws on the experiences reported in the memoirs, which,
though they are not representative of the population, have considerable
force. These memoirs also report that, yes, there were major developments
in people’s access to education once they acquired literacy; and these were
provided by libraries, newspapers, comics, story-books, films and newsreels;
and through membership of trades unions, friendly societies and other
political organisations.
The second major point is that whilst there was huge unrest among ‘the
workers’ and massive promotion by well-to-do women and men of measures to improve health and welfare among poor people, especially children and mothers, the basics remained untouched. That is, the huge
disparities in wealth and in working and living conditions remained
unchanged during this period. Each day, children returned from school to
the slums they lived in, whether in cities or villages. The power of employers ensured that male workers’ wages were below subsistence, women’s
wages were generally only half of male wages, and children’s wages lower
still. It is particularly striking that when the government wanted men to
fight the war, they had not, first of all, established adequate mechanisms to
keep wives and children alive. In 1914, Sylvia Pankhurst, though committed to revolutionary socialism, found herself providing milk and bread to
starving women and children in the East End of London.
I think these two points, viewed from this study of the lives of women
and children at this time, suggest that rhetoric about children as ‘children
of the state’ did not match up to lived experience. Nor does the history of
state intervention in the lives of children (1900 to 1920) suggest that the
state accepted the argument that it had the final responsibility for child
health and welfare. The ongoing battles to ensure that children were fed
are one example. Rhetoric about parental responsibility continued to be
influential. Pember Reeves gives one of the most powerful expressions of
the argument in favour of state responsibility for the next generation. At
the end of her book detailing the lives of Lambeth families, she notes that
responsibility for child health and well-being is too important a matter to
be placed solely on the shoulders of employers; they cannot be expected
to tailor wages so as to maintain the varying numbers of children in a
household: the state must accept that responsibility.58 She quotes a leader
from The Times (7 October 1913) in support of her view:
They (women) are resolved, we may take it, that laws and customs which do
not recognise that their children are the children of the nation are behind
the times and must be altered. Because they are the children of the nation,
the nation owes them all the care that a mother owes her own children.59
The hard lives lived by her Lambeth families and the high rates of child
death among them resulted ultimately, she argues, from state failure to
take its responsibilities, especially to children, seriously. This argument
provides her justification for proposing that the state should act as guardians for children, with family allowances allocated according to the number of children. The long-running battle for these allowances was carried
forward by Eleanor Rathbone, with success during the 1945 Labour
Clearly, some changes in the division of responsibility for children did
take place, as between parents and the state, but these changes were modest and superficial. Children’s chances of a good life continued to depend
largely on the economics of their family of origin; and on their own individual efforts.
Including Children and Childhood in the Analysis of Society
In this book, I have considered the part played by children in their social
worlds; and implicitly, sometimes explicitly, how they were valued. This
has been an exploration of the material character of children’s lives, and of
their related experiences. Zelizer, revisiting in 2005 her earlier well-known
book Pricing the Priceless Child (1985) argues on the basis of further
empirical examples from the intervening twenty years that indeed, as she
had first argued, there was a change in rhetoric in early-twentieth-century
USA—children became valued less for their economic contributions and
more as emotional assets; but in practice, children continued to do many
paid and unpaid jobs for their families.60 However, Gillis, taking a broader
sweep geographically, sees the decline in the family as the social and economic centre of Western society; and argues that from 1900 onwards,
children were increasingly segregated in time and place, in child-specific
settings.61 But in England, in the families dealt with in this book, I think
this change had not taken place. Working class children were valued for
their economic contributions, though in some (many?) families they were
also loved, as individuals. The organisation of time set in place by the
school day gave a short school day in 1900–1920: 9 a.m.–4 p.m. with a
two-hour break for the main midday meal and holidays geared to agricultural and religious practices. There was lots of time outside those five
hours, as children found, to engage with the social and economic life of
the family and neighbourhood. During the Great War years, it was obvious
to farmers and factory owners that children should form part of the workforce, and though the education journal, the TES, argued for children
as first and foremost schoolchildren, some 600,000 children were removed
from school to work for the war effort.62 And as I have suggested, school
was probably not central to many children’s experience of childhood or to
their evaluation of ways in which they could and should contribute to the
division of labour. Rather they saw themselves, and were seen by parents
and by the school system, as workers.
Indeed, study of the stories told leads us to a clear view that children
participated, visibly, in the economic lives of family and neighbourhood.
Children were out there doing the shopping, negotiating with shopkeepers, transporting goods; they engaged in paid work in a range of environments organised by adults and they bargained with employers for better
rates of pay. They carried out work involving them in journeys across
town, collecting laundry, running messages. In rural areas, they were
employed in agriculture alongside adults; they herded animals along the
roads and carried goods and messages between villages. In both cities and
countryside, they worked to help keep the household afloat. The fact that
children engaged in paid work, during their school years and afterwards in
full-time work, means that they were, through their economic and social
activity, part of the adult world. Children aged 12, 13 and 14 went into
full-time paid work and engaged with political activities through trade
unions. Photographs of the time show that whatever events were taking
place in public, children were there. They marched in union demonstrations; they took part in suffragette marches, also in festivals and fairs held
in countryside and city.63 Children also engaged with the major rituals
surrounding birth, marriage and death: took part in the assemblies
attended by adults: in religious events, in political meetings. If there was
any spare money, they enjoyed the same entertainments as their elders, in
cinemas and music halls.
Thus, as it seems to me, there is clear evidence that children did contribute to the maintenance and forward movement of society. The question then is: did women include children and childhood in the analysis of
society; and if, as I think, they did, what were their formulations and analyses? If we read Gilman’s utopia, for instance, we find her centring her
society on childhood—which is to be a period of communal enjoyment
and active learning, supervised by women trained for the work of fostering
healthy happy girlhoods, so that the next generation of adult women will
be fit to take forward the society. If we look at Sylvia Pankhurst’s work in
the East End during the Great War, we find her marshalling women, men
and children in socialist enterprises, demanding better conditions of work,
conditions of living. Her analysis pointed to the necessity for everyone to
engage in the struggle, for all had a most pressing interest in a better society. Undoubtedly, the Jebb sisters conceptualised children as members of
society, entitled to protection and support, but also as having duties to
work for the betterment of that society.
But the requirement that children spend five hours a day at school in
term-time did embody a change in the status of children and of childhood.
And this change did present some challenges to children and parents.
They had to rethink children’s responsibilities. For many children this
meant fitting useful toil—in domestic work for their household and/or
paid work to help its economy—around school hours. Where children
became immersed in scholarly work—as for instance in the cases of those
who attended secondary school—there were tensions, as John Bennett’s
story of part-time work shows. During the Great War, some boys found
themselves required to omit school and to work in agriculture or in factories. And the change taking place also led to changes in commentators’
perceptions. The TES journalists thought these children were missing out
on their allotted, rightful tranche of schooling—and should be allowed to
make up the time after the war. That is, they conceptualised children as
having a right to schooling. So at this point, we have to recognise the force
of Jens Qvortrup’s argument that the scholarisation of childhood did
slowly take place, and correspondingly children’s contribution to the division of labour was changing: it consisted of acquiring education, which
would fit them for later direct work.64 Nevertheless, children’s paid work
and domestic work continued.
There is also a generational point here. The argument that social groups
make differing contributions to the division of labour allows us to consider
the case of children at the time. As the first years of the century rolled
along, children were increasingly conceptualised as a new generation. For
the first time the very poorest children could be understood, now they
were somewhat cleaned, fed and literate, as part of the new generation
which was necessary to the progress and prosperity of the nation. As noted
above, some commentators at the time took this further and proposed
that children were now children of the state. This idea relies in part on the
fact that children were now being paid for, partly, by the state (in education, health care) and (at least in legal terms) were protected by the state
from abuse. Within the children of the state idea, there was perhaps an
implied intergenerational contract; in return for state largesse and
assumption of some responsibility, children were to repay the state by acting, as children and later as adults, in ways valuable to the state.
Finally on this, we have to take account of the perspectives of children
themselves on their status in society. As has been argued, women have a
particular take on their status or positioning, which derives from their
experiences of being powerless in a world run by men. These experiences
can be worked up, through consideration of the relations of ruling, into a
standpoint—a woman’s take on their social position. It is because women
are relatively powerless that their own analysis of how men construct and
control the social and economic world is so revealing.65 Similarly, it can be
argued, children are controlled within adult-run worlds and they develop
their own ideas about child–adult relations, about what they regard as
valuable. For instance, given that much of their time is organised and controlled by adults, children I have talked with particularly value ‘free time’—
the small slices of time when they feel they are not so directly under adult
control. This may be playtime, time watching TV, playing with mobiles,
even reading.66 Whilst it may be risky to extrapolate across 100 years, yet
there is much that resonates with this valuing of ‘free time’ in the memoirs. The authors give many instances of their memories: their appreciation of play, songs, cultural traditions (such as egg-pacing) and just fun
with other children. Edna Bold gives a vivid expression to her resentment
at being called away from play to run errands (p. 77). There is also no
shortage of instances where children felt unjustly, or even justly punished,
but too severely, for instance at school, but also at home. Tyranny and
physical punishment brought home to children that they had lowly status.
