Education was a small part of Olive’s life, she left school at the age of 13 (12) but before leaving she was given ‘general instruction into the three R’s and Geography, and needlework to the girls.’ (3) Already we can see a system in place forcing a gender role upon Olive as she is forced to do needlework for being a girl. Deirdre Beddoe describes women’s education as such:
Its influence has been enormous in propounding a set of values designed to keep women in their place and to teach them the ‘natural order’ of things.’ (46)
Conforming to the ‘natural order’ of being a woman — especially one from before the First World War when not many jobs were open for women — is a state of mind Olive carries all her life. Although later in life Olive becomes a piano tutor, she never further pursues academia after leaving school at an early age and is ultimately failed by the schooling system due to being working class. Berdoe says:
Early studies of female education in Britain concentrated on the education of middle-class English girls and upon women’s struggle to gain entry into universities… Studies of the working-class girls show a heavy emphasis on domestic training and a preparation for life as good wives and mothers.’ (46)
With a lack of academic opportunities it is easy to see why Olive blindly followed her husband to Canada without thinking about the eventual depression that would bestow upon her. Olive’s first school was not even a real school but what she describes as, ‘it was held in the Temperance Hall. This was a community hall…’ (3) Her second school — for older children — was just one large classroom, she says: ‘One third of this was divided by a curtain to make another room… There was a lobby for the boys at one end and one for the girls at the other, with a row of bucket toilets down one side of the main playground.’ (3) The state of the school seems to be the only area of knowledge that Olive can remember vividly about it. Any contempt or sadness about the school is not displayed, although no happy memories are discussed either making the reader unsure if Olive enjoyed school or not.
One interesting tidbit to note is that Olive left school at 13 yet she states, ‘Many children left school at about eleven years old, to begin employment on the farms, or in service for the girls.’ (3) Although she does not specify, I imagine Olive stayed longer at school due to her natural writing expertise as displayed throughout her autobiography. Religion overlapped into every niche of Doris’ life, including education. She says: ‘I and my two brothers attended Sunday School until we were teenagers…’ (3) Her devotion to the bible could be one of the reasons why she became a fine writer, from studying and rewriting its passages.
Later on in life after Olive has returned to England from Canada, she tells us about her oldest daughter, ‘In 1934 Dorothy left school. There was not much scope for girls – only factory work.’ (32) Even after all that time passed the education system was failing working class women. Her other daughter, Elaine also went to work in a factory after leaving school early. Olive never questions this oppressive system forcing women to go into factory work. She is just happy to have her children attend Sunday School. Marx would call this religious ISA suppressing real matters to be “opium for the people”: ‘Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people.’ (source)
Beddoe, Deirdre. ‘The Education of Girls.’ Discovering Women’s History. 3rd ed. New York: Addison Wesley Longman Limited, 1998. N. pag. Print.
Gold, Olive Doris, ‘My Life’, The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography (Brighton: Harvester, 1987). Vol 2. Number 321.