Elise G’s story

Imagine being intelligent enough and working hard enough to achieve a doctorate in mathematics, in an era where women were only just allowed to earn them, and then being denied the title by some foreign men because you were a) from a different country and they weren’t sure they recognised the institution you earned your qualification in, and b) a married woman. This happened to Elise – a well deserving holder of a PhD, but referred to as Mrs (despite a divorce) when she found work as a maths teacher.

The second daughter of a Czechoslovakian lawyer, Elise was born at the turn of the 20th century in Most, a Bohemian city in the northern part of what is now the Czech Republic. The region was German-speaking – Most’s German name is Brüx – and Elise grew up speaking that language. Her family was Jewish, well-educated and quite well-to-do.

During the first world war, when the situation for Jews in that area was good, she and her sister Kathe attended high school in their home town, with Elise showing a particular aptitude for mathematics. She went on to study at the local college at 16, graduating in 1923, and then went on to the University of Vienna for four further years – gaining a distinction in maths – and achieving a doctorate in 1928. At the time, women were only admitted to doctorates in certain subjects at the University of Vienna. Somewhere along the way she’d met and married Ernst, a junior lawyer in her father’s office, in about 1924 and gave birth to a daughter around 1928. However, the marriage did not work out and ended in divorce.

After qualifying for her doctorate, and gaining the first part of a teaching diploma, she spent eight years as visiting lecturer at the University of Prague, and then moved to be the Statistical Expert at the Institute of Market Research in Vienna. Her father died in 1931, but her mother continued to live in Most. By this point, the situation for Jews in this part of Europe was getting dangerous. Her daughter, then around 10, was excluded from her school in Vienna on the basis of her Jewish background, so she and Elise returned to Prague. Her daughter managed to escape in January 1939 as part of the Kindertransport with the help of the Barbican Mission to the Jews, based in London’s East End, who saved around 100 children in the nine months up to the outbreak of World War II. The idea of the mission was that the Jewish children should convert to Christianity, which did not particularly bother Elise or her ex-husband as – though Jewish by birth – they were agnostic. Elise was able to follow her two months later, on a domestic permit – presumably with the idea of being able to care for her – but left her mother and ex-husband behind. Her sister had married and moved to Chile with her husband, which may have been considered as another avenue of escape, but ultimately the domestic permit provide Elise with the means to leave.

England at the time was not a particularly cosmopolitan place. Many people had not been abroad – the country was decades away from package holidays – and much of the news from the area that Elise came from centred on Hitler and the activities of the Nazi party, so even rescued Czech Jews could be viewed with suspicion. In addition, Elise’s doctorate came from a non-British university, so many might doubt the rigour of that education as it was “different” to that which they had experienced.

Therefore, Elise had to find work in England as and where she could. With the help of people within the Barbican Mission for the Jews she began working as a chamber maid, then a cook and a governess, and the 1939 register – taken a few weeks after the outbreak of the Second World War – has her performing domestic duties for a female accountant in London, though the register acknowledges that she is a statistics expert, and she probably helped the accountant as well as doing the cleaning. But on this form her doctorate is not acknowledged. Her daughter lived separately, with the mission in a home in the Brockley area, and Elise’s access to her was restricted.

In January of 1940, with many of the male teachers starting to be taken into the forces as the war got underway, there were starting to be shortages in teaching staff in many schools. She managed to gain a position as temporary science mistress at Thorn Bank school in Malvern-Wells, Worcestershire. This was a small private school for girls, which did not have a great deal of funds for equipment. Elise taught here on her wits and vast knowledge, as her only scientific equipment was pieces of litmus paper. However, the stability of this job meant that her daughter was returned to her care, and they lived together in Malvern-Wells and later in Carlisle where Elise held a mathematics teaching position for a year from September of 1940 that was slightly better than the previous post but not by much.

From here, she had an interview with the head of a town grammar school in Wiltshire on the railway station platform at Derby with a view to replacing his head of maths who was serving in the RAF, and got the job. Whereas the governors of that school were not particularly worldly at that time, the head teacher was young and a Quaker, part of the Rowntree chocolate manufacturing family of York, and as part of the company business had even been abroad. He recognised that a doctorate from the University of Vienna was equal to one from a British university, and persuaded the governors to take on Elise – though in a nod to their reservations she was still referred to as Mrs and not as Doctor. They may also have had reservations as the previous replacement was also a German Jewish refugee and had been interned in an Enemy Alien camp for a few months in 1940, and they may have feared losing Elise to this fate too – although it was only the men who were interred in the end.

Elise became the senior maths teacher of the school, in Bradford on Avon, and her daughter enrolled too. She was well liked by staff and pupils alike, and respected by all. Her heavy accent apparently was difficult to understand at first, but many students found her lessons inspirational. She was paid on the standard scale, with slight deductions for being in a temporary position and technically an alien, but was awarded a special payment for her exceptional qualifications – which they still weren’t formally recognising – in 1943.

During this period, both her mother and ex-husband – who had not been able to escape the Nazi regime – were placed by the Third Reich. Communication would have been non-existent, so she probably would not have known of their fate until after the war. Her mother was sent to the Theresienstadt Jewish ghetto, with other Czech Jews, which eventually became a labour camp. She was then sent on to Auschwitz, where she died in the gas chambers sometime in either 1943 or 1944. Ernst, Elise’s ex-husband, was sent to the ghetto at Łódź, Poland, where he died of starvation in 1943. Her teaching position, and life in the UK, must have included hope that her family and friends had somehow survived.