However, I return to my central understanding of how children experienced their childhoods. In spite of hard times, I think children regarded
their home with its relationships, hardships and pleasures as their centre; it
was also where they were duty-bound to contribute. Some of this is to do
with the extreme poverty many suffered; poverty required everyone to do
what they could. Some of it is to do with the closeness of family relationships, especially between mother and children; and these enabled children
to see how hard their mothers worked and, in turn, how they should help
where they could.
These last points do make us see that increasing scholarisation might
present a threat to family duty and closeness, for some of these schooled
children had parents with very little formal schooling. This divide was
exemplified by Liz Flint, who saw a gap opening up between her loving
mother and her as she began to move in a different world, the world of
learning. And as the movement to increase the school-leaving age continued, and as the curriculum widened, generational differences might also
impact on family relations.
So, in Summary, What did Women do for Children?
The early twentieth century saw women working within the parameters of
varying strands of thought. On the one hand they were regarded as natural guardians of society’s moral order; on the other hand they sought economic emancipation and equal rights as men to the vote, education, paid
work and property rights. It can be argued that though these ideas were
not entirely compatible, women worked with them, as and when the cause
for which they fought demanded reference to theory.67 As I have noted,
women used whatever arguments seemed likely of success in their various
campaigns. Some of their work was for children’s welfare, for which men
said they were suited, and much of the work was also framed in socialism,
in feminism, in terms of human rights and dignity. Women’s work for their
own advancement involved some of them in rethinking the social order.
The fact that children were so clearly and visibly present and active in the
social and economic life of towns and villages may have allowed them to
be taken seriously as members of society in ways that are difficult to envisage nowadays, for we have removed children from the public sphere and
labelled them as learners rather than as participating members of society.
And of course the fact that the schooling of children—the sheer visibility
of children—initially presented so many issues and problems to be solved
also raised their status as a social group having rightful attention given to
their interests.
In summary, and drawing on the examples discussed in this book, I
think women were important in rethinking childhood, in a number of
respects. Much of this work focused on the double disadvantages suffered
by girls—gendered and generational factors. Some—and notably the more
theoretical work—focussed more broadly on children and here the focus
is on generation, cross-cut with gender. So, firstly, women showed particular interest in advancing the claims of girls to wider opportunities,
including a better life. Just as Edna Bold rejected marriage and its endless
pregnancies, so many women at all levels saw the possibilities of other
futures for girls, via the schooling on offer, and as job opportunities
opened up. Marriage might be one part of their future, but other possi-
bilities were there to be explored. Thus middle-class women—such as
Millicent Fawcett and Emily Davies—secured university education for
girls in the late nineteenth century and this work was further developed in
the newly established schools for girls that prepared them for university.68
But though less spectacular and less well documented, the work of women
in elementary schools, settlements, socialist Sunday schools and girls’
clubs was important in encouraging girls to consider other futures before
or instead of marriage. These varying settings also provided opportunities
for political education. Teachers encouraged girls towards higher self-­
esteem. The headteacher of Atley Road School used the opportunities of
her East London base to widen her girls’ experiences, through visits to
theatres, museums and the nearby countryside. Dorothy Scannell provides a clear example of a headteacher, Miss Wilkie, who encouraged her
to go on to secondary education (only to be thwarted by Dorothy’s
Secondly, and moving on from the first point, if girls had claims to a
better life, then women proposed that girls should participate in the work
towards that better life. The second generation of girls, schooled and relatively healthy (compared to earlier generations) could be asked to help
with making a fairer society for all. As girls started life as paid workers,
their membership of trade unions and the Women’s Co-operative Guild
enabled them to continue with their education, learning how they could
help bring about a fairer society, how to assemble arguments, how to
campaign, how to speak publicly. In particular, girls who worked in factories and experienced how unfair their pay and conditions of work were
(compared to those of boys and men), were well placed to develop socialist understandings, to perceive that, as Ada Nield Chew said, women
must break free of economic dependence on men as a first step towards
securing better living and working conditions for women. Taking a
female-only community—Herland—for her exploration of these topics,
Gilman points to the distortions perpetrated on women’s lives and consciousness by the power of men in all societies. Most dramatic, perhaps, is
the practical work of Sylvia Pankhurst, who proposed that girls should
participate in the socialist struggles of the East End. Her junior suffragettes were engaged in the work towards women’s suffrage, but also for
women and men as workers. This vision and this movement were in sharp
contrast with those of her mother and sister Christabel, who simply
wanted the vote; and who saw no sense, no future, in harnessing working
class people in the fight.
Thirdly, women took part in socialist debates about the causes of child
poverty and poor health. Some of this work was through research, as exemplified by the programme of research initiated by the Fabian Women’s
Group, represented here by Pember Reeves’ study of infant mortality and
by Clementina Black’s study of married women’s work. Some women
(such as Jebb) who had previously espoused COS charity dispensed from
above, saw that gross economic inequalities caused and sustained poverty.
She and her sister devoted their lives to policy-making in the interests of
children and childhood. Socialism, whether fully collectivist or more gradualist, provided their understandings of how children were to be enabled
to live good lives. In a socialist society, Bridges Adams proposed, a common education service would be provided for all, rather than being structured according to social class prejudices. Socialist women who worked in
the mills of Lancashire, understood that they had responsibility for crucial
work as educators of their own children; they could do this work well only
if they themselves gained acceptance as full members of society, as Selena
Cooper argued (p. 26).
Fourthly, and most fundamentally, women were important contributors to an emerging theme in discussions about children, that is, that children should rightly be regarded as constituting a social group within society.
By that I mean, as outlined in the Introduction, that there are features of
childhood which are common across childhoods (notably, that intergenerational relations are crucial to child well-being); and that childhood is
impacted on in ways specific to it, by socio-economic forces. It is not (as
far as I know) that commentators of the time would have used the phrase
‘a social group’ but that is the concept they were employing. They argued
that children were affected in specific ways by poverty, starvation and poor
housing. Thus, Margaret McMillan argued that child development took
place in stages over time, and if opportunities for specific developments
were barred, the loss could not be made up. Eglantyne Jebb and her colleagues demonstrated the point when they described the starving children
in Vienna after the Great War; they could not walk, since their legs had not
developed the necessary strength. Physically, whilst their mothers could
withstand starvation, they could not. Within the education field, women
were at the forefront in arguing that young children learn in specific ways:
through exploration and through consideration of what they explore: and
that this understanding should be the basis for the education provided for
them in schools. Women were especially important in this area of knowl-
edge, since they were deemed by men to be naturally alert to and sympathetic to children’s development and thinking.
Fifthly, children, regarded as a social group, were increasingly understood in women’s thinking, as having rights. In the thinking of the time,
pronouncements about rights were cast in terms of children’s entitlement
to protection and enablement. The 1908 Children Act had brought
together earlier legislation on this entitlement and steered a delicate route
through parental and state responsibility.70 There was also an emerging
understanding among educationalists that children had a right to school-­
based education; this was emphasised, for instance, in the arguments proposed in the TES on the negative impacts on children’s education of child
employment in factories and fields during the Great War and in Fisher’s
presentation of the 1917 education bill. Women were important in forwarding this understanding. Thus the Save the Children campaign (started
by the Jebb sisters in 1919) found ready acceptance internationally; and it
was given further solidity by Jebb’s 1924 Declaration of Geneva. In the
education field, women were able to make advances theoretically in their
emphasis on how children learn; and to initiate a few examples of how
such theories could and should be put into practice. For it fell to women,
such as Katherine Bathurst, Beatrice Ensor and Jane Roadknight to
explain, in the light of current progressive thinking, how young children
learned, and thus how the state education system should be altered to take
account of this thinking.
And finally on this, there was, as discussed earlier in this chapter, debate
about children’s relations with the state; undoubtedly, children were coming to be regarded not just as the property of parents, but as having a call
on the state’s resources. As the next generation, the only hope for the
future of the country, children as a social group were the most important
resource society had. Women’s campaigning and research work on the
lives lived by poor people, and women’s pressure groups urging government to take action, made some progress in shifting government behaviour towards intervention in the interests of child health.
Last Paragraphs
In this book I have explored some of the existing literature on the women’s movement and on child education and welfare, to focus on a neglected
topic, which nevertheless leaps out of the pages when you read the
literature: the women’s movement in relation to childhoods. It is clear
that in the early twentieth century the women’s movement was influenced
not only by feminist thought but by socialism. Women were able to build
on the long tradition of writings about gender issues, and also on socialist
thinking—which in its many faces was a hot topic of the time. Capitalist
society had produced massive inequalities and was ripe for reconsideration. Among the sufferers from exploitation, children were obvious victims, as high rates of child mortality and ill-health showed. And once
those children became visible in schools, from the 1870s onwards, the
stage was set for women’s work, since maternalism allocated to them specific qualities for improving childhoods.
A second, linked, purpose of this book has been to consider, using the
available evidence, what were the experiences of children, using a materialist focus to explore them. In his book exploring how stories about childhood have developed, Cunningham regrets that we cannot access the
voices of the children themselves; if we could, that would change the stories we could tell about childhood.71 I have taken on this challenge—with
all its problematics—and I do think memoirs—alongside logbooks and
other data referred to along the way—tell a useful story. I think they are
important to the structure of the argument, since, whilst the emphasis
given by adults, including women, may have been on schooling and health,
the accounts we have of childhoods suggest the overriding importance for
children’s attention of the social and above all economic institution of the
family, with its complexities and duties. From a historical point of view, I
think it is relevant to consider the salience of the new education system
and the work women put in for children—which focussed on health, education and welfare—in these wider socio-economic contexts of children’s
lives. Exploration of people’s memories of childhood not only helps to
build a rounded picture of childhoods at the time, but also serves as a set
of pointers to the massive task not adequately faced at the time: to address
the worst effects of capitalism: exploitation by employers, acute poverty,
slum dwellings.
In the last chapter of her admirable study of the women’s movement in
the early twentieth century, Sheila Rowbotham (2011) revisits the proposition discussed by Beatrice Webb in a New Statesman paper in 1913: that
the women’s movement was not just about the vote. It was about rethinking democracy; it was about tackling social inequalities and about tackling,
not just women’s subordination, but other social groups’ subordination.
In her book Rowbotham explores varying dimensions of adult inequality,
including social class and, ethnicity, women’s economic subjection, women’s relations with men in the domestic and work spheres, communal living—and adult responsibilities for child care. In my book, I have taken up
the challenge posed by Webb to include study of how the women’s movement reconsidered children and childhood in English society; and I have
used the insights of a sociological approach to help in this exploration. My
emphasis has been on children as people, as contributors to the social and
economic order and ultimately on childhood as a social status in society
and on its intergenerational relations with adulthood. There is much more
research and thinking to be done on this topic. But I have made a start…
1. Mulley 2009, chapter 6.
2. Mulley 2009, chapter 8.
3. Mulley 2009, pp. 233–236.
4. Oldfield 2006.
5. Oldfield 2006, pp. 35–36.
6. For discussion, see Education Enquiry Committee, pp. 36–39.
7. Hendrick 2003, pp. 64–65.
8. Vicinus 1994, p. 245 and note 104 on p. 350.
9. Sherington 1981, p. 31.
10. See quotation from Morant’s Introduction to the Code of 1904–26, See
Chapter Four, section headed ‘Development of the state school system’.
11. Sherington 1981, p. 37.
12. The Geddes Committee was established to consider savings in national
expenditure, during the slump, following the Great War.
13. See Appendix B.
14. H. A. L. Fisher speech presenting his education bill in 1917. Quoted in
Van der Eyken 1973, pp. 219–232.
15. For a full discussion on how children continued to leave school at 12 or 13
until the passing of the 1944 Education Act, see Morrow 1992.
16. Committee on National Expenditure 1922, quoted in Van der Eyken
1973, pp. 276–286.
17. For discussion see Richmond 1945, chapter 6.
18. Both quotations are from a newspaper article dated 14 February 1918. See
Van der Eyken 1973, pp. 251–255.
19. Tawney in Van der Eyken 1973, pp. 264–268. Excerpt from Secondary
Education for All, by Tawney (1922). For extensive discussion of Cyril
Burt’s work on intelligence, see Hearnshaw 1979.
20. For instance, Tawney 1936.
21. For discussion see Selleck 1968 and 1972; also Aldrich 2009.
22. Aldrich 2009.
23. Boyd and Rawson 1965, chapter 4.
24. Richmond 1945, chapter 6.
25. Connelly also says that women’s war work was rewarded by the vote, as
part of the effort to defuse industrial action (2013, p. 98). Unfortunately,
Kate Adie does not distinguish between women’s and girls’ work.
26. Crawford 2002, pp. 262–263.
27. Crawford 2002, pp. 262–263.
28. Oldfield 2006, pp. 276–277.
29. Steedman 1990, especially chapter 10.
30. Roberts, S. 2009.
31. Tomlinson 1947, pp. 18–21.
32. Richardson 1948.
33. Alden 1925.
34. Alden 1925.
35. For instance, Milne 2015.
36. The 1924 and 1959 Declarations, along with the 1989 UN Convention
on the Rights of the Child are helpfully printed in Milne 2015.
37. Liebel 2012.
38. Korczak (1878–1942): his statement of child rights is quoted in a leaflet on
an exhibition of his work, provided by the Museum of Warsaw (undated).
39. Liebel 2012, p. 29.
40. Liebel 2012, chapter 2.
41. Crawford 2002, p. 41.
42. For instance, letter 8 on page 27 of Maternity gives a precise account of
what many of the women correspondents hint at or assume (edited by
M. Llewelyn Davies 1984).
43. Pearsall-Smith 1951 [1894].
44. Brittain’s account of nursing wounded soldiers in France is given in her
chapter 4.
45. Uglow 2014, especially chapter 3.
46. Sutherland 2006, p. 4.
47. Sutherland 2006, p. 4.
48. The School Child, April 2011, offers this account of Children’s Playing
Centres. By then there were 170 of them with average attendance of 200
children, at evening and Saturday morning sessions, offering handicrafts,
exercise and story-telling.
49. An example of this poverty-driven refusal to help aged parents is given by
Foakes, chapter 39.
50. Freeman 2009, p. 382.
51. African Charter 1990: Article 21 (2). See Freeman 2009, p. 383.
52. Mayall 2015, pp. 89–90.
53. Milne 2015, p. 16.
54. Woodward 1982, chapter 7.
55. Hurt 1979, chapters 2 and 3.
56. Steedman 1990 passim, but especially chapter 2.
57. Hurt 1979, chapter 1 and p. 59.
58. Pember Reeves 1988 [1913], p. 218.
59. Pember Reeves 1988 [1913], p. 223.
60. Zelizer 2005.
61. Gillis 2009.
62. See Chapter Five, p. 137.
63. Collections of photos showing children engaged in social and political
movements are given, for instance, in Jackson and Taylor 2014 for East
London, and in Liddington and Norris 1985 for north-west England. See
also for a pictorial record of the East London suffrage movement, Taylor
64. Qvortrup 1985.
65. See Smith 1988 for full discussion of the concept of standpoint.
66. For extended discussion, see Mayall 2002, chapter 7. My research studies
took place a hundred years later than the childhood lives described in the
memoirs but perhaps they are relevant.
67. Steedman 1990 gives a full exploration of the complexity of ideas from
which women chose in order to attain better lives for themselves and for
children. She summarises these points on p. 121.
68. Crawford, chapter 2.
69. Scannell, p. 84.
70. For discussion, see Hendrick 2003, pp. 82–86.
71. Cunningham 1991, pp. 232–233.
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London federation of suffragettes. London: Stepney Books.
Tomlinson, R. R. (1947). Children as artists. London: King Penguin Books.
Uglow, J. (2014). George Eliot. London: Virago.
Van der Eyken, W. (Ed.). (1973). Education, the child and society: A documentary
history 1900–1973. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Vicinus, M. (1994). Independent women: Work and community for single women
1850–1920. London: Virago.
Woodward, K. (1982). Jipping Street. London: Virago.
Zelizer, V. (2005). The priceless child revisited. In J. Qvortrup (Ed.), Studies in
modern childhood: Society, agency, culture. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Appendix A
Here I give some details about the sources of information used in the
Section One: Autobiographies and Interviews
Listed here are the main sources of information provided by people who
were children in the early years of the twentieth century. I refer to these
autobiographies and interviews as ‘memoirs’.
These fourteen accounts are given in published books. All the children
were born in the early twentieth century and went to elementary school
before 1920. Some went on to secondary school.
H. J. Bennett (John). I was a Walworth Boy. Born 1902, Walworth,
south London. Father unskilled, range of jobs, sometimes unemployed,
a drunkard. Children qualified for free meals. To central school and
worked part-time in a shop while at school. Left school at 15 for job as
clerk and attended evening classes to qualify for civil service post.
Became a civil servant, cycling enthusiast and socialist.
Catherine Cookson. Our Kate. Born 1906 Jarrow, Tyneside. Hard-­
working, alcoholic mother. Very hard childhood, loved books, RC
© The Author(s) 2018
B. Mayall, Visionary Women and Visible Children, England 1900–1920,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-61207-2
e­ lementary schooling. Left school at 13 or 14 and went ‘into service’.
