One of Powell’s most consistent themes throughout her memoir is the education and schooling side of her childhood. She provides readers with invaluable insight and descriptions of her experiences, particularly her thoughts on the orphanage staff.
Powell reflects fondly on her teacher Mrs Harrison, reminiscing that she made lessons as interesting as possible for the girls, including singing and poetry. Powell writes, ‘She certainly made conditions happier for the inmates’ (p.13)
“Miss Harrison never had any favourites. She seemed equally interested in each girl”
The happiest memories from everyday life within the orphanage appear to involve time spent with Miss Harrison. Powell adds that she ‘loved’ the long walks she took us on, as she would ask the girls questions about trees, flowers and the fauna, also taking the children on a bus journey to go and see how the canals worked. It appears that Powell’s main experiences of gaining an education about the world and feeling free from child labour were due to the kindness of Miss Harrison, who from Powell’s memoir, seemed to have a genuine care and interest towards bettering the children’s lives. It’s also interesting to note that Powell met Miss Harrison 25 years later, summarising:
“It was a good thing that she turned down better jobs to come and help us, and a blessing that she was a dedicated teacher”
This particular reflection from Powell conveys the profound influence Miss Harrison had on her life, and the very important, somewhat maternal role she played in her childhood. It is especially striking that Powell uses religious language such as ‘blessing’ here, as it juxtaposes significantly with the rest of her references to religion and being forced to feel grateful for her life throughout her memoir. With that in mind, the use of it here sheds light on how grateful Powell really was for Miss Harrison’s presence within the orphanage, suggesting that life could have been a lot worse for her if she’d had the misfortune of a more harsh, less caring teacher.
Powell, Florence, ‘An Orphanage in the Thirties’, duplicated pamphlet, Illustrated. Brunel University Library