Edna Bold (B.1904): Education and Schooling

Edna Bold was an intelligent member of the working class. Bold’s memoir begins with her life as a child in search for her own identity, her wish for self improvement is evident on every page. Although Bold did not enjoy school, education is at the heart of her memoir.

School

Bold’s description of her primary school with “its high bare walls, its high small windows and grey light”(14) depicts an uninspiring place. She does not remember much from school except feeling “‘incarcerated’ morning and afternoon”(14). Despite feeling “visually, aurally and mentally stultified”(14) Bold “could read, write and spell.”(14) by the time she left school.

A typical Edwardian classroom
A typical Edwardian classroom

Sunday School

Bold also attended Sunday School which she describes as a “distressing and miserable”(15) time. Bold says “the children would sit mute, their eyes glazed […] expressing a paralyzing boredom”(15). The end of Sunday School was “a sudden release from restraint into the street outside”(15). Bold’s feeling of incarceration at school and restraint at Sunday School highlights her wish for freedom. By the time she was fourteen she left the establishment as an agnostic “ready to obliterate the unpleasant incidence of ‘Sunday School’”(16) from her mind. Bold’s attitude towards Sunday School is different to other members of the working class from her time. Thomas Walter Laqueur states that the working class “enthusiastically developed the idea of the Sunday School and made it an integral part of their culture.”[1]. Sunday School was seen as a sign of respectability amongst the working class. Yet Bold said dealing with God was for “the timid and less resourceful”(37) who failing to contact the deity used “the chapel as a convenience where boy could meet girl”(37).

'Procession of Sunday school children'. St Paul's Methodist Sunday school, Manchester. 1900.
‘Procession of Sunday school children’. St Paul’s Methodist Sunday school, Manchester. 1900.

Sex Education

Bold was a curious child who educated herself outside of school. After her mother gave birth to twins her interest in “where babies come from”(21) led her to learn about sex at an early age. Bold and her cousin Dorothy furthered their own education by unearthing a large medical book from a shelf in her kitchen. Humorously Bold and Dorothy “suffered the torments of the damned”(21) when learning about child birth. Neither of them reproduced.

Secondary School

During the early twentieth century it was compulsory for children to stay in school until the age of thirteen “most left elementary school as early as the school leaving age allowed”[2]. Despite not enjoying school Bold says she was “considered lucky”(36) to have continued on to secondary school. Bold describes being “swamped with learning that bore no relation to either itself or life”(36) and that the curricula did not “take into account that one day the yound adolescents would grow into husbands and wives, fathers and mothers”(37). Bold educated herself outside of school and it was at this time that Bold developed her interest in music and literature.

Once in secondary school Bold heard the music of “Beethoven, Mozart and Mendelssch”(22) who she describes as “recording angels”(22). She took part in the school music society “after hours”(22) and began to play some of their “simpler extracts”(23). Bold explains her ability did not match her understanding of the music but “at least I knew I was struggling to interpret ‘Something’.”(23). Bold also took dance classes which she describes as “one of the most important lessons of my school years”(56) because it gave her a “sense of release and freedom”(57). She planned “to skip college and become a dancer”(57). Bold changed this decision because she knew that as a dancer she would “be second rate”(57) instead she transferred her “feeling for line and movement into another medium”(58) and “specialised in drawing and painting”(58). (See, Edna Bold (B1904): Habits, Culture & Belief)

Ludwig van Beethoven

College and Career

Bold explains “with hindsight I realise the direction of my life began in my Grandmother’s kitchen”(33) where she met Jack and Belle Corlett. Jack told Bold’s family to “let her teach”(33) and she knew “that she should go to college and become a teacher”(33). She took a two year course and was appointed in a school in Ardwick. Bold’s experiences of boredom at school developed her identity as a teacher and after “eight of the happiest years”(65) of her working life she moved to infant school. Bold had an apprenticeship with teaching art which she says “taught me more than the training college, the formal years of teaching and all the text books put together”(66). Although being told she had “demoted”(65) herself, Bold was “ready to live, work and play with the children who had not been tailored to fit the system”(66).

Bold represents many from her time who made “a transition from working class to lower middle class”[3]. Although she saw authority as “a terrible power”(37) it is clear that she stayed in school so that she could ‘better’ herself. It is apparent that her personal interests in music, literature and art taught her more than her formal education. These interests shaped her identity and with them she was successful in her wish for self improvement.


[1] Religion and Respectability: Sunday Schools and Working Class Culture, 1780-1850. Yale, University Press, 1976. Pg. 293.

[2] Burnett, John ed. Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood, Education, and Family from the1820s to the 1920s. London: Alan Lane, 1982. Pg. 148.

[3] Burnett, John ed. Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood, Education, and Family from the1820s to the 1920s. London: Alan Lane, 1982. Pg. 106.

Bold, Edna. THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT BEING THE RECOLLECTIONS AND REMINISCECES OF EDNA BOLD. July 27th 1978. Found at The Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, at Brunel University.

N.B. All images link to their original source.

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