Best-selling novelist of working-class life.
Kathleen Dayus. Her People. Born 1903, Birmingham. Youngest of six
children, slum housing in central area. Poverty-stricken family, on outdoor relief. Left school at 14 for paid work, first in clothing industry
and then trained in enamel trade.
Edward Ezard. Battersea Boy. Born c. 1901, Battersea, south London.
Father dead, mother worked as housekeeper in West End. Failed exam
for grammar school, but went to secondary school. Very detailed
account of family and local life, school, holiday in Kent/working on a
farm. London offered wide range of experiences. Left school for clerical
work. Joined the army.
Elizabeth Flint. Hot Bread and Chips. Born c. 1906. London E1 off
Commercial Rd. Very poor family. Father in wholesale vegetable trade.
Took up scholarship to grammar school.
Grace Foakes. My Part of the River. Born 1901 Wapping, East London.
Father a docker. Detailed account of school and local social life. Went
on to central school. Mother had 13 children, seven died.
S. Jasper (Jan). A Hoxton Childhood: Born c. 1905, Hackney, London.
Father casual labourer and violent drunkard; mother did dressmaking
to keep family going; boy worked as mother’s helper, also did paid jobs,
Left school at 14 for carpentry/cabinet-making training and work.
Laurie Lee. Cider with Rosie. Born 1914. Village childhood,
Gloucestershire. Father deserted the family, seven siblings. To central
school at 12 and left at 15. Office work. Walked in Spain. Writer.
Bernard Riddleston. Hoffy. Born 1906. Father an agricultural
labourer, rural Suffolk. Left elementary school at 14, worked as agricultural labourer for five years, then joined police force and rose to be
superintendent in Lowestoft.
Robert Roberts. The Classic Slum and A Ragged Schooling. Born 1905
Salford. Poor but literate parents. Academic ambitions, but failed scholarship exam and left school at 14 for job in engineering works. Became
writer and teacher.
Rolph, C. H. (Cecil at home). London Particulars. Born 1901. Lived
Finsbury and later south London. Father a policeman. Mother invalid,
died when Rolph was 8. To central school for commercial training.
Other Important Memoirs 195
A. L. Rowse (Leslie). A Cornish Childhood. Born 1903 in village north
of St Austell. Parents barely literate, ran local shop. Scholarship to
­grammar school, and proceeded to Oxford University, also on scholarships. Historian.
Dorothy Scannell. Mother Knew Best. Born 1909 Poplar, East London.
Family qualified for country holidays. Detail on her school, and social
life locally. Accepted for central school but parents refused. Left school
at 14. Did secretarial work.
Ralph Wightman. Take Life Easy. Born 1901 Dorset village. Family
had smallholding and ran a butchers shop. To grammar school on
scholarship and then to university to study agriculture. Became radio
commentator on rural and gardening topics.
Two unpublished undated book-length autobiographies (Camden Local
Studies and Archives Centre, Theobald’s Road Library, London WC1).
Marjorie Cook. Born 1912 Camden Town, North London. Moved to
Kentish Town. Father a chauffeur, then joined army. Very little on
school but clear memories of neighbourhood. (ref. no. LB Camden
75.1 COO).
Evelyn Shelley. Born 1896 West Hampstead, London. Life centred on
church and school. To ‘senior mixed school’. (ref. no. LB Camden
75.1 Shelley).
Other Important Memoirs
Melanie McGrath. Silvertown. A memoir of three generations of her
family in and about the East End of London, focusing especially on her
grandmother, Jennie, born 1903.
Hannah Mitchell. The Hard Way Up. Born 1871 Lancashire. Two
weeks’ schooling, left home at 12. Earned living in dressmaking.
Education through work as Poor Law Guardian on school boards and
through socialist groups. Suffragette in Manchester and Lancashire.
Kathleen Woodward. Jipping Street. A fictionalised account of women’s
lives in Bermondsey, south-east London, before the First World War.
Storm Jameson. Journey from the North. Born 1891 Whitby. Detailed
account of Whitby life. Privately educated but spent a year at state secondary and obtained scholarship to Leeds University. Journalist and novelist.
John Burnett 1994Destiny Obscure
This provides a collection of autobiographical accounts sent in to him in
response to a radio request. He presents excerpts from the original drafts.
These include ten-page accounts and also some briefer quotations set out
in the Introductions to each main section of the book: Childhood,
Education, Home and Family Very few are from people born early in the
twentieth century, and even fewer are by people who went to elementary
school. There are five useful ten-page accounts:
Bim Andrews. Born 1909 Cambridge. Illegitimate. Got scholarship to
grammar school, but family could not afford, so went to higher grade
Edna Bold. Born 1904 Beswick, Manchester. Father ran bakery shop.
To secondary school and trained as teacher.
James Brady. Born 1898 Rochdale, Lancashire. Father a clog-maker.
Half-­timer at school. To cotton mill full-time at 13.
Edith Hall. Born 1908 Hayes, Middlesex. Did not try for secondary
school, since mother thought it would be ‘a waste of time’. Left school
at 14 for dead-end jobs but later trained as a nurse and also worked in
Bessie Wallis. Born 1904 Yorkshire mining village. Father a miner.
Scholarship to secondary school, but family could not afford. Went
‘into service’ at 13.
Thea Thompson 1981Edwardian Childhoods
This book is based on retrospective interviews (carried out in the late 1960s
and early 1970s) with people asked to look back at their childhoods. It
includes four useful accounts by people who went to elementary schools.
Florence Atherton. Born 1898 Farnworth, Lancashire. Youngest child
with two brothers and four sisters. Mother maintained family by making clothes. Father an insurance agent; he had more free time than the
mother, and took a big part in caring for the children. ‘Respectable
working class’. Florence went to Catholic elementary school and
attended church on Sundays. Too poor to consider secondary schooling. Left school at 14 and into mill work. 13-page account.
Clifford Hills. Born 1904 Essex village and lived there all his life. Three
elder brothers and a younger sister. Father did farm work as freelancer.
Ambleside Interviews 197
Cliff worked part-time on farms before and after school from age of
nine, through his elementary school years; also during the holidays. To
work on farm full-time in 1914. 22-page account.
Thomas Morgan. Born 1892 Southwark. Thomas youngest of 13 children, several of whom died in infancy. Very poor family. Father violent
drunkard. Mother went out ‘charring’. Thomas was a ‘street arab’,
making money through casual jobs. Crippled in accident and had several operations on his leg. Attendance at cripple school paid for by well-­
wisher, where trained as a carpenter. 22-page account.
Annie Wilson. Born 1898 Nottingham. Ninth child of 12 of whom
four died in childhood. Parents illiterate. Father lost job, mother
worked in lace industry. Annie gained a free place at a senior school,
became a great reader; encountered class snobbery. She left at 13 for
job as errand girl, later worked as clerk. 33-page account.
Ronald Blythe Akenfield
Blythe’s social history of a Suffolk village, focusing on the years before
mechanisation changed rural life, has many short pen portraits of local
people. There is one long account and three shorter ones of men born
around 1900 who left school to learn a craft:
Leonard Thompson. Born 1898. Father a farm labourer. Very poor
family, exploited by local landowners. Left school at 13 for farm labouring. At 16 joined the army and fought in the First World War. Became
radicalised through army contacts. Formed trade union on return. (13page account: pp. 31–44)
The three short accounts are of boys who left school as soon as possible
to learn a craft in the village: as wheelwright (p. 126), as saddler (p. 132)
and as gravedigger (p. 280).
Akenfield also provides details from a logbook for the village school for
the period.
Ambleside Interviews
This is a collection of interviews carried out in the 1970s and 1980s with
people living in and around Ambleside in the Lake District. They were
asked to talk about their childhoods in the area in the early twentieth
century, and it seems that the interviewers had a checklist of topics they
hoped to get information on (home life, food habits, school, amusements, local customs, local work, religion, wartime). Interviewees focused
at length on what they chose to recount, and schooling comes low on
their topics of interest. From the hundreds of interviews, I homed in on
those that mentioned the Great War, and then chose those where the
person’s birth-date was near to 1900 and where the person said something—however brief—about their elementary schooling (eight interviews). All of them, except Mrs. McEwen, recount childhoods in the
Ambleside area.
Dorothy Barrow. Born 1906, daughter of the headteacher of the elementary school. Lived in school house. Later went to grammar school.
Mary Bowness. Born 1901, started school at age 3 and left at 13.
Worked at home and then in post office locally. Some detail about war
Margaret Buntin. Born 1901 on isolated farm; her account centres on
farming life. Walked two miles to school, taking packed lunch. Brief
description of school.
Albert Bowness and Jim Hodgson. Both born 1907, joint interview.
Remember caning at school; lot on social life locally and importance of
music-making. One of them did apprenticeship.
