Evacuees and Reading’s first PhD in Education

The Evacuee Archive

The University of Reading’s Special Collections contain a wide variety of material relating to World War II evacuation. In addition to books, interviews and documents, the archive includes 25 boxes of memoirs collected by Dr Martin Parsons, formerly Senior Lecturer in History Education at Reading and Director of the Secondary PGCE Programme. 

Currently a team of volunteers led by Joanna Hulin, Reading Room Assistant at MERL, is assisting with the cataloguing process in order to make the content of these memoirs more accessible to readers.

The memoirs contain many recurring themes, but one which is particularly striking to anyone who has worked in Education is the disruption to schooling experienced by children of all ages. Colin, for example, who was evacuated from London to Essex in September 1939, had no schooling for a month after his arrival. His Geography teacher gave him and fellow pupils the task of mapping the village to keep them out of mischief (D EVAC A/1/488).

The lack of suitable school premises meant that, on arrival, many classes had to be held in the open air.  And the severe winter of 1939-40 further disrupted attendance. Frequently school buildings had to be shared between local children and evacuees on a half-day basis. Sometimes, homesick children returned home early only to find that their schools had closed. In the Liverpool area alone it was reported that thousands of children went without lessons for 10 months.

Nothing speaks more poignantly of the plight of some of the children, however, than this comment from an anonymous respondent (D EVAC A/1/546) who had been evacuated from London to Somerset:

University of Reading Special Collections
The University’s First PhD in Education

It was interesting to discover, therefore, that the first Education PhD listed in Professor Barnard’s history of the Education Department at Reading addressed some of the issues referred to above. What made it even more interesting was its focus on the town of Reading and, in particular, that it was a contemporary account or an investigation conducted while the evacuation was still in progress.

The thesis by Charles Preston Rawson was completed in 1943 and has the title ‘Some aspects of evacuation.’ Its structure and presentation is very different from any thesis I have seen before. And the format is not what would be expected in the Institute of Education today. However it contains a wealth of detail, documentary analysis, a questionnaire survey and an account of an intervention conducted by the author himself. It also presents a considerable amount of raw data.

In total, there are five volumes plus an envelope of supplementary material.

Rawson’s thesis (available from the Whiteknights Library off-site store)

I believe this to be a valuable resource for historians of the period, so it is worth saying a little more about the content.

  1. Volume 1:  deals with ‘Preparations for Evacuation’. Following a detailed analysis of official documents, Rawson concludes that, ‘It may be that I have shown the meaning of “Schooling in an Emergency”‘ (p. 11). There is also a case study of Springfield School (in Hackney?) consisting of a detailed diary of events leading up to evacuation.
  2. Volumes 2, 3, & 4:  provide the results of a survey consisting of 19 mostly open-ended questions about ‘conditions in the London reception area up to Midsummer 1941.‘ The questionnaire went out to 112 evacuated schools and 104 were returned – an impressive response during a national emergency. For two years, Rawson also maintained close contact with 77 evacuated schools that were housed in or around Reading. He reports that, during this period, the school population of Reading increased by 55%.
  3. Volume 5:  reports what is referred to as ‘The Reading Experiment.‘ This intervention was a personal initiative by Rawson conducted with the approval of the London County Council Inspectorate.  It was an ambitious project that bypassed the problem of shared school premises and half-day education by hiring accommodation and borrowing equipment.
  4. Supplementary Materials:  include spreadsheets, statistics, maps, graphs and diagrams meticulously produced by hand using different coloured inks.
Rawson’s Thesis with the Supplementary Materials

The schools surveyed are not specified by name in the description of the sample which simply tabulates the type of school, the name of the head teacher and the area to which it was evacuated. However, they are identifiable because they are all named in the handwritten spreadsheet of school rolls (see below), and many are mentioned by name in the results section. Given the large size of the sample of London schools, it is inevitable that they would include some of those mentioned in the Special Collections’ evacuee memoirs.

Rolls of Evacuated Schools (Supplementary Material Accompanying Rawson’s Thesis)

One area addressed in the survey is ‘Has it been possible to carry on normal full-time education?‘ (Q7a). The answer is complex: by 1943 the situation had stabilised and, at least in terms of the number of hours of education, most schools were providing an equivalent of whole-day schooling. With regard to the combination of quantity and quality of the curriculum, however, there were reservations expressed by nearly half the schools in the sample.