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Elise, left, with other grammar school staff in 1944

Elise remained at the grammar school in Bradford on Avon until the end of the school year in 1945, when – the war having ended in May, at least in Europe – it was expected that the head of maths would return from RAF duty and take his place again at the school. In practice, this did not happen until 1946, and another German refugee was employed until then. The job did belong to the original head of maths, but it is fair to say that Elise was far better qualified for the role than he was.

She moved to be maths teacher at the Greenford County School, in Middlesex, and her daughter moved with her. After a few years here she was able to make the switch back into working in higher education in London, although an exact institution remains elusive. She was active in both the English and German language fields of maths, and here reclaimed the title of Dr again as it was finally recognised.

Elise 1961

Her daughter lived with her in Wembley until her marriage in the late 1950s, after which she appears to have lived alone. She visited her sister Kathe in Chile in the late 1950s and early 60s. After Kathe’s husband’s death in the early 1970s Kathe went back to Germany and lived in Munich, so Elise had a ready made base there when she travelled for work. She eventually had two grandsons.

elise edinburgh

She also continued her research while working in higher education. There is a picture of her attending the Edinburgh Mathematical Society Colloquium in St Andrews, Scotland, in 1976. She is also mentioned as a member of the Austrian Mathematics Association by the International Mathematical News published in Vienna in 1977. By this point she was living in Latymer Court in Hammersmith, built in 1934 and described at that time as the largest single luxury block of flats in Europe.

latymer court

In 1978 she was awarded a Golden Doctorate from the University of Vienna, an accolade given to those who have reached 50 years since their original doctorate and are still continuing to research and push the boundaries of their subject. She still did not stop there – in 1983, at the age of 80, she delivered a paper in Germany on “The practical treatment of stress concentrations and singularities within the finite element displacement algorithms”, and there is mention of her having delivered lectures for the Open University.

She died in 1991, aged 88, and was buried close to home in London.

Ethel B’s story

It is relatively well known that English universities would admit women to study during the late 1800s, but would not award them their degrees or admit them to the university. Newham College in Cambridge is a good example. Founded in 1871 as the second women’s college at the University of Cambridge, and amalgamated into the university in 1880, women could sit university examinations from 1881 and their results were recorded in lists separate from the men. Various attempts were made to persuade authorities to give women their full degrees and privileges rather than just a certificate, one in 1887, another in 1897, and a further attempt during the first world war. Oxford – which had similar rules, capitulated in 1920 but it took until 1948 for the change to happen at Cambridge.

In contrast, the situation in Ireland was different. The Royal University of Ireland Act 1879 allowed women to take university degrees on the same basis as men. However, Trinity College Dublin – also known as Dublin University – which was seen as a sister institution to Oxford and Cambridge in the pre-split British Isles, was still a sticking point. They might have been comparatively late in admitting women to study in that it took until 1904, but unlike the English schools women were allowed their degrees from the get go. So much so that women who had gained their degrees at Oxford and Cambridge but had been denied their award on the basis of their gender could travel to Trinity to be awarded it. These women were known as the steamboat ladies, and the arrangement continued until 1907.

It was against that background that Ethel studied at Trinity College, entering around 1908 at the age of 18, one of the first groups of women to do so – but had had involvement with the college earlier via her later schooling – which took place at Alexandra School and College, a Protestant foundation intent on furthering women’s education that offered an equivalent education to that afforded to boys at the time, with a grounding in maths, philosophy, history and the classics. Lecturers at Trinity College would also provide tutoring for girls at Alexandra, and the two schools enjoyed close links.

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She’d been born in Ballycastle, in County Antrim in what is now Northern Ireland, at the beginning of the last decade of the 19th century, the daughter of a Church of Ireland Reverend who had also studied at Trinity College. She was the fourth of six children – four girls, two boys – and led an extremely musical upbringing. Her father was a renowned authority on church music, one of her sisters studied at the Royal College of Organists, and another was a licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music who specialised in putting contemporary lyrics to old Irish airs. The girls of the family were educated by governesses at home in Ballycastle for the most part, but Ethel went off to Dublin to board at Alexandra College at about the age of 14.

In 1908 she moved to study at Dublin University, based at Trinity College, where – interspersed with some secondary school teaching (presumably to fund her studies) she achieved a BA (Hons) degree in French and English in 1912.

MS EX 02

In the years between women being admitted to universities to further their studies and the growth in women’s employment of various types during the First World War, teaching in schools was the best possible place for educated women to continue learning and flex their grey matter. The only trouble was that the marriage bar was in place for women teachers – so at the point when Ethel entered the profession if she found a relationship she would have to give up her learning and research. The idea that women went to university just to find a husband seems to have originated in this era, but this doesn’t seem to have been the case for Ethel.

As it was, she began working for her Master of Arts while simultaneously taking on a teaching position at the County School (later Fitzmaurice Grammar) in the picturesque Wiltshire town Bradford-on-Avon. She started work here in 1915, and was awarded her MA at Christmas in 1916, which is proudly remarked upon in their staff register. Most female teachers in this era did not hold degrees, let alone post-graduate ones. Some were even uncertified, and had learnt their skill on the job starting as a pupil teacher, whereas others had undergone some training at teacher training colleges. Ethel would therefore have been a rare and prized member of the school’s female staff.

