Kathleen Betterton (B.1913) : Habits, Culture and Belief

Early twentieth century children skipping
Early twentieth century children skipping


There is not much mention in Kathleen Betterton’s memoir about any extra interests she had other than education and politics. She spent the most of her leisure time delved into a book or writing pieces of literature and poetry. She remembers of how the neighbouring children spent a lot of time in the street playing out. This was common amongst the working-class children. Kathleen spent the most of her time playing inside, ‘for my mother feared I might become ‘rough’- a fear of all good working-class mothers’ (21).  Working-class children would spend hours playing games outside such as skipping, playing with marbles and hopscotch.


Against Kathleen’s choice her parents pushed her into playing the piano. She had no interest in music; listening or learning it. The piano reflects her mother’s attitude, being taught the piano was a ‘symbol of a certain social achievement’ (54). It was a very middle-class Victorian culture. It was not until her twenties that she began to enjoy music, as a leisure activity.


Her beliefs and preferences stayed similar to that of when she was a child, she just developed them. From a young age Kathleen and her friend Edith would read and act out plays as well as her love for debating over the stories they had read. During her time at Christ’s Hospital boarding school her class conscious also developed. She was mixing with other opinionated, academic children, it was here that her first real taste for politics awakened.


During her time at Oxford Kathleen’s main habit, political interests lead her to her involvement with the Labour party group. She was a socialist; her strong beliefs for equality are manifested throughout her autobiography. She participated in activist marches in supporting her beliefs. She combined her habits with her social life; she had the same interests as her academic friends. She enjoyed having her friends round, sitting, smoking cigarettes and staying up all night discussing politics. It was her education that shaped and formed her perception on life.


Once leaving University, she does not talk about any leisure activities or cultural habits she participated in other than her interests into politics and education. Kathleen due to her occupation of coaching the children of the wealthy gave her insight into the leisure time of the privileged world. She was given not only insight, but allowed to take part in the activities such as golf and horse riding. One activity she did not like to take part in was hunting- but never voiced her opinions to her employers. Kathleen travelled a fair bit for someone who started life of as working-class. She enjoyed travelling, staying with friends even going on a ‘girls holiday’ to Wales; it was a distant reality to those of her class. Later on in life she travelled abroad to France with Richard and also her mother.


Kathleen enjoyed the finer things she was introduced to in  her life. Although not mentioned a lot, she does recollect how she and her friends would ‘go to the theatre, both to the Rep. And to a little experimental theatre’ (203). It was the middle-class culture that she also enjoyed.


Her mother grew up in a devoted Catholic family. Kathleen when a child did attend the local Anglican church where she ‘reluctantly attended Sunday school’ (14) . Religion is not a significant theme within her memoir, but she does talk about how as a child she always said her nightly prayer.



Betterton. K. (1975)’ White Pinnies, Black Aprons….. ‘Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library: Special Collection. 2:71


Bourdieu, Pierre (2010). ‘Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste’. Oxon: Routledge


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