Alfred Creighton. Born 1900, to school at age 4; detail on countryside life. Lived in the area all his life.
John Ellis. Born 1910, very full account of school (including egg-pacing) and social life locally.
Gwen Hall. Born 1905, Account of work as pupil teacher, plus training for teacher qualification. Details her siblings’ work during the war,
including with Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.
Mrs. McEwen. Born 1899, Manchester. Drunken violent father. Some
comments about domestic training at school. Glad to leave school at 14
and go to work in factory.
In all, these amount to 21 autobiographies (14 published and two unpublished; and five from Burnett’s collection). In addition we have 14 interviews (one from Akenfield, four from Edwardian Childhoods and nine from
Ambleside). Between them, they provide a mix of town and country childhoods of girls and boys and experiences of and views on school.
Logbooks 199
Section Two: Other Sources of Information
School Histories
These were drawn from the Institute of Education’s collection (except
Darsham). These histories, usually written by a teacher and/or parent,
sometimes include contemporary writings by children (culled from school
magazines) and often also use log book information. A one-in-six random
selection was made, and elementary/primary schools identified. These
were supplemented by a few that had been useful for our earlier study of
children’s contributions to the war effort in the Second World War (Mayall
and Morrow 2011). Here, the author of the history is given in brackets
and the full reference is in the Reference List. Altogether, I consulted the
following school histories:
Boughton, Monchelsea, Kent (Tye)
Busbridge C of E School, Godalming, Surrey (Nyazai)
Chingford C of E Infants School, London (Ray)
Darsham School, Near Halesworth, Suffolk (Ginn)
Great Rissington, Gloucestershire (Boyes)
Leedstown School, Cornwall (Jenkin)
Nash Mills School, Watford (Ward A. J.)
Powell Corduroy School, Dorking, Surrey (Sykes)
Stoke Poges Village School, near Slough (Tarrant)
Tackley School, Oxfordshire (Harding)
School logbooks, kept by the headteacher, are useful in providing information about the academic and social life of the school: academic success,
visitors to the school (including inspectors, school nurses and doctors),
special events at the school, contacts with parents, attendance rates, information about illness epidemics, reasons for closure of the school (illness,
weather, heating), innovations in the curriculum, school trips, h
­ eadteacher’s
preoccupations. Very few of those I consulted mentioned children’s war
In order to help with making some comparisons between rural and
urban areas and school experiences, I chose, for convenience, two areas:
north-east Suffolk and London. The Lowestoft Record Office provided
me with logbooks for rural elementary schools in the area, also for
Lowestoft itself (seven in all). In London, the London Metropolitan
Archive stores school logbooks according to the area (or Division) of
London, and those dealing with the years since 1920 are not open to the
public. This restricts availability very considerably and makes for a self-­
selected sample. Using divisions of London representing north, south,
east and west, I read the logbooks for ten schools. To make this manageable and to focus on what they tell us of war work, I restricted this search
to the First World War years.
North-East Suffolk:
Cunningham Girls’ School, Lowestoft, 1912–27 (ref. no. 65/3.6.3)
Fritton Voluntary School, 1903–61 (ref. no. 434/2)
Halesworth School, Halesworth, 1905–22 (ref. no. 463/2)
Uggeshall and Sotherton School, Near Wangford, 1897–1924 (ref. no.
Wissett School, Wissett, near Halesworth, 1904–31 (ref. no. 467/2)
Wrentham Modern School, 1913–42 (ref. no. 450/1)
Yarmouth Road School, Lowestoft, 1913–28 (ref. no. 65/3/22/4)
Atley Road, Old Ford Road, E 3 (ref. no. EO/DIV5/ATL/LB/7)
Berkshire Road, Hackney, E 9 (ref. no. EO/DIV4/BER/LB/3)
High St., Stoke Newington, N 16 (ref. no. EO/DIV4/HIG/LB.3)
Hitherfield Road, Streatham, SW 16 (ref. no. EO/DIV9/HIT/LB/3)
Mantua, Road Battersea (boys), SW 11 (ref. no. EO/DIV9/MAN/
Mantua Road, Battersea (girls), SW 11 (ref. no. EO/DIV9/MAN/
North End Road, SW 6 (ref. no. LCC/EO/DIV1/NER/LB.3)
Oban St, Bromley-by-Bow, E 14 (ref. no. EO/DIV5/OBA/LB/2)
St Dunstan’s, Nr Fulham Road, W 6 (ref. no. LCC/EO/DIV1/CAP/
Timbercraft, Plumstead, SE 18 (ref. no. EO/DIV6/TIM/LB/5
Some logbooks are held in local history collections. In the Camden
Local Studies and Archives Centre, I was able to consult the following
Journals 201
Christ Church School, Regent’s Park Road, NW1 (ref. no. A/01163)
St Paul’s Parochial School, Elsworthy Road, NW3—girls department
(ref. no. A/01081/3/3)
St Paul’s Parochial School, Elsworthy Road, NW3—boys department
(ref. no. A/01081/3/2)
The main journals consulted were the Times Education Supplement for the
war years; and The School Child, studied from its inception in 1910 through
the war years. This latter was a journal for people involved in welfare work
for school children, including Care Committee members and Poor Law
Guardians; it focused mainly on the London scene.
Appendix B: Legislation and Other Board
of Education Documents Relating
to Children 1870–1918
I list here the principal acts of parliament from the 1870s through to 1918
that relate to the lives of English children and their status within society;
also other Board of Education documents that affected children.
I draw this information mainly from works by a number of scholars who
cover this topic. I give references here to the main contributions on each
Cruikshank (1963) who focuses mainly on the religious controversies
surrounding the 1902 Education Act;
Lowndes (1969) on the ‘silent social revolution’ in education that he
identified, from 1870 to 1935;
Maclure (1970) on the history of the London educational scene; and
Educational Documents England and Wales 1816 to the present day
(Maclure 1986);
Hurt (1979) on the working classes and the state education system
Harris (1995) on the history of the school medical service.
1870 Education Act (Forster Act) This required parents to ensure that
their children received education, whether at home or in schools; but it
was up to local school boards whether to enforce attendance. The Act was
aimed especially at the poorest parents, including those who were paying
less than 9d. per week for schooling, or whose children were not in school
(some were in paid work). The age-range under consideration was ­children
© The Author(s) 2018
B. Mayall, Visionary Women and Visible Children, England 1900–1920,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-61207-2
aged 3–13, but for many reasons some of these did not have to be catered
for.1 The main focus was on children aged 5–10 years. In the first years,
parents had to pay for their children to attend school (1d. or 2d. per week,
per child).2
Before 1870, schools were mainly organised and financed by the
churches (Church of England, Roman Catholic and dissenters). The 1870
Act built on the existing system of denominational schools and filled in the
gaps in provision with schools paid for by block grants and through the
local rates.3 School boards were established in each area to oversee these
new elementary schools. It was up to the school board to decide whether
to include as part of the curriculum (non-denominational) religious
instruction, and if so, it should be at the beginning and/or end of the day.
In practice they opted for religious instruction and generally sited it at the
beginning of the day.4
The curriculum was devised in 1871 by T. H. Huxley and his committee. It included Christianity teaching, the 3 Rs, history (of England),
Geography, Social Economy, Drawing (boys), Music and Drill, Needlework
and cutting out (girls).5
The 1876 Act (Sandon) imposed a duty on parents to ensure elementary
school attendance, and required school boards to establish school attendance officers to enforce this.6
The new system had no upper age limit, but this was formalised in the
1876 Act, which prohibited the employment of children during school
hours, if they were under the age of 10.7 The system had no lower age-­
limit, so some parents sent two- and three-year-olds to school and gradually nursery classes were established for them. Age 5 became the age of
compulsory attendance. For children aged 5–7, the schools provided
infant classes, and children aged 7 and upwards proceeded through seven
Standards; these prescribed levels of learning and knowledge, which were
tested annually.8 In many schools, girls and boys were schooled separately
from age 7.
1880 Education Act (Mundella Act) This tightened the prescriptive
character of legislation; it said that parents had a duty to ensure their children attended school; and school boards were to introduce bye-laws setting out detailed requirements. School attendance officers for each school
attempted to ensure attendance.9 This Act also allowed children of 13
exemption from attendance if they had a record of a sufficient number of
The 1891 Education Act abolished fees for school attendance.11 Under
the 1880 Act, children in their last year of schooling—at age 13—could be
exempted from attendance at school, if they were engaged in ‘beneficial
employment’. The interpretation of this phrase varied across LEAs, but
the clause remained in force until the 1944 Education Act.12
The school leaving age was progressively raised over the years. The
Education Act 1893 raised the compulsory age for attendance to 11; an
Amendment Act in 1899 raised it to 12. The Elementary Education Act
1900 gave permissive powers to school boards to raise the age to 14.13
1902 Education Act (Balfour Act) This is widely seen as a turning point,
on three main counts.14
• It abolished the school boards and created local authority education
departments (LEAs), with responsibility for schools in their areas,
both the voluntary/non-provided/denominational schools and the
state-provided elementary schools. This move aimed to ensure that
planning for the area could be improved.