This school had been going for nearly 20 years at this point, under a male headteacher. Many of the teaching staff were female, however, as was fairly usual in schools of the time. This school was mixed gender, and selective based on ability, as during the pre-1944 grammar and elementary system many schools were. Here Ethel taught French and History, in conjunction with stalwart school deputy head Julia Blake. Both are given as languages and literature specialists in the town’s trade directory for 1915.

Fitz Aerial view

Both brothers fought in the war. The elder rose to a high rank, whereas the younger was badly injured in 1917 and became a senior classical music master at a school in Mauritius. Both musician sisters appear not to have married, since that choice would have meant giving up their playing by the rules of society of the day. Her mother died in 1919, just after the war ended, and her father followed her in 1921.

This appears to have instigated a change for Ethel. She left Bradford on Avon in the September of 1921 to become French mistress in the next town over at Trowbridge Girls High School. This was a single sex, fee paying school – not necessarily a step up for her, but a different position in a slightly bigger town. She appears to have been here until around 1926.

trowbridge girls high

In the mid-1920s she chose to follow her faith and became a missionary with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) at their base in Cawnpore (now Kanpur), India. Now called United Society Partners in the Gospel, the organisation was a high church group based in the teachings of the Church of England – not too far away from the Church of Ireland organisation that Ethel was brought up within. Here she was given a head teacher position, as head of the SPG School of the Epiphany, working with elementary school-aged girls.

Although the position in India fulfilled her desire to bring the Bible and its teachings to a different part of the world, her school position here did not particularly suit her as she was teaching to a much younger age group and found this frustrating. While there she was offered the secretaryship of the local YMCA, various jobs at the Indian girl guiding headquarters, a position at one of the biggest women’s colleges in India, and even the position of headmistress at one of the most prominent girls’ schools in North India. She refused all these, remaining loyal to the SPG mission, but hoped that the society might help her find a better post within their ranks.

A keen member of the girl guiding organisation, she asked mission if they would lend her to be a guide trainer for three years with the United Provinces Educational Department while she remained at Kanpur, but this was not allowed and she stayed with the Epiphany School and committed to her role as missionary.

At some point between 1929 and 1932, however, she felt she had given enough in Kanpur, and returned to the UK. She lived for a time at a prominently designed youth hostel in London, and in September of 1932 was appointed headmistress of a private girls’ school in Aldeburgh, Suffolk.

This school, which again was private and fee-paying, catered for older girls who had already gone through the elementary education system and was particularly renowned for the arts when Ethel took it over, which would have suited her perfectly. She ran the school with a full complement of female staff, and appears to have relished teaching older girls again. The outbreak of war in 1939 shows that she was also an air raid warden as part of her role in the school and the local community.

The school decided to move from Aldeburgh – which was on the coast and probably directly under the flight path of German aircraft from the continent – to a priory in Mountnessing, Essex, in 1940. This would have been a quieter location, with less disturbance from the war, and more rural for protection. It is unclear whether Ethel went with them, however, as records were scarcely kept during the conflict. In 1943 she did step down and took a degree of retirement.

She moved to Cheltenham in Gloucestershire for the last bit of the war, becoming housemistress for St Helen’s, one of the boarding houses of Cheltenham Ladies College – another prestigious seat of female education. It is unclear whether she took a teaching role at the college in the way that modern housemistresses do, but she had a full time role looking after the pupils assigned to her care and took on a role of district commissioner for the girl guides at the school for the benefit of the girls. As part of this she gave various prominent talks and organised events on the guides behalf. She also worked coaching the choir.

guides 1940s

Around 1953, she left Cheltenham and again headed to the coast – but this time to Devon. She lived in Colyton, on the county’s southern edge, in a church cottage, and spent seven years in retirement. She died there, leaving her money to a nephew – the son of her eldest brother – and Violet, Baroness Merthyr, another prominent girl guiding commissioner.

Helen and Grace B’s story

Sisters Helen and Grace B, the eldest and second youngest of five girls, were both involved in women’s suffrage, and both teachers – and therefore it is difficult, since both were unmarried and known as Miss B, to separate their activities.

They came from a moneyed family that moved around as their iron master father’s business dictated – Helen was born in Staffordshire in the early 1860s while Grace’s birth occurred in Yorkshire later in that decade, and their sisters were born in places in between. The family also spent time in Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, and London. As could be expected from an employer of 300 men, the sisters were brought up in big houses with full complements of servants and educated by governesses.

Both went on to be school teachers – Helen first, as she was the elder, in the early 1880s when she was in her early 20s, and Grace followed in her footsteps in the 1890s. Their other two unmarried sisters remained with their parents, while the youngest married a reverend.

Both Helen and Grace held long positions at prestigious private girls’ schools. Helen taught in Worcester at the Alice Ottley School for over 18 years, while Grace – after a start as a science and biology teacher in Berkshire – had a position at The Godolphin School in Salisbury for 21. Each of them were form tutors, taking older girls, and both held the second in command position – effectively the deputy head – in her school. Grace’s subject was history, but she also was involved in “contemporary studies”, which appears to have been reading the newspapers aloud and discussing their content while darning and mending, and played the double bass in the school orchestra.

Midway through the first decade of the 20th century, however, Helen chose to leave her job in England and took a job at a newly established school in New Zealand. The idea was that she would bring her experience and her school’s values to this new school. The journey, which went via Australia, would have taken weeks at sea at this time, and she travelled as a missionary. It’s known, from shipping records, that she made this journey at least twice over the next few years.