The University of Reading and the Evacuation

It is worth noting that the University of Reading has a number of other connections to evacuees and evacuee studies. Towards the end of Volume 5 of Rawson’s thesis there is a tribute to the University’s provision of courses of lectures and field excursions for evacuated teachers. These were co-ordinated by Reading’s Education Department and contributions were made by professors and lecturers from across the University. According to H. Armstrong’s account of the Education Department, students still in training also did their bit by helping out in local schools that were struggling with overcrowding and staff shortages.

Following her retirement in 1940, Edith Morley spent a year as a billeting officer in Reading. This is how she describes her role:

…I helped with work among the evacuees, taking children to their billets, visiting the billetees and their hosts, distributing dinner tickets and doing odd jobs of clerical work at a community centre and the like.‘ (p. 161).

Following this, she devoted her attention to helping refugees where she could make use of her foreign language skills.

 It is also interesting that, prior to her appointment at Reading, Magdalen Vernon, pioneering experimental psychologist who became the first female Head of Psychology at Reading, conducted a study of the consequences of evacuation for adolescent girls. The investigation includes the effects on academic working habits, social relationships, leisure activities and attitudes to careers.

Finally

It would be neglectful to conclude this post without mentioning a second Education PhD that was completed in 1943. This was Isabella Erskine Campbell’s investigation into abstract thinking and language development in children of ‘average intelligence’. 

Campbell’s thesis, set out in a format more like that of today, was written in the context of secondary school reorganisation. The results have implications for issues that are still relevant: selection at eleven plus,  testing and examinations, curriculum, equal opportunities and the place of vocational education.

This PhD is a landmark because Isabella Campbell was a lecturer and tutor in the Department of Education, and the first member of staff in that department to be awarded a doctorate by the University of Reading.

ps

Sadly, I can find no record of Charles Rawson publishing his research.

Sources

Armstrong, H. (1949). A brief outline of the growth of the department. In H. C. Barnard (ed.). The Education Department through fifty years (pp. 9-17). University of Reading.

Barnard, H. C. (Ed.). (1949). The Education Department through fifty years. University of Reading.

Campbell, I. E. (1943). A study of abstract thinking and linguistic development with reference to the education of the child of ‘average’ intelligence. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Reading.

Evacuation – a mammoth operation to move 200,000 to safety. (1957, November 19). The Liverpool Echo, p. 8.

Morley, E. J. (2016). Before and after: reminiscences of a working life (original text of 1944 edited by Barbara Morris). Reading: Two Rivers Press.

Rawson, C. P. (1943). Some aspects of evacuation. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Reading.

University of Reading Calendar 1939/40 to 1943/44.

University of Reading Special Collections, Memoirs of Evacuated Children during World War 2 – D EVAC A .

Vernon, M. D. (1940). A study of some effects of evacuation on adolescent girls. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 12, 114-134.

Women Students and Boat Racing

The women’s FA Cup final on December 5th 2021 was a reminder that the Football Association had effectively banned women’s football a century earlier by denying access to its pitches, a ban that remained in place until 1969. Football was felt to be an unsuitable activity for females.

It was thanks to the social historian Carol Dyhouse, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Sussex, that I became aware of a related sporting controversy at University College Reading. It concerned women and boating.

Dyhouse, who had been an undergraduate at Reading, included the College/University in her sample of higher education institutions for her book ‘No Distinction of Sex‘ (1995), an analysis of the place of women students and academic staff in British universities between 1870 and 1939. This in-depth research draws on an impressive range of sources including the archives of colleges and universities across England, Scotland and Wales.

In a section titled ‘Boat-racing, women and sport‘ (pp. 202-6), Dyson recounts how in 1917 W. M. Childs, Principal of University College Reading, set up a committee to investigate whether racing in boats was an appropriate activity for women students. Her account was so intriguing that I asked the Special Collections staff if they could track down the sources. Dyhouse’s original reference (Box no. 253) was no longer active but Sharon Maxwell, Archivist at MERL, discovered its location.

The first relevant document is an undated memo containing an extract from the minutes of the Academic Board of July 2 1917. It stated that a motion had been passed concerning boat racing and women students:

That a Committee be appointed to inquire into conditions which obtain in other colleges, as to the practice of rowing, racing and sculling, and as to the safeguards which are adopted in those Colleges in the interests of women students.

The Committee was to consist of:

  • Edith Morley, Professor of English Language;
  • Mary Bolam, Warden of St Andrew’s Hall;
  • Lucy Ashcroft, Censor of Women Students.