• The new LEAs could help the voluntary schools through the rates,
and in particular, teachers’ salaries were to be paid for on the rates;
and thus the LEAs helped to raise standards of provision. This was
especially important in rural areas, where frequently a teacher had to
cope with a large class of children at varying stages of their
• The new LEAs could raise the school leaving age to 13 or 14 for
their area, and this helped to encourage the development of secondary schools for older elementary school children who had reached
Standard 5 (usually at age 11 or 12). Local authorities could centralise provision for these older children in central schools (also called
higher grade schools)—where children from several elementary
schools could be taught together. Provision might include rooms for
science teaching and training in domestic work.16
The Elementary Code 1904 set out the purposes of elementary
schools.17The Handbook of Suggestions for Teachers (first published in 1905)
gave an account of the teacher’s work and responsibilities. It included in the
first and subsequent editions a statement by Robert Morant (Permanent
Secretary of the Board of Education from 1904) on the aims of the elementary school teacher, who should sympathise with the children and lead them
to understand their duty to use their powers to the best advantage.18
Free places in secondary schools. The Board of Education Regulations
1907 said that all state-maintained secondary schools should provide free
places for 25 per cent of their annual entry.19
1918 Education Act (Fisher Act) proposed that schooling/education be
compulsory to age 14 with no exemptions. For the vast majority, who left
school at 14, it proposed compulsory continuation lessons from age 14–18
(part-time alongside paid work). It also promoted the development of
nursery education. However, during the post-Great War slump, from
1921, the Geddes Axe 1921 severely cut education budgets and enactment of the school leaving age (SLA) provision continued to vary across
LEAs. Neither continuation classes (except in Rugby), nor nursery education were promoted in the succeeding years.20 Exemptions continued in
the inter-war years.21
It has to be noted that much legislation was permissive and that local
authorities made their own bye-laws, so practices varied across the
Health and Welfare Provisions
In 1870, all the local children who qualified under the 1870 Act were
expected to enrol at the school. By the 1890s, some measures were taken
to provide separately for certain groups of children.
1893 Elementary Education (Blind and Deaf) Act took responsibility
from Poor Law Guardians and transferred it to school boards, in respect
of blind and deaf children. Schools established for these children were
exempted from the strict codes for achievement that applied in mainstream
schools. This was permissive legislation; it was up the school board to
decide what to provide.22
1899 Elementary (Defective and Epileptic Children) Act. This gave
powers to the school boards to send children deemed to be mentally
defective and epileptic to special schools. However, only in London and
Leicester was separate provision made, starting in 1892. In other areas,
the children remained in the lower grades of the schools.23
It seems that no special state-sponsored provision was enacted for physically disabled children. It was left to voluntary bodies and individual philanthropists to initiate services. Thus, for instance, in Birmingham, socialist
reformers worked to help children with tuberculosis, aided by charitable
donations, notably by the Cadbury family.24 Some open air schools were
established in the early years of the twentieth century.
Health and Welfare Provisions 207
In the first years of the twentieth century, public concern about the
health of the population led to the formation of an inter-departmental
committee to investigate. They examined the evidence for a deterioration
of the physique of the poorest in society over generations and concluded
there was no evidence for this. Rather, poor health was due to current surrounding factors and so could be tackled by social measures. The Physical
Deterioration Report (1904) recommended that medical officers of health
be appointed in all local authority areas and that data should be routinely
collected on health and sickness; local authorities should tackle overcrowded dwelling conditions; personal hygiene among poor people should
be improved via the training of mothers and older girls; meals for poor
children at school, and medical inspections should be provided. In all,
Harris argues, the recommendations amount to suggestions for a public
health service.25
1906 Education (Provision of Meals) Act empowered local authorities to
feed children ‘unable by reason of lack of food to take full advantage of the
education provided for them.’ If voluntary funds were insufficient, the
local authority could use the rates to finance the meals up to one half-­
penny, if the Board of Education approved. In 1914 a further Act removed
the half penny limitation and approval by the Board of Education and
legalised the provision of meals during school holidays.26
1907 Education (Administrative Provisions) Act required LEAs to provide medical inspections in school.27 In response some leas also opened
clinics to treat the children—Bradford 1908, London 1908. By 1914
most leas provided some treatment centres.28
1908 Children Act. This act aimed to bring together previous measures
to protect children from cruelty and neglect. It allowed a local authority
to prosecute parents for failing to give their children adequate food, clothing, medical attention or accommodation. Poverty was no excuse, for parents who could not provide, must apply to the poor law guardians for
help, or face prosecution. It has been argued that this new power increased
the instances in which the poorest parents were brought into conflict with
the state, since they now faced: school teachers, school attendance officers,
care committee members, school nurses and doctors.29 The 1918
Education Act also required the school health service to provide treatment
to secondary as well as to elementary school children—and this could be
through local medical services or their own staff; this was to placate the
British Medical Association (BMA) which foresaw that local medical services (GPs) might lose trade if the LEAs provided treatment.30
1. Maclure (1970: 22–24) details the calculations made for London in 1869.
Some parents did not want places for their under-fives. Children over the
age of 10 were allowed to be in paid work, half-time or full-time. Some
children were physically disabled or ill.
2. Cruikshank, chapter 2; Hurt, chapter 3.
3. Sharp 2002.
4. Cruikshank, chapters 2 and 3.
5. Maclure 1970, p. 39.
6. Maclure 1970, p. 32.
7. Lowndes 1960, p. 3.
8. Lowndes 1960, chapter 7; Gordon 2002.
9. Maclure 1970, p. 32.
10. Curtis 1967, pp. 282–283.
11. Hurt 1979, p. 161.
12. Tawney 1936.
13. Lowndes 1960, p. 61.
14. Lowndes 1960, p. 48; Cruikshank, chapter 4.
15. Cruikshank 1963, chapter 4; Lowndes 1960, p. 122.
16. Lowndes 1960, p. 45; Maclure 1970, pp. 49–51.
17. Maclure 1986, pp. 154–155.
18. Maclure 1986, pp. 190–191.
19. Maclure 1986, p. 162.
20. Maclure 1970, p. 118; Education Enquiry Committee, chapter 2.
21. Tawney 1936.
22. Lowndes 1960, p. 36.
23. Lowndes 1960, p. 61. For Mary Dendy’s work on feeble-minded children,
see Martin and Goodman 2004: chapter 5.
24. Rees 2009.
25. Harris 1995: 14–25 gives full consideration to the work of the Committee
and its report.
26. Hurt 1979, chapter 6.
27. Harris 1995, chapters 3 and 4.
28. Williams et al. 2001; Hendrick 2003: chapter 2; Cunningham 1991,
p. 208.
29. For discussion, see Harris 1995, p. 81.
30. Harris 1995, p. 81.
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1919–1945. Paedagogica Historica, 45(4–5), 485–502.
Alexander, S. (1988). Introduction. In P. Reeves (Ed.), Round about a pound a
week. London: Virago.
Alexander, S. (1995). ‘Bringing women into line with men’: The Women’s Trade
Union League 1874–1921. In S. Alexander (Ed.), Becoming a woman.
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Ashton, A. (1996). Fifty years’ work in a Suffolk Parish. Suffolk: Sole Bay Printing.
Atkinson, E. (1987). Strict but not cruel: Living in a children’s home 1903–43.
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Unpublished Works
Evelyn Shelley. (n.d.). I remember a Hampstead childhood. Camden Local Studies
and Archives Centre, Theobald’s Road Library (ref no. LB Camden 75.1
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Marjorie Cook. (n.d.). Reminiscences of a St Pancras octagenarian. Camden Local
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demand for child labour, 137
in the Great War years, 178
rates of pay, 64, 65, 179
and craftsmen on schooling, 94
Thompson, L., 64–66, 76, 84n26,
94, 95
Ambleside interviews
Barrow, D., 121n15, 198
Bowness, A., 123n72, 198
Bowness, M., 132, 154n14, 198
Buntin, M., 68, 85n34, 198
Creighton, A., 114, 123n73,
Ellis, J., 68, 99, 100, 198
Hall, G., 67, 149, 198
Hodgson, J., 123n72, 198
McEwen (Mrs), 96, 198
Andrews, B., 196
Autobiographies, see Data
Bathurst, K., 38, 52n59, 53n64, 185
Bennett, H. J., 122n42, 122n44,
122n45, 124n83, 131, 155n51,
Besant, A., 29, 80
Black, C.