This position in New Zealand may have been the catalyst for Helen’s involvement in women’s suffrage, although by her very background – she was of wealthy background, unmarried, and very educated – she was ripe to take on the fight even before she left the UK. Women in New Zealand gained the vote in 1893, with various states in Australia also granting it around the time Helen went over, and she would have been there to see the political and social gains that were made by newly enfranchised women.

Helen returned to the UK in 1909, and took up a job at Grace’s school in Salisbury,  although her unmarried and unemployed sisters were now based around Bristol and Bath. She took up a position as an English teacher, and was described on her entry to the school as the headmistresses dearest and first proper friend. Other members of the family were also instrumental in the life of the school. Their reverend brother-in-law gave religious addresses to the girls of Godolphin School, and their middle sister was responsible for some of the wood carving in the school hall.

She remained in position for around 18 months, then travelled again to New Zealand to teach there. She went via Capetown, and sent a letter back to the school describing her experiences there from a point in the Southern Ocean. She returned to the UK in 1912, around the time her father died, coming via Palestine, and began teaching at Godolphin again. She was also in charge of a newly-established housewifery course.

While Grace was the deputy head, it was Helen who gave the address to Godolphin School on Empire Day in May 1916, mentioning the war effort and pride in their country.

The teachers at Godolphin were quite politically active. In 1915 several of them – including Helen and the headmistress – were instrumental in setting up a branch of the National Union of Women Workers in Salisbury, and inaugural meetings were held at the school. This grouping was keen for women to become police officers, and to that end was instrumental in setting up women’s patrols to help police the streets of Salisbury. Grace was part of the women’s patrols, alongside fellow mistress Florence Mildred White – who went on to become the first documented British policewoman – and they would tramp the streets rain or shine. Another achievement of this union – of which Helen was the honourable secretary – was the setting up of the Hulse Clinic in 1915 to take care of mothers and new babies, and therefore cut infant deaths.

It is known that the headteacher of Godolphin School at the time, Mary Alice Douglas, was a suffrage sympathiser. However, it appears that it was Helen – possibly with Grace – who was directly involved in the fight to gain women the vote. Salisbury had a NUWSS society from 1909, which was joined in 1913 by a South Wiltshire branch. By June 1914 Helen was the chairwoman of the Salisbury WSS, and was writing to correct claims made by anti-suffragists from that position in The Common Cause. Her refutations were backed up with statistics from Australia, which indicate that she was well versed in her subject.

Grace left teaching at Christmas 1916, feeling that her own home needed her. Presumably her two unmarried sisters, who had been supported by their parents while they had been alive, were part of that household. Helen took up her position as deputy head, and continued to teach at the school until the spring term of 1919. She lent her garden for school play performances in the summer of 1917.

Women in the UK gained the vote in 1918, and by this stage one of the Miss Bs – almost certainly Helen – was chair of the Salisbury and South Wilts Women’s Suffrage Society. As the general election was announced at the end of that year, she chaired a meeting of the society supported by Alys Russell, where they read out answers on women’s political issues that the society had put to both candidates. Miss B also spoke:

“(She) commented on the approaching election, and said that women were privileged to help to put into power men, and, she hoped with all her heart, some women who had to undertake the largest and heaviest task ever laid upon statesmen since the world began. The task before the Parliament and the Government was to make a peace which would endure, to end war for ever by a League of Nations that would last, and, secondly, to build up a new England, and make it, as Mr Lloyd George said last week, “A country fit for heroes to live in, and for their wives and children to live in.” Having made the world, by this victory, safe for democracy, they now had to make democracy safe from selfishness and pride. The old political weapons completely failed to accomplish either of these tasks – they failed to keep the peace of the world, and failed to build up an England that they could live in. New forces were needed. Could women bring into the electorate a new spirit instead of the party spirit – a spirit of unity, without suspicion, spite, slander and the imputing of evil motives to these who did not think exactly as they did, but crediting those from whom they differed with common honesty and with really holding the opinions they professed? Could women not also, as was being done in other countries, help to make politics a clean thing, and selling of votes which often meant the selling of souls. Let them stand for clean hands.”

The gaining of the vote for women saw the gradual disbandment of Women’s Suffrage Societies, although true equality was pushed for until it was granted in 1928. Helen contributed to the bicentenary book on the Godolphin School in 1926, and both sisters often attended the yearly commemoration ceremony held at the school.

Both Helen and Grace retired to a house near Bath, with their unmarried sisters – who were given the roles of cook and gardener – and lived out their last years in a quiet village. Both died in the 1950s – Grace first, at 84, and Helen two years later at 94. They both left decent sums of money to their remaining sisters.

 

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The Women Who Made Me actively welcomes submissions from anyone who has a story to tell about women from their family. To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.

Charlotte P’s story

Charlotte was something of a spectacular chef, in an era when women did the bulk of the domestic cooking but mostly only male excellence was recognised and awarded.

She was born in the mid-1860s in the southern part of Ireland, which at the time was part of the United Kingdom, and was one of six children. Her parents were a Church of Ireland clergyman, whose job moved him around the southern counties of the island, and his wife – herself a clergyman’s daughter. Charlotte and her siblings seem to have enjoyed a relatively comfortable living growing up, with at least a couple of domestic servants to help, and her father’s profession meant that the family were well respected in the area.

