Edna’s experience of her childhood education could be seen as having both a mixture of good and bad feelings, she says, ‘I knew that as a dancer I would be second rate, never likely to reach professional standards. I kept on course, finished school and finally went through the college gates in Ripon to begin a two year course.’ (Page 57). At this point in her life, Edna was feeling a sense of doubt as if she did not believe in herself to make it professionally as a dancer. Edna continues, ‘The sense of release and freedom I felt through this kind of movement brought such a revulsion to the hard, dry discipline of school, that I planned to leave, skip college and become a dancer. But, qualified to enter college, with my Preliminary School Teacher’s certificate sealed, signed and delivered, and a place in Training College secured, I was on my way, too far on my way. I drifted, wasted time.’ (Page 57). As a reader, this statement is very disheartening and upsetting, as I feel that if only Edna would have believed in herself she could have had a change in career. However, it is virtuous that Edna believed that she chose the right path and inevitably met some of the people in her life that she would not have met without doing what she did, such as Alice Booth and her husband.
Throughout her time at Ripon College, Edna dedicates a number of pages to describe what she was allowed to do and wear and not allowed to do or wear. She says, ‘Make-up was non-existent. It was forbidden to speak to any male, except by written permission of the parent. It was forbidden to leave the premises unaccompanied. Sex did not exist. The word did not exist. The facts of life were never mentioned or discussed.’ (Page 59). It is obvious that these rules were marked in Edna’s mind from her time at the college through to nearly the end of her life when she wrote the memoir.
I believe that Edna Bold’s identity was definitely shaped as a result of her experiences from her education and learning. She states, ‘A little ‘Further Education’ enlarged and enlightened the timid and immature alike’ (page 37). Here, Edna is subtly referring to herself as the ‘timid and immature’ type of student that would typically grow as a person, both physically, mentally growing boundaries but also knowledgably.
It was very often that many young children felt privileged to be a part of any type of education throughout the country, especially if they were not part of a wealthy family. Carol Dyhouse claims: ‘Clearly most students, even those from the least affluent homes, were to some degree dependent on family finance, even if only to the extent of being fed and accommodated during vacations. The decision to study at a local university, close enough to allow daily commuting from the parental home, was of course common’ (Dyhouse, page 214). Dyhouse is stating how it was very common for those to have gained acceptance into University to stay close to home to receive financial help from their families. It was even less common for women to be a part of any type of further education, as many people did not want to see them be anything more than a housewife. Edna states: ‘I was considered lucky when I began secondary school in the centre of Manchester, yet the idyllic, true world of childhood was over. The child forgot itself being swamped with learning that bore no relation either to itself or life’ (page 36). It is clear that here; Edna appears to be very distressed when remembering her childhood experiences and how her education played a part in the ending of it.
Elizabeth Bird states: ‘The ‘domestic’ is the separate sphere of the home which is woman’s glory, certainly her destiny, but which can also be seen as a confinement from which able and ambitious women were seeking an escape into the public life, either as activists (both suffragist and philanthropist) or as professionals.’ (Bird, Page 125). Many people believe that a woman’s ‘destiny’ was solely to be either working in a household, her own or helping in someone else’s. However, it is also stated how the home can appear as a sort of restricting space that confines a woman from achieving her goals. Luckily, Edna did not have this problem, as stated in a previous blog on Home and Family that you can find here, her father was a great believer in her and wanted her to achieve the greatest that she could.
Edna continues by stating how she believes her education has affected her and the other young children around her, ‘Dry as dust knowledge was poured into colander-like craniums, and any wretched, under-par child was expected to absorb that which refused to be contained. Its self-respect, its confidence, its love of life was eroded. To love life, to live life was not the prime function of education, though out-of-school interests in music and literature gave a nod to culture and a liberalising influence on academic policy’ (page 36). Here, Edna is simply stating how she recalls her education to have sucked the life out of her, rather than to make her feel better. Although most children have similar feelings towards how their school life and education has effected them, Edna provides us with deep examples and similes that help her describe what the education system in the early 1900’s has done to her.
Education is definitely one of the more prominent themes that Edna has chosen to include in her memoir. She has a deep connection with her past and the people that she has met as a result of it. This is similar to Bronagh Haughey’s blog post on her author, Ellen Cooper, which you can find here. Ellen’s memoir is also predominantly themed on education.
Bold, Edna. ‘The long and short of it. Being the recollections and reminiscences of Edna Bold’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:85, available at https://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/9420
Bird, Elizabeth. ‘‘High Class Cookery’: Gender, Status and Domestic Subjects 1890 – 1930’. Gender and Education, 10 .2, 1998: 117-131.
Dyhouse, Carol. ‘Signing the Pledge? Woman’s Investment in University Education and Teacher Training before 1939’. History of Education, 26. 2, 1997: 207-223.
NB: all pictures and images have links of their source.