Married Women’s Work, 51n13, 77,
84n28, 157n86
and match girls’ strike, 29
and Maternity, 25
and Women’s Industrial Council,
Bold, E., 120, 196
Bonwick, T., 108
Boy soldiers, 139
Bridges Adams, Mary, 11, 89, 137,
175, 176, 184
Burnett, J. (Destiny Obscure)
Andrews, B., 106, 196
Bold, E., 77, 85n61, 97, 120, 196
Brady, J., 77, 85n65, 85n66, 196
Note: Page numbers followed by “n” refer to notes
© The Author(s) 2018
B. Mayall, Visionary Women and Visible Children, England 1900–1920,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-61207-2
Burnett, J. (cont.)
Hall, E, 96, 196
Wallis, B., 98, 196
Burston School strike, 134
Buxton, D (Jebb), 54n107, 161
Blythe, R., 197
Charity Organisation Society (COS),
29, 161, 184
Chew, A. N., 26, 46, 183
Child-centred education, 90
Bathurst, K., 36, 37, 185
Froebel, 36–38, 90, 91, 93, 113,
117, 121n16, 121n17, 176
Holmes, E., 47, 93, 120
Roadknight, 93, 176, 185
age-range, 36, 103
generational relations, 4, 9, 14, 63,
82, 184, 187
methodological issues in research
on, 12–19
minority social group, 7, 184
research studies, 43, 189n66
rights, 167, 185
social status, 6, 8, 14, 46, 50, 119,
sociology of, 14, 173
children’s art, 168
as citizens, 43, 172
and economic contributions to
family, 58–68, 70, 73, 76–78,
104, 178
feeding the children, 31, 34, 46,
117, 131, 172
gender, 2, 4, 6, 7, 26, 42, 76, 82,
83, 118, 130, 148, 166, 182
health, 10, 24, 39, 48, 124n84,
137, 152, 153, 177, 185
medical inspections and care, 23,
28, 30, 31, 34, 35, 89
as a new generation, 8, 11, 141,
172–175, 180
as participants in family life, 78
as participants in neighbourhood
life, 140
as participants in political
movements, 153, 160
protection, 3, 7, 11, 82, 133, 169,
175, 180, 185
of the State, 6, 10, 11, 27, 34,
48–50, 91, 176–178, 180
war work, 17–19, 151
Children’s rights
Declaration of Geneva 1924, 162,
Declaration of the Rights of the
Child 1959, 169
See also Rights
Children’s work
paid, 58, 76, 130, 178
unpaid, 9, 58, 59, 63, 76, 130, 178
City life
casual jobs for children, 60, 76, 82
education services, development of,
3, 41
political movements, 25
Cizek, F., 167
and children’s art, 168
Clarion van, 26
power in community, 65, 66, 95, 116
and work in and on schooling, 119
Clough, Annie and Thena
and duty, 171n47
work for women’s education, 24n8
Communal living
nurseries, 43
Owen, Robert, 42
service flats, 42
and women’s work, 42
INDEX Cook, M., 195
Cookson, C., 61, 63, 76, 84n16,
84n17, 115, 124n79, 136,
155n35, 193
Cooper, S., 26, 46, 184
Cunningham, H., 20n21, 49, 52n40,
186, 189n71
Cunningham, P., 53n66, 121n12,
Curriculum in schools
developments in, 12
gendered, 93, 108, 118
interviews, 3, 193–195, 197, 198
log books, 120, 144, 145, 199–201
memoirs, 3, 195
oral history, 13
school histories, 150, 199
for sources of data, 13, 193–201
See also Methodological issues
Davies, M Llewelyn, 25, 33, 52n42,
52n43, 52n44, 73, 85n49,
and Co-operative Women’s Guild,
Davin, A., 48, 84n8, 124n87, 124n95,
Dayus, K., 71, 73, 85n44, 85n45,
85n51, 108, 194
Declaration of the Rights of the Child
1924 (Declaration of Geneva), 169
Dreadnought journal, 130, 154n3
Duty, 163, 171
children's to family, 9, 10, 37, 48,
81, 82, 94, 107, 153, 169,
171, 173
daughters’ to family, 48, 61, 150,
and rights, 171
East London Federation of
junior suffragettes, 130, 133, 134
political work during Great War,
Pankhurst, Sylvia, 11, 129, 133,
134, 172, 175, 183
welfare work during Great War, 165
critiques of state system, 12
planning for state education system,
12, 40, 89, 107, 120, 141,
165, 185
provision, 23, 34, 35, 38, 71,
89–93, 164
school leaving age(SLA), 91,
122n42, 142, 143, 164, 182
teachers, 183
Education bill 1913, and J A Pease,
Education in city areas
Bradford, 29, 30
development of secondary provision,
91, 103
planning for London, 39
take-up of cultural opportunities,
78, 183
teacher training, 36, 39, 91
women’s work for children, 29, 117,
Education in rural areas
centralisation, 92
power of clergy and gentry, 119
social class, 37, 41, 66, 68
teachers, 83, 134, 142, 145
Education out of school
Fabian Women’s Group(FWG), 4,
10, 29, 35, 43, 48, 57, 58, 80,
135, 175, 184
girls’ clubs, 118, 124n90, 174, 183
junior suffragettes, 172, 183
Education out of school (cont.)
libraries, 78, 176
Socialist Sunday schools(SSS), 8, 10,
39–41, 134, 183
trades unions, 177
Women’s Co-operative
Guild(WCG), 32, 80, 135,
152, 170, 174, 183
Education service from 1870 (state)
curriculum, 12, 93, 204
health of the children, 153, 206,
provision for ill and defective
children, 186, 206
school boards and women’s
participation, 25, 203–206
welfare service developments, 3,
206, 207
women’s work for children, 5,
30–41, 49, 206
Eliot, George, 24, 171
Ensor, Beatrice, 14, 42, 185
and New Education
Fellowship(NEF), 42
Evans, G. E., 118, 122n24, 124n93,
147, 156n71, 156n74, 156n75,
156n76, 157n77, 157n78
Ezard, E., 103, 122n43, 131, 155n52,
172, 194
Fabian Women’s Group(FWG), 80, 93
aims, 93
research programme, 10, 29, 43,
58, 184
Family allowances
and Eleanor Rathbone, 46, 178
and Pember Reeves, 177
Status in family, 76
Fawcett, Millicent Garrett, 166
and higher education for girls, 183
National Union of Women’s
Suffrage Societies(NUWSS),
20n11, 166
Federation of British Industries (FBI)
during Great War, 164
and Tawney critiques, 164
and economic independence, 5, 45,
80, 81, 166
and socialism, 107, 175, 182
Flint, E., 105–108, 194
Foakes, G., 53n79, 71, 72, 74, 77,
85n46, 85n47, 85n54, 108, 114,
122n42, 123n53, 123n74,
123n75, 188n49, 194
Foley, C., 26
Food, 59, 68, 70, 71
France, 19, 35, 131, 136, 139, 188n44
provision of nursery education, 35
Froebel Institute, 38
and nursery schools (see child-­
centred education)
Garrett Anderson, E., 24
Garrett Anderson, L., 25
Geddes, Axe, 164
Gentry, 146–148
education service, 28
industrial rivalry, 28
Gilman, C. P., 5, 10, 19n1, 26, 43–47,
54n96, 54n97, 54n98, 54n99,
54n100, 54n101, 80, 85n71,
179, 183
Concerning Children, 54n100
Herland, 46, 47
visits to England, 26, 45
Women and Economics, 45
INDEX Girls’ clubs, 118, 124n90, 124n91,
124n92, 174, 183
L’Espérance club, 118
Gorst, John, 34, 48, 54n109
Great War
bombing on east coast, 143
bombing in London, 170
children’s war work, 121, 135
deaths, 132
essays by children on bombing, 148
exemptions from school, 24, 175,
food shortages, 131
how experienced by children,
separation allowances, 130
women’s work, 165, 175
Guides movement, 117
Hall, E., 196
Hardie, K., 29, 31
Hardy, E., 36, 37, 52n60, 53n62
Helmingham, 147, 156n74
Hendrick, H., 14, 19n7, 20n27, 49,
51n23, 54n110, 83n1, 187n7,
Hills, C., 66, 84n30, 115, 138
Hoffy, 149
Independent Labour Party (ILP), 23,
Industrial action, 29, 130
formation of trades unions, 25
re education, 35, 163
strikes, 151
women’s unions, 25, 131
Inspectors’ work in schools, 93
Institute of Education, 168
and the NEF, 165
International Congress on Child
Welfare, 168
Jameson, Storm, 14, 20n28, 195
Jasper, A. S., 59, 75, 139
Jasper, S., 194
Jebb, D. (Buxton), 54n107
her later work, 169
her work with Eglantyne Jebb, 11,
Jebb, E., 8, 161, 167, 169, 171, 175,
180, 184, 185
children’s rights, 175
Save the Children, 11, 185
starvation in Vienna, 184