She had three sisters – one older and two younger – all of whom never married, like Charlotte herself. Of them she was the only one who went into a profession. She went away from Ireland and studied cookery in both London and Paris, although the exact establishments where her training took place remain elusive.

By the turn of the 20th century, Charlotte was in her mid-30s and back living with her family again in County Carlow, and calling herself a lecturer on the culinary art. She had clearly amassed enough knowledge and experience during her training to feel able to teach others at a high level.

She was a Member of the Culinary Association, and also a Member of the Universal Food and Cookery Association – given as a cookery teacher from Carlow. All other members on the list are men, and are chefs at restaurants and gentlemen’s clubs.

In the early part of the century she advertised herself as a cookery teacher in Waterford, offering courses in high class cookery for a higher price and household cookery for a lesser fee. Her name seems to have spoken for itself in these adverts, and it’s likely that she was a well known figure among the local middle class populace. She also prepared society wedding receptions, and at one point travelled to Belfast and offered “balls, dinners, weddings and private teaching” for two guineas a week.

Her parents both died over the next few years, and several of her siblings moved to England to live with relatives of her mother – who were also clergymen. Charlotte appears to have remained in Ireland, making her living from her culinary skills and supporting all the sisters that remained with her.

However, by 1912 the changing situation in Ireland and the moves towards a home ruled mainly Catholic state in to cover most of the island might have made the lives of Church in Ireland worshipers a little uncomfortable, so it is no surprise to find Charlotte living in Hampshire, England, by that year.

She placed adverts in the Church League for Women’s Suffrage magazine – which may give a clue to her political views – advertising her services. These included bespoke cakes (Christmas and wedding), dinners, ball suppers and wedding breakfasts. She also offered lessons in high class cooking and sweet making in ladies’ own houses.

The same advert appears in the publication in both 1913 and 1914, by which point Charlotte would have been in her early 50s. She then disappears from view until the outbreak of the Second World War, when she was in her mid-70s and living with all three of her sisters in Bournemouth in an overly-Irish-named house. She appears to have retired from culinary teaching, but the family have two Jewish refugees – one from Germany, the other from Czechoslovakia – living with them, who have clearly fled from the Nazis.

Her sisters died one by one in the years after the war, gradually leaving Charlotte their assets. She was the last one left when she died herself, in the early 1950s. She left a considerable amount of money to a civil engineer.

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The Women Who Made Me actively welcomes submissions from anyone who has a story to tell about women from their family. To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.

Gwladys S’s story

Understanding where someone else is coming from in political matters is hard enough at the best of times, but Gwladys’ position – against the background of a militant fight from women to gain the vote at the beginning of the 20th century – is particularly boggling. She was an active anti-suffragist at the point where the WSPU were at their height.

Today, with 100 years of women having the vote behind us, the idea that an educated woman could somehow oppose the idea of enfranchising herself and her sisters beggars belief. However, this is exactly what Gwladys did. Often vociferously.

Her background appears to have been somewhat small-C conservative. She was the second daughter of a congregational minister and his Welsh wife, born in Wales towards the end of the 1870s. The family had enough money to afford a couple of servants, and spent time in South Wales, London and Kent – as Gwladys’ father’s job moved. Both Gwladys and her elder sister were educated at boarding school, while her brothers appear to have gone to school closer to home.

After school Gwladys became a teacher, holding a position at a school for daughters of the clergy in Bristol. The school building no longer stands, but the school still exists.

In the mid-1900s, she married a South African artist who was living in the UK after the death of his father. A son followed, but the couple separated only after a few years together.

In some cases, after separation in an era when divorce was hard and costly to obtain, and carried considerable social stigma, the estranged husband would often maintain his wife. However, this was not the full case for Gwladys. The 1911 census sees her in London, supporting herself and her son with a job – as organising secretary for the National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage – and she states on the form that she is estranged from him.

At this point, the National League had recently amalgamated from the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League and the Men’s League for Opposing Woman Suffrage, and its president was Lord Cromer. The 1911 census is the first readily-available document linking Gwladys to the League, but newspapers have her appointment as honourable secretary of the Hampstead branch of the Women’s Anti-Suffrage League from March 1909.

However long she had been involved, Gwladys came to more prominence under the leadership of Lord Curzon and Lord Weardale, who took over in early 1912. An educated, articulate woman actively opposing something that others of her sex were prepared to fight and be imprisoned for must have been extremely useful for their cause.

She had been an Anti-Suffragist correspondent to a publication called The World, and is mentioned as such in a letter to that publication by Emily Wilding Davison in 1911. She writes:

“To turn to (Gwladys’) second point, which is ‘that all the reforms women might bring about with the vote they can certainly bring about without it.’ No doubt they can do so, but only by an iniquitous waste of energy and time. Here is an anti who probably believes ardently in woman keeping to woman’s sphere, telling us to choose the longer, the more cumbrous, the more nerve-wearing, the more doubtful, method of working, by means of stirring public opinion (which, of course, can be stirred, but it is often a killing process), instead of using the obviously practical, effective, and easy way of the vote.”

Gwladys would often write into publications at the time, stating the anti-suffrage point of view and refuting anything that pro-suffrage supporters said about her activities that she felt was inaccurate.

