‘In September I attended my first English school with a proper uniform and games, much to Betty’s satisfaction.’ (p17)
As a well-travelled young girl by the age of five Kathleen had experienced an education in a Garrison school in Hong Kong and was now getting ready for her first day in her new convent school in Chester. Unlike her sister Betty, ‘school did not make a great impression’ (p8) on Kathleen however her school in Chester ‘was by far the best school I had ever attended’(p18). Kathleen’s time in education will be split in to two separate blogs as her experiences, both home and abroad, of schooling are explored alongside her and her sister, Betty’s experiences.
Being from the latter collection of working-class memoirs Kathleen is writing from a period where ‘the majority of schooling became ‘compulsory after 1876’ (Burnett, 166). It is therefore significant that Kathleen despite her apparent love hate relationship with education completed her full sixteen years of education. Reflecting upon her childhood friend Sheila she describes, ‘she was a child at eleven and in five short years, matured, fell in love, married and died, while I was still at school’ (p68). Sheila’s decision to leave education and become a married woman suggests that despite education becoming compulsory many young girls still chose to follow a path of domesticity and marriage.
‘She was also considered to be the brainy one of the family and was conscientious at school, I was rather too dreamy and imaginative, loving English and History, but finding mathematics a nightmare.’ (p33)
Throughout her memoir, Kathleen makes many references to her feeling somewhat insubordinate to her sister Betty’s educational abilities and often comparing her and her sisters schooling experiences. Whilst in Chester Kathleen learns to read and this became ‘one of the greatest delights of the whole of my life’ (p20). As a child Kathleen appears to be immersed in a fictional world – she enjoys nothing more than being allowed to run free with her imagination – something her ability to read allowed her.
Upon her father’s post to India, Kathleen and her sister began the next part of their education in a ‘Presentation Convent’. Kathleen reflects fondly upon her time in this new school: ‘I had practically no competition at all when it came to essay writing and history, and I enjoyed being at the Convent right from the beginning.’(p62) A stark contrast to her experiences in Chester, it would appear Kathleen develops a new love for education and schooling as she becomes aware that she is one of the highest performers in her class.
In contrast to Kathleen is her sister Betty’s experience of school in India, ‘she was like a fish out of water. She also had no competition to speak of, but unlike me this worried her as she was more academically minded than I and I suppose did not feel stretched enough in her capacity to learn.’ (p62) Kathleen appears to relish in her new role as ‘top of the class’, however her sister Betty, who throughout the memoir is presented as an individual with a real love for education, appears unnerved by her time in the Indian convent as her educational advancement is threatened.
Both Kathleen and Betty provide an insight into young women’s enjoyment of education and learning, through their privileged background they were able to attend some of the best schools available in their areas. John Burnett states, ‘auto biographers make it clear that schooling often had to take second place to the needs of the family economy’ (p8). Kathleen and her sister appear to have been lucky in their education and childhood compared to other autobiographers, as they have experienced an education not limited by their class and wealth.
Lindley, Kathleen M: ‘A time to be born’ Typescript. 98pp 1976, Brunel University Library.
Burnett, John: ‘Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood, Education, and Family from the 1820s to the 1920s’ London, 1982.
French School; A Sister of Charity; The Bowes Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/a-sister-of-charity-45684
Image of nuns taken from: