Rosa Bell (b. 1902): Education & Schooling

The most specific mention of Rosa’s schooling experience in her memoir was the school she had attended in her village. She said that a boy who had lived there and went on to become a merchant navy captain had built it:

“It was said of him that he once vowed hed [he’d] build a school on the place where he nettled himself badly as a child and also that hed [he’d] made his money by Piracy – what wicked things folks do say” (pg. 132)

Rosa had been fortunate enough to be one of the children in her village who was left a bursary by that same man to attend Grammar school, but a major setback was the prices of travel and school essentials:

“… he was a great Benefactor to the village and also left a Bursary so that any child who was clever enough could be sent to a Grammar school – I was one of them but my parents could not at that time afford the extra cash needed for Books Railway fares” (pg. 132-133)

Selina Todd, in her book The People. The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, mentions the popularity of grammar schools during the early twentieth century: “Working-class parents strongly supported the introduction of free secondary education […] Schooling was grasped as a passport to a better life.” (pg. 217) There was a history of training working class children and adults to become teachers themselves, and Rosa did in fact move on to teaching herself: “I did take my own Sunday school class in the mornings and afternoons and then go to miss C’s Bible class in her sitting room.” (pg. 105)

She described some of the pupils and teachers who went there, one amusing memory amongst many that she recalled included her brother Robert telling her that a boy who had attended the school  went on to become the Prime Minister of New Zealand. She also praised her strict but wonderful head teacher who had favoured her particularly in class: “… he was so interested in me and often had me out in front of the class to read to them.” (pg. 134) So, Rosa was a very clever student and had made a profound impression on her superiors.

A typical twentieth century school room
A typical twentieth century school room

She had thoroughly enjoyed going to Sunday classes too and you can tell that it was a very productive and rewarding experience for her. Like the village school, she did not name the place but simply said it was a Rectory where it had also held “Girls friendly society meetings in the lovely drawing room” (pg. 104) She also described what the room looked like and which subjects she had been taught:

“We were taught in what he called his School Room a beautiful Room […] it was with an enormous Fire Place and a long table where he used to teach us French & Algebra.” (pg. 106)

However, there are no implications in Rosa’s memoir that she was ever made to feel unequal. She was overwhelmingly positive about attending as well as working at Sunday schools or any other sort of teaching establishments.


Further Reading:

  • Bell, Rosa. R.h.n. Remembers. Brunel University Library, July 1987.
  • Todd, Selina. The People. The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910-2010. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2014.

Picture Reference:

  • (a useful website if you are interested in how people from the early twentieth century lived)

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