In 1912, Gwladys wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, later Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, at least twice. Her letters give a further clue to her reasoning:

“As a typical women householder and rate and tax payer I beg you – a typical man – to take upon your stronger shoulders the burden of responsibility for the safety of the Empire, the Army, Navy, Trade, Shipping, Mining, Railways etc. I am too thankful to pay my taxes in return for your protection, if only you will leave me to look after my home and my child. It is true that I am in the unfortunate position of having to earn a livelihood as well as perform the duties of a mother, but why, why on that account do you want to add still more to my responsibilities and duties?”

The second letter elaborates further:

“The great difficulty in my work has been that people think it is so preposterous to suggest giving women control of Imperial affairs which they do not administer, that there is no danger of “votes for women” becoming law. If woman suffrage is put into the Reform bill the Liberal Government will be wrecked. Are we to lose the Insurance Bill, Home Rule, Welsh Disestablishment, and Land Reform, for the sake of a mere quarter of a million of misguided women who most of them only want to enfranchise the women of property for the sake of the Conservative Party? Are the other 12 ¾ millions of women to be utterly ignored?”

On the back of this growing notoriety, Gwladys embarked on visits to many towns and cities in the UK during 1912-14, setting up and speaking at anti-suffrage meetings. Sometimes she was invited to speak, and at other times she would turn up in a town, advertise a meeting via men with sandwich boards, pitch up in the market place and speak for an hour.

This took place at a time when the suffragette campaign was at its height, and the suffragettes were often targets for her ire, newspaper reports of her speeches indicate.

““We are not asking for votes,” declared the speaker. “we are asking that you will save us from the suffragettes.” Women had their own work, and could not, even those who called themselves sportsmen, afford to take over the risks of men. Women knew nothing of the laws – many suffragettes had never read a single law – and thought they could make them better. Why did they not come forward with some of their ideas on legislation? As to the economic argument, women were not worth as much as men, and so long as men were obliged to support their wives and children they ought to be paid more. Then they said they would bring purity into politics. They had made a good start, hadn’t they? Their methods were the most degrading and debasing the world had ever known. They said they would not take human life – no, because they might get hanged. We were supposed to be a nation of sportsmen, and a sportsman could not hit in the dark, stab in the back, or hit anyone who could not hit back, and the suffragettes did all these things, and what was so disgraceful, they did it in the name of the women of England. The suffrage was a retrogressive movement (Loud applause). The suffragettes were trying to shift the women’s movement on to the wrong lines, just when women were beginning to take their right place. But women were going to advance, and in spite of the suffragettes. They now had the municipal vote, leading them to a useful field. It was so awful to think how the world, whole world was laughing at women. They all knew what was thought of the hen-pecked husband? Then they must not let their glorious nation do down to posterity as the hen-peck nation.”

The Cambridge Independent, March 7 1913

Other arguments she used included that women’s interests would result in too many insignificant and cluttering bills being brought into parliament – like the dangers of flannelette clothing – and that giving women the vote might adversely affect the birth rate at a time when there was a great deal of rhetoric about breeding a strong nation. She felt that women could be more effective in – and improve – society if they were given more control over domestic affairs, and brought up better people by focusing on their children, and that having the vote would distract from this.

The way in which Gwladys appears to argue – from the newspaper reports of her speeches – shows her to be intelligent and articulate, and she states on several occasions that she doesn’t see women’s intelligence to be inferior to men. It is therefore hard, from a modern perspective, to see how she can have arrived at these conclusions about the role of women in society. Her background may have had some bearing on it. So also may have been the fact that her ex-mother-in-law and ex-sister-in-law were prominent suffragettes – the former being jailed for breaking Black Rod’s windows at the Houses of Parliament, and the latter mailing herself to 10 Downing Street – and it is always possible that this, combined with the fact that she was estranged from her husband and former family, added fuel to her fire.

The First World War midway through 1914 brought an effective end to the suffragette campaign, with activists devoting themselves to the fight for the country. As the war went on, women filled many jobs that men off fighting had previously undertaken, and proved that they were perfectly capable of undertaking this work, and public opinion started to change. Many prominent female anti-suffrage speakers drifted away, but Gwladys – perhaps due to economic necessity – stayed loyal and continued to campaign and speak. An article from a suffrage supporter to a publication called The Vote in 1917 makes mention to her still being active in the campaign, at a point where the bill to give women the vote, which came in early February 1918, was being drafted.

With the right to vote in general elections given to certain groups of women – and virtually all men over 21 – in 1918, the National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage had lost their impetus and gradually disbanded, taking Gwladys’ job with it. Her son would now have been in his early teens, and still in need of support and care.

She now gave occasional talks on educational subjects, and turned to writing educational books – although her 1939 register entry also calls her a public speaker, so it appears that she still addressed meetings – on language teaching to children. Her books included three on early French teaching, one on German, one on Spanish, and one on Esperanto. The Esperanto book, which included Mary Had a Little Lamb in translation, was intended to create unity of language among the children of the world and thus end war. To that end, free copies were sent around the globe. Some of her books remained in publication until at least 1970.

In the 1920s she wrote a play, Aunt Priscilla’s Will, which was performed in amateur dramatic circles. She was active in local educational circles in Hendon in the 1930s, and stood as secretary for the Golders Green Literary Society too. In the late 1930s she was also involved in the Shaftesbury Society, now Livability, which offered support and services for disabled children.

Just before the Second World War, she changed her surname by deed poll. She resigned the married name she had used during her anti-suffrage days – she does not appear to have ever divorced, so this would have been the next best thing – and instead became known by part of her former maiden name. Around the same time, she appears on the electoral registers – so perhaps had mellowed on her previous stance.

Her son fought in the war, and spent time in a prisoner of war camp. In later life Gwladys moved to Cheshire, close to where her son was employed, and also spent some time in some African counties – possibly accompanying her son, who conducted research into tropical medicine. She died in a nursing home in the mid-1960s.

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The Women Who Made Me actively welcomes submissions from anyone who has a story to tell about women from their family. To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.

Marion Young’s story

Marion was at the forefront of new art teaching in elementary schools in the 1930s, but her contribution has been eclipsed by that of her rather better-known colleague Robin Tanner, and her part in this teaching epoch has been buried – possibly as her medium, needlework, was not considered worthy of a traditional art focus either then or now, and instead is often viewed merely as a woman’s practical skill.

She was born in Marlborough, Wiltshire, in the summer of 1902 – the fourth child and second daughter of an insurance agent and his wife. The family were almost certainly non-conformists in religion – Marion’s older sister was baptised in a Methodist church, and Marion herself was later reprimanded for teaching scripture lessons from the perspective of a non-CofE denomination. After moving when she was small, she was brought up in Chippenham, a well-connected Wiltshire market town, and would probably have been initially educated at St Paul’s elementary school, just across the road from her family’s home.

In her teens she decided to train as a teacher, and went to Salisbury Teacher Training College, an institution that trained women teachers for National Schools. Here she would have been given two years’ training to instruct children in English, history, geography, music, needlework, arithmetic, drawing, domestic economy and scripture – all subjects that were felt essential for children’s basic education at the beginning of the 1920s.

teacher training salisbury

It’s likely that her first job post-training was at Melksham Boy’s National School, in a town about six miles away from home, but the log book of this institution for that period is not available. In September 1923, the boys’ school amalgamated with the girls’ school, and Marion is on the staff of this new school – the head teacher’s comments about her in the school log book perhaps indicate a longer acquaintance, and she is certainly not on the staff of the previous girls’ school, which leads to the assumption that she had taught at the boys’ school.

At this newly amalgamated school, Marion taught Standards I and II and was an assistant mistress. She left her post in the summer of 1924, with no reason given – there is nothing in her personal life that would indicate why she quit. She did not get married, which was the usual reason young women teachers resigned, as a marriage bar prohibited them from working, nor did she transfer to another school. The head writes: “The departure of Miss Young from this school is a matter of deep regret to all. She has rendered extremely loyal service during her period of service at this school.”

Marion returned to the same school a year later, with no remark made upon her return, and taught there until the winter of 1930, when she secured a post at a school back in Chippenham, where she was still living.

This school was Ivy Lane Elementary School, which had Robin Tanner on the staff at that time. Tanner – an etcher and artist whose work was starting to be noticed – had been at the school for about six months, and was beginning to work with the pupils on arts and design, book binding, and painting on enamel. To this portfolio he later added weaving, with the school purchasing its own loom to achieve this. The headteacher, seeing the benefits for his pupils of this creative outlet, encouraged Tanner to include the girls’ decorative work from the needlework classes in this design work – and to this end he worked with Marion as she was the school’s needlework specialist.

Needlework at this time was very much seen as a practical skill, with utilitarian needs, and part of a preparation for girls’ future lives as wives and mothers. Because it was viewed as a woman’s skill, the decorative aspect of needlework was not considered as art in the traditional sense, but the work of Robin and Marion together changed this for pupils at Ivy Lane Elementary at least, and later displayed this to the education community nationally.

A report of late 1930 says that a striking feature of the art teaching at the school is the linking up of design with decorative needlework, and in 1931 the headteacher of Ivy Lane – Frederick Hinton – remarks that: “Mr Tanner and Miss Young have co-operated and the lessons in Design and in Needlework have been correlated with remarkably pleasing results.” He also notes that as a result of this collaboration, the girls in the school are showing a much greater interest in art and design, and that the approach was helping remedial children in the school to feel more confident about their work.

There is no doubt that Robin Tanner was the driving force behind the new approaches to art within the school, but he was ably supported and embellished by Marion’s skills. Indeed, the work going on at the school started to be noticed – initially by local schools’ inspectors within Wiltshire, and then further afield. An exhibition of the school’s handicraft, art and needlework led to senior inspectors visiting the school directly to look at the work. Then a party of students from the Salisbury Teacher Training College came to visit the school, and every class worked on art for an afternoon with them. Packages of artwork, including needlework, were sent to education conferences elsewhere – the work went as far as Dartington and Truro in the south of the country, and Durham and Newcastle in the north. Principals of art schools also visited the school, as did specialist art lecturers, and in 1934 the needlework was borrowed for a course by the Board of Education. This achievement by Robin and Marion, alongside Miss Miles, another needlework teacher who joined in the work later, brought the school to national renown. One famous comment was that those seeing the exhibited work could not believe that they had been done by children.

Robin Tanner left Ivy Lane Elementary School in 1935 to become an inspector of schools himself, and the requests for exhibited art and needlework dried up almost immediately. A new art master took over, but there is no further mention of decorative needlework being combined with art teaching. Instead, Marion’s speciality at the school became Physical Training – the older name for PE – and she attended various courses to improve the instruction for the pupils.