Junior suffragettes, 130, 133, 134,
172, 183
Kennedy, R., 16, 20n34, 151,
154n13, 157n82
Kerr, J., 23, 34, 35, 124n84
Korczak, 169, 170, 188n38
and children’s rights, 188n38
and comment on Jebb’s 1924
Declaration, 170
Labour Party, 26, 30, 31, 35, 152,
Lawrence, D. H., 63, 84n18, 111,
112, 123n62
on living conditions, 63
on teaching, 111
Lee, L., 14, 15, 20n29, 20n30,
84n32, 106, 123n50, 194
Legislation re children, 203–207
Lester, M. D., 133, 163
and Kingsley Hall, 133, 163
Libraries, public, 79
Literacy, 78
Lloyd, George, 32, 61, 104, 166
and suffrage, 166
Log books, 13, 17, 103, 118,
141–146, 149, 150, 186
as sources of information, 13,
McGillivray, A., 93
McGrath, M., 195
McMillan, M., 8, 23, 24, 30, 34–38,
40, 48, 50n1, 124n84, 167, 175
Bow Road clinic, 23, 30
Bradford School Board, 23
camp school, Deptford, 23, 31
The Child and the State, 48
journalism, 30
and Labour Party, 30, 31
open air nursery school, 23
varying methods of campaigns, 23
Materialism, 58, 61
Maternalism, see Women’s movement
Methodological issues, 12–19
Mitchell, H., 51n16, 70, 85n38, 107,
Montessori, M., 38, 42
and first Montessori conference, 38
Morant, R., 92, 163
and 1904 Code, 187n10
Moscow Declaration, 170
of children’s rights, 169, 170
Motherhood, 4
deaths of children, 73–75
pregnancies and births, 74, 77, 80
tasks of, 44, 136
utopian visions of, 44
working class, (see also Black:
Married Women’s Work), 4
Munitions work
recruitment of girls, 18, 96
in local life, 79
And religion, 112–116
National Union of Women’s Suffrage
Societies (NUWSS), 19n2, 166
New Education Fellowship (NEF), 39,
42, 165, 172
Nursery education
Bathurst, K., 38
Eileen Hardy’s nursery, 37
McMillan sisters, 10, 23, 38, 48
Roadknight, J., 93, 185
Owen, R., 42, 43
and communal child-rearing, 42
and women’s work, 42
Pankhurst, Sylvia
ELFS, 131
suffrage work with children, 40
welfare work with children, 11
Pember Reeves, M., 10, 48,
57–59, 63, 70, 74, 77, 80, 81,
83n2, 83n3, 83n4, 83n5,
83n6, 83n7, 84n22, 85n39,
85n40, 85n41, 86n72,
86n74, 130, 132, 154n15,
175, 177, 184, 189n58,
Round About a Pound a Week, 57,
suggestions for financing families,
130, 175, 177
Pengelly, R., 134
INDEX Poverty, relief of, 57, 61, 62, 64
parish relief, 71
workhouse, 59, 101
Relations of ruling, 7, 181
children’s perspectives, 181
women’s perspectives, 181
Richardson, M., 168, 188n32
and children’s art exhibitions, 168
Riddleston, B., 194
Rights, children’s
African Charter on the Rights and
Welfare of the Child 1990, 172,
Declaration of the Rights of the
Child (Geneva Declaration)
1924, 11
Declaration of the Rights of the
Child 1959, 169
UN Convention on the Rights of
the Child (UNCRC) 1989, 7,
171, 188n36
Universal Declaration of Human
Rights (UDHR) 1948, 171
Roadknight, J., 93, 176, 185
Roberts, R., 194
and local economy, 69, 77
and schooling, 98, 103
and women’s shopping methods, 77
Rolph, C. H., 59, 83n6, 84n10, 194
Rowse, A. L., 67, 68, 84n32, 141,
150, 155n53, 195
on social class distinctions, 69
Rural life
agricultural work, 13, 134, 142, 148
casual work for children, 2, 29, 59
education services, development of,
employment opportunities, 119
gentry and noblesse oblige, 118,
119, 147, 148
poverty, 29, 66, 67, 69, 95
power of clergy, 119, 134
Save the Children (SCF), 11, 148,
162, 167–169, 185
and Jebb sisters, 185
Scannell, D., 16, 20n36, 20n37,
72, 79, 85n48, 85n67, 85n68,
102, 118, 119, 122n35,
122n36, 139, 155n45, 183,
189n69, 195
School histories, 199
Schooling, state, 103, 146, 153
elementary, 31; children’s
experiences of, 146
secondary; children’s experiences of,
153; odds against, 103
Schools, elementary
class sizes, 39, 117
gendered curriculum, 108
illnesses, 17, 146
log books, 120
patriotism and empire, 5
physical conditions, 64, 163
religion, 37, 41, 64, 67
rural and city, 100, 145
teachers, 103, 110, 113, 142
testing, 47, 109, 117, 120, 176
Schools, secondary
competition for places, 99
number of places at, 103
teachers, 91, 92, 97, 102, 105, 109,
110, 120, 140
Shelley, E., 195
Social class, 68, 72, 108
and the Labour Party, 107, 175
north-west England, 129
William, Morris, 44, 133
and women’s movement, 23, 26,
29, 30, 39, 46, 185, 186
Socialist Sunday Schools, 39–41
children as participants in socialist
movements, 40
Grace Foakes anecdote, 40
McMillan, Margaret, 8, 10, 40
Spencer, Herbert, 48
Steedman, C., 15, 20n31, 20n32,
50n2, 52n30, 52n31, 52n33,
52n34, 52n35, 52n36, 52n51,
52n56, 53n73, 188n29, 189n56,
on writing autobiography, 13–15
men’s, 133
women’s, 24, 25, 27, 132, 166, 183
Suffragettes and suffragists
East London Federation of
Suffragettes (ELFS), 129, 130,
in north-west England, 129, 189n63
Suggestions, Handbook of, 92, 121n10
Sunday Schools
and Froebel, 113
and music, 79, 112–116
teachers, 113, 116
Tawney, R. H.
and employers, 164
and secondary education, 164,
and Workers’ Education Association
(WEA), 165
children’s views on, 83, 120
friends to children, 111, 177
severity of, 103, 117, 181
tasks of, 92, 102, 111
training of, 36, 39, 91
women teachers during the Great
War, 135, 165, 175, 180, 185
Thewlis, D., 27, 51n22
Thompson, L., 64–66, 76, 84n26, 94,
95, 197
Thompson, T. (Edwardian Childhoods)
Atherton, F., 76, 122n33, 122n34,
Hills, C., 66, 155n42, 196, 197
Morgan, T., 59, 197
Wilson, A., 76, 113, 197
Times Education Supplement (TES)
and children’s rights to schooling,
and the war years, 137, 178
Trades unions
as educators, 134
and women’s movement, 25, 26,
28, 29
United Nations Convention on the
Rights of the Child (UNCRC)
1989, 7, 171, 188n36
Urban life
paid work for children, 77, 80–82
education service, development of,
27, 90
employment opportunities, 83
poverty, 57, 61, 62, 64
Forster dystopia, 45
Gilman, C. P., 45–48, 179
Holmes, E., 42, 45
William Morris and H G Wells, 44
Wages, v–viii, 57, 64, 65
Wallis, B., 196
Wightman, R., 195
power of music, 115
on social class distinctions, 69
INDEX Williams, E., 162, 166
Women and employment
increased employment during Great
War, 135, 166, 185
Married Women’s Work, 25, 77,
154n9, 184
rates of pay, 65, 154n9, 179
Women’s Co-operative Guild
and campaigns for maternity
allowance, 80, 135
education provided by, 25, 183
and Margaret Llewelyn Davies, 25
Women’s industrial council (WIC), 80
Women’s Institutes, 134
Women’s International League for
Peace and Freedom (WILPF),
162, 166, 167
Women’s movement
campaigns, 3, 23, 25, 30, 33, 34, 36
journalism/writing, 30, 43, 48, 186
maternalism, 4, 31, 38, 46, 47, 186
militancy vs. gradualism, 28
NUWSS (see Fawcett, Millicent
research, 30, 32, 33, 187
socialism, 23, 26, 29, 30, 39, 46, 186
utopias, 10, 41–48
working class movement, 27
WSPU, 27
Women’s Social and Political Union
(WSPU), 27, 129, 154n1
Women’s Trades Union League
(WTUL), 25, 29
Women’s work for children
education, 36–39
health, 4, 33–36
insurance, 32–33
political education, 41
protection, 41
welfare, 4, 31, 49
Women’s work in reconceptualising
children and childhood
children as a new generation,
children as participants, 27, 133
children as participants in society,
27, 133
children as a social group/
constituency, 3, 6–8, 10, 31,
41, 169, 185
children’s rights, 166–173, 175
Woodward, K., 195
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