The name Mary Bolam (1861-1949) has figured prominently in this blog thanks to her roles as Censor and Warden of St Andrew’s. She had moved from Cheltenham Ladies’ College to Reading in 1900 where her job description was ‘Assistant to the Vice-Principal, and Censor of Women Students in Licensed Lodgings.’ She held the position of Censor until 1911, but continued as Warden until her retirement in 1927.
In his memoir W. M. Childs wrote that:
‘Miss Bolam had passed through Somerville College, Oxford, and she had also come under the spell of Miss Beale at Cheltenham. But no one who knew her ever troubled about her academic antecedents, for Miss Bolam was a personality on her own account. She had strong organizing genius, strong will, clear purpose, north-country toughness under trial, and benevolence at heart.’ (Childs, 1933, p. 182)
Praise indeed! But is there a note of scepticism in the references to Miss Beale and to Miss Bolam’s ‘academic antecedents’?
Cheltenham Ladies’ College
Dorothea Beale (1831-1906) was a suffragist and pioneering educationalist who became head of Cheltenham Ladies’ College in 1858. Edith Morley described her and her colleague Frances Buss as having ‘revolutionised girls’ education’ (Morley, 2016, p. 43). It would therefore seem a laudable achievement that Miss Bolam had worked there as a teacher educator. The Ladies’ College Magazine recorded her appointment like this:
‘Miss Bolam, L.L.A. who passed the Honours History School from Somerville College, Oxford, and has since been Mistress of Method at the Durham Training College, joins the staff of the Training Department.’ (Cheltenham Ladies’ College Magazine, Autumn, 1897, p. 296).
The above letter gives her salary as £65 per annum, although Council minutes for the same month state a figure of £150 plus board. A further letter of July 1899 shows that this was increased to £195 per annum plus a £2 capitation bonus for every student above 10 who was enrolled in the Government Training Department of which she was Head Mistress.
The College’s extensive archive has preserved past copies of the College Magazine, and several accounts of Bolam’s work at Cheltenham have been tracked down in them by Mrs Rachel Roberts, the College Archivist:
- In the Kindergarten Training Department she gave lectures and model lessons (College Magazine, 1898, 37, p. 156).
- Her first report on the work of the ‘Government Department’ appeared in the Magazine in 1898 (37, pp. 157-58): this was a new department but already had seven students in training. Bolam stated that ‘the Ladies’ College has now a recognised position under Government inspection’ (p. 157).
- She wrote a report on the ‘Elementary Training Department’ that appeared in the Magazine In 1899 (39, p. 71): there were now eleven women trainees and they were able to use All Saints School for practical experience.
- In the same issue, it was announced that a paper on ‘Story-telling to Little Children’ that she had delivered in Cardiff at a conference on Kindergarten Teaching had now been published. It was stated that ‘The little pamphlet will be found to contain many interesting observations on Child nature and child growth.’ (39, p. 92)
- In spring 1900 the Magazine recorded that she had been assisting in the Secondary Training Department (41, p. 83).
- In the same issue her final report on the Elementary Training Department appeared: the number of trainees was now up to nineteen. She noted that, ‘The weekly criticism lessons are greatly enjoyed by the children who consider themselves severely punished if they are excluded.’ (41, p.85) (see my earlier post for an account of the criticism lesson at Reading).
- She left the College in 1900 (42, p. 299).
Reading College and Unversity College, Reading
Mary Bolam’s name doesn’t appear in the Reading College Calendars until 1901-2 when her membership of the Tutorial and Residence Committees is recorded. She is listed as Assistant Lecturer in Geography and her address given as St Andrew’s Hostel, Reading. Two years later she had been moved from Geography to Tutor in Preliminary Studies.
Given her previous experience training teachers it seems surprising that she hadn’t been recruited immediately into the Education Department. According to Holt (1977), it was why she had come to Reading, but I can find no evidence of this until 1911 when she appeared in the Calendar as Lecturer in Education (Primary Division).
There is, however, evidence from the Reading press that she was actively involved with schools and teacher education from the very beginning. The Reading Mercury, for example, recorded that in 1901 she gave a lecture on ‘Teachers and Teaching’ at a Pupil Teacher Centre in Basingstoke to managers and trainees from 14 schools in the district. She also presented a paper on ‘Telling Stories to Little Children’ at a meeting of the Parents’ National Education Union at Reading in 1903 (the report in the Reading Mercury referred to her as ‘Assistant Lecturer in History and Literature’). Similar reports of lectures on subjects such as child rearing, and speeches at prize-givings continued throughout her career.
By her retirement in 1927, Mary Bolam was a member of the University Court and the Senate, and had been a member of the Academic Board and Academic Governors of the University College. As Holt put it in his history of the University’s first 50 years, ‘… Miss Bolam in her last year had become a living legend.’ (Holt, 1977, p. 66).
My next post will give a brief summary of Bolam’s qualifications and career, followed by events after her retirement.
Mrs Rachel Roberts, College Archivist, Cheltenham Ladies’ College, for searching College Magazines, Staff Indexes and Correspondence for references to Mary Bolam.
Dr Rhianedd Smith (University Museums and Special Collections Services) for passing on material about Mary Bolam from the British Newspaper Archive and for retrieving census data.
Cheltenham Ladies’ College. Letters to Mary Bolam, Letter Book, pages 119 &227.
Cheltenham Ladies’ College Magazines, 1897 to 1900.
Cheltenham Ladies’ College. Council Minutes, October 1897
Childs, W. M. (1933). Making a university: an account of the university movement at Reading. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
Holt, J. C. (1977). The University of Reading: the first fifty years. Reading: University of Reading Press.
Morley, E. J. (2016). Before and after: reminiscences of a working life (original text of 1944 edited by Barbara Morris). Reading: Two Rivers Press.
Parents’ National Education Union: Meeting at Reading. (1903, January 31). Reading Mercury, p. 7.
Pupil Teacher Centre. (1901, June 8). Reading Mercury, p. 6.
Pupil Teachers’ Gathering at Basingstoke. (1901, June 15). Reading Mercury, p. 6.
Reading College. Calendars, 1900-1902, 1925-6.
University College, Reading. Calendar, 1903-04, 1926-27.