Towards the tail end of 1940, with Chippenham’s schools already overcrowded and waves of evacuees swelling pupil numbers still further, education in the town was reorganised. The three highest forms from all the town’s elementary schools formed a new temporary senior school, based in a building that Chippenham’s grammar school had recently vacated, and Marion’s teaching job moved to this new school. Here she remained a PT specialist, while still providing class-based general education for the 11-14-year-olds still in the elementary system.

The school drew children from across the town, some of them travelling a great distance to attend, which meant that the traditional dinner interval where children went home for a hot meal was more difficult. Until the second world war every child went home for lunch, and were given up to an hour and a half to achieve this, but rationing of food meant that collective ways to eat were becoming more popular as nicer meals were achievable if everyone’s share was amalgamated. The temporary senior school established their own canteen to provide hot meals for the children, with their own cook and Marion as the staff member in charge of the venture.

The blitz on Bath of 27/28 April 1942 meant that the gas supply to the surrounding area was cut off – including Chippenham. Marion worked with the cook, Mrs Whittle, and a troop of New Zealand soldiers that were also stationed at the temporary senior school building at that point in the war, to ensure that every child had a hot meal that day. This involved cooking in pots over camp fires.

The Butler Education Act of 1944 formalised Chippenham’s Temporary Senior School into a mixed Secondary Modern School. This also gradually moved the education format from class-based general teaching to separate subject specialisms – and Marion, as a senior assistant mistress, was still the PT specialist for the school. The marriage bar for women teachers was also lifted that year, meaning that Marion and her colleagues could marry and keep their jobs. However, at 42 she may have felt that marriage was not an option open to her. Nonetheless, it was Marion who was nominated to attend courses on how to deliver sex education to her pupils.

The school split in 1956, with the boys remaining in the old grammar school building and the Girls’ Secondary Modern School moving to new premises at Hardenhuish. Marion went to teach in this new girls’ school, as the most senior assistant mistress (today’s equivalent to a Deputy Headteacher). By this stage her specialism was English.

Here she remained as a prominent member of staff for another eight years, until retirement in 1964. When she left the school had a special assembly for her, and she was presented with a record player and record case. The staff also had a party for her in the school library.

She died at the tail end of the 1970s, having lived with her widowed sister in a sizable house, and left a great deal of money. She is buried in Chippenham’s St Paul’s churchyard, alongside her parents and one of her brothers.

 

The image accompanying this post is by Hannah Hill.

 

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To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.

Ruby G’s story

Divorced in the 1930s, as marriage dissolution became more affordable for couples – if no less stigma-laden – Ruby G kept a successful teaching career alive in a marriage-bar era and raised a daughter too.

Born into the industries surrounding and supporting the fishing trade in the North East of England, Ruby grew up in a family of daughters with a father who had political ambitions. Clearly bright, she followed her older sister into school teaching – a respected position for unmarried women to hold at the beginning of the 20th century.

Teaching at this time was a profession open to both single and married men, but only single women – the exceptions being older women married to school teachers in predominantly rural areas who might teach the infants or the girls in a small school, or widows who had previously been teachers. Like many other skilled professions at the time, unmarried teachers were expected to give up their job at marriage and be supported by their husbands. In her second proper teaching position, at the beginning of the 1920s in Wiltshire, Ruby was no exception – despite four years’ service, school log books refer to her expected resignation throughout the year, indicating that she was stepping out with a beau, and her resignation occurred as the school year closed. Sure enough, marriage records show that she married that summer.

A daughter was born over the following few years, and by societal expectation she would have been based caring for family and home while her husband worked and earned. However, this marriage was clearly not a happy one, and a separation happened at some point before 1930. Divorces, although still frowned upon by general society with the generations-held belief that marriages should be made work at whatever cost, were easier to obtain at this time. A private member’s bill introduced to the UK parliament in 1923 – which passed as the Matrimonial Causes Act – helped this process by making adultery by either wife or husband the sole grounds for divorce, where previously the wife had to provide extra evidence of faults against her husband. The Summary Jurisdiction (Separation and Maintenance) Act, passed in 1925, also extended the grounds on which either partner could obtain a separation. Ruby’s decree absolute came through in 1935, possibly indicating that she had been separated from her husband for seven years at this point.

Whatever the grounds for Ruby’s separation, she found herself alone with a young daughter to support. The school she had resigned from took her back on temporarily, despite the fact that she had been married, when a member of their staff was sick and indisposed for a few weeks. She was then taken back on to that school’s staff permanently the following summer. Being divorced meant that she was not married, and therefore was not subject to any restrictions under the marriage bar. Therefore, the school could employ her without a problem, and did.

She taught at the school for another six years, during which the department of education approached her twice with a view to her taking on a headship of a school elsewhere – which is more likely an indication of her skill as a teacher than any lingering stigma about employing a divorcee. On both occasions she refused, and chose to remain in position at the Wiltshire school. A couple of years before the second world war began, she chose to resign of her own accord, and moved herself and her daughter to Shropshire. They lived with her father, now a widower, and spent the duration of the second world war there.

In 1935 the marriage bar for teachers was removed by London County Council, but that only applied in their area of jurisdiction. The National Union of Women Teachers had campaigned for this change for a long time. The marriage bar was removed for all teachers in 1944, meaning that Ruby’s unmarried colleagues could now keep their jobs if they chose to marry – many female teachers were life-long spinsters, as they loved their work too much to end it.

Ruby herself never remarried. She died in Somerset in the early 1960s, leaving her possessions and money to her unmarried daughter.

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To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.