The first step was an explanatory letter and questionnaire from Professor Childs seeking opinions from eight colleges and universities. The letter, which I referred to in my previous post about the Women’s Sculling section, worded the issue as follows:

The question has arisen here as to whether our women students should be allowed to have rowing races. …. This is a question which obviously is not free from difficulty and about which more than one opinion has already been expressed.‘ (Dated 19th October 1917)

Among other things, the accompanying questionnaire asked:

  • whether women students were allowed to take part in rowing (as opposed to sculling or boating);
  • whether they were allowed to race;
  • if forbidden, for what reasons;
  • if permitted, whether medical certificates, certificates of swimming proficiency or ‘a special costume’ were required;
  • whether the boats had sliding seats;
  • the length of the course;
  • whether there were competitions against other colleges;
  • whether there was any annoyance from attendance by the general public;
  • and, finally, ‘whether in your opinion rowing or racing by women students is, or would be, prejudicial to health and welfare.

A memo from the Principal of 2nd November 1917 summarised the responses. Of the eight institutions canvassed, four were  positive and four were negative.

Even those expressing positive attitudes often required safeguards such as medical inspections (Bedford College) or other knowledge of the student’s good health (Westfield College). Westfield and Bedford Colleges sculled on Regents Park Lake which was so shallow that swimming proficiency was said to be irrelevant. A positive reply was received from University College, London that concluded, ‘..there is nothing prejudicial to their health or general welfare.‘ All three of the above colleges favoured shorter courses for women.

The most reassuring reaction, however, was from Dr Aldrich Blake, Dean of the London School of Medicine who pronounced rowing healthy and harmless and suggested that rowing clubs should be trusted to decide their own regulations.

The views of those opposed to racing included:

  • sculling and punting were fine, but for recreation only – attaining competitive standards would be bad for women (Royal Holloway College);
  • rowing is acceptable but, ‘I am inclined to think that rowing racing might occasionally be prejudicial to the health of women students’ (the Principal of Somerville);
  • rowing is allowed but, ‘racing would be prejudicial to the health and welfare of women students‘ (Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford).

Of the negative responses, a supplementary letter (see below) was returned by Sir Isambard Owen, Vice-Chancellor of Bristol University, using his status as a physician to reinforce his opinion that female students should not be racing in boats.

Reply from the Vice-Chancellor of Bristol University, 12th October 1917 (University of Reading Special Collections)

At this point, the papers from 1917 concluded without any indication of the final outcome (no doubt a record exists somewhere but I haven’t found it). Nevertheless, if we jump to 1921, a letter to the Principal from an E. Verity, Secretary of the Women’s Sculling Section, provides some clues. In it she requests ‘permission for us to include racing amongst the other activities of the section.’ The key section is as follows:

We understand that in 1917 this was refused by the Academic Board but we beg to ask that this decision be reconsidered. We are not aware of the grounds upon which the previous refusal was based….‘ (Dated 28th February 1921)

The letter produced an unambiguous result: two months later a memo was circulated headed ‘Boat Racing for Women Students. Regulations of the Academic Board.‘ Written in pencil on the copy in the Special Collections is, ‘Copy sent to Miss Verity‘. The requirements in brief were these:

  1. A medical certificate attesting fitness for such exercise.
  2. Written permission from parents or guardian.
  3. Competing against a male crew was forbidden.
  4. The racing course for women should be no longer than half a mile.
  5. The certificate and written permission were to be submitted to the Censor of Women Students (Lucy Ashcroft) who would notify the relevant hall wardens.

These regulations, formulated during the era of the University College, were still in place after the Charter had been granted. Thus in 1931 Franklin Sibly, who had succeeded Childs as Vice-Chancellor, felt obliged to remind women boaters of the first two rules in a memo addressed to the Secretary of the Women’s Sculling and Rowing clubs and copied to the wardens of women’s halls. According to the final paragraph:

These conditions must be strictly observed. The rowing and sculling captains in each Hall will in future be responsible for collecting the certificates and permissions, and for handing them to the Warden of the Hall.‘ (Dated 11th November 1931)

The suggestion of hall teams in this extract is reveaIing. I don’t know when inter-hall competition started, but the image below of the St David’s crew shows that it was in place by 1924. According to Smith and Bott’s pictorial history of university education at Reading, St David’s were narrowly defeated on this occasion by Wessex Hall in the final of the Challenge Fours.

St David’s Women’s Rowing Crew, 1924 (University of Reading Imagebank)
Sources

Dyhouse, C. (1995). No distinction of sex? Women in British universities, 1870-1939. London: UCL Press.

Smith, S. & Bott, M. (1992). One hundred years of university education in Reading: a pictorial history. Reading: University of Reading.

University of Reading Special Collections, Uncatalogued papers, Reference UHC AA-SA 8.