Marion Owen’s father was educated at ‘Aske’s Haberdashers School’ (Owen, p. 9) but he decided to take a more creative route. However, he still valued education very highly and wanted his daughters to excel at school. Neither Marion nor her sister ‘particularly shone at school’ (Owen, p. 24) which was ‘disappointing’ (Owen, p. 24) for her father and he often punished them for not trying hard enough. Marion did take after her father’s creative side as the only thing she ‘shone at was drawing’ (Owen, p. 15). Marion remembers specifically a wonderful drawing she did of ‘King Canute’ (Owen, p 15) when she was in her first school. When she attended a more advanced school Marion was ‘put in form IB, I was never in an A form’ she later discovered that ‘B’s were second raters’ (Owen, p. 23). This shows that Marion was not a high achieving student but also how the ranking from the school may have affected her confidence.
Jonathon Rose argues that ‘teachers and taught were sworn enemies’ (Rose, 1993, p. 123) at school with only some rare exceptions to this rule. This is shown within Marion’s memoir as she recalls the teacher at her first school being a ‘frightening woman’ (Owen, p. 17). Furthermore, when Marion attended an advanced school, she had a particular grievance with her maths teacher who she refers to as a ‘female gorgon who definitely disliked’ (Owen, p. 24) Marion as well.
Rose also argues that ‘girls were more likely to find school a positive experience’ (Rose, 1993, p. 132) but this was not always the case with Marion. Marion believes she was a ‘natural born radical’ (Owen, p. 39) which we see glimpses of in her memoir. She recalls being so bored in the library one day that she and her friend decided to ‘get out of the window, which was about 5ft from the ground’ (Owen, p. 25). This is a rather shocking thing for a young girl in the early twentieth century to do and she was punished with a suspension by the Headmistress. The school were not outraged by the fact Marion jumped out of a window but more that she acted in a way that was ‘not ladylike’ (Owen, p. 25). This shows that women were expected to behave in a certain way even at a young age.
The things that Marion remembers at school are quite interesting as she struggles to remember what she ‘learned there’ (Owen, p. 15). She vaguely recalls her teacher ‘Miss Hotchkiss’ trying to teach her how to read and states that her teacher ‘must have been successful, as I have read copiously ever since’ (Owen, p. 15). However, she does not remember any specific things that she learned at school except from how to ‘sit up straight’ (Owen, p. 18). John Burnett argues that ‘codes of manners and social etiquette are sharply remembered’ in many memoirs (Burnett, 1994, p. 32) as they were made a priority to learn at the time.
Marion does not believe that her life was shaped by what she learned at school as when she left at sixteen, she had ‘no firm idea’ (Owen, p. 26) of what she wanted to do. Despite being in education for over a decade all she left with was ‘good handwriting, an interest in English and some artistic talent’ (Owen, p. 26). Marion did not necessarily dislike school and she believed ‘life there was happy’ (Owen, p. 24) she just did not enjoy the subjects she learned such as ‘History, Geography, Arithmetic, Scripture and English’ (Owen, p. 23). After a few years Marion even went back to school to study ‘Art […] in the evenings three nights a week’ (Owen, p. 44) and says that she ‘took it quite seriously’ (Owen, p. 44). This shows that Marion appreciates learning when it is about things that are more creative.
- Burnett, John Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood, Education, and Family from the 1820s to the 1920s (Psychology Press, 1994)
- Owen, Marion. ‘I follow my nose: a potted autobiography’ Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library
- Rose, Jonathan. ‘Willingly to School: The Working-Class Response to Elementary Education in Britain, 1875-1918’ Journal of British Studies (Cambridge University Press, Vol. 32, N. 2, 1993, pp. 114-138)
- Image References
- Aske’s Haberdashers School
- Accessed 17/05/20
- ‘The Royal Readers’ book which Marion was taught in school
- Accessed 17/05/20