Dora R. Hannan (1909-2001): Purpose and Audience

“In the following pages, I have endeavoured to convey how wonderful women, like my mother, carried on against sometimes fearful odds, to rear big families unaided, and to turn them into good, well disciplined citizens” [p. 1]. As she says herself in her memoir, Dora writes to celebrate her mother and the way she raised her five siblings. She highlights the amazing abilities of her mother, and the other naval wives, by evidencing that single parenthood was not out of their choice, but rather a situation forced on to them, which they so greatly dealt with.

“When I was a child in the second decade of the 20th century, and in the Naval Dockyard town where I was born and brought up, one parent families were more or less the rule. Not for present day reasons such as mother and father absconding from their responsibilities, or because of divorce which is now much more common and easier to obtain.” [p. 1]

Navy Personnel from the First World War

Dora may also be writing with a political agenda in mind, as she makes her family’s conservative views apparent: “For people who were not well endowed either with money or worldly good, my parents always voted Conservative” [p. 24]. This political commentary, added in with the comments on state welfare, such as: “People who are now able to claim for this and that allowance … have no idea how the wives and mothers managed to bring up large families singlehanded” [p.1], show that Dora is writing with a political view. As she explicitly compares the past and present retrospectively, expressing the change and difference of the world in which she grew up in; she details how much easier it is now for people in Britain, then at the time of her childhood.

Labour Party Conference, 1909

From looking at Dora’s records, we know that the earliest year she could have started writing her memoir was in 1935 (See Introduction for more details). This time can be seen as when the Labour party fully established themselves as one of the two leading political parties in Britain (Savage & Miles, 1994). (To read more about the creating and rise of the Labour party, see this post on John Gibson! (Hogg, 2018) The party started to campaign and propose ideas for a better welfare state, including the introduction of council housing and estates (Savage & Miles, 1994). We can see the starting point of welfare in Dora’s older siblings childhood, as the Education Bill was introduced in 1906, 3 years prior to Dora being born. This enabled local authorities to provide free school meals for children during school time, if they felt it absolutely necessary (Stewart, 1993). However, we can see from Dora’s telling of her usual daily routine of a school day, consisting of going home at noon for a cooked meal from her mother, (see Home and Family for more details) that this facility was not available to her or others around her.

To consider that Dora is writing from a time where the welfare state has since changed and expanded, is where we can get an idea of what she is writing for. Dora expresses the lack of welfare that her family experienced in her childhood by noting that her mother: “Must have juggled with the pennies to feed and clothe us. No state hand outs or Labour saving devices in those days” [p. 7]. The change in welfare, that was not originally available to Dora’s family in her childhood, shows us how Dora now views society differently. Dora reflects this view in her memoir, as she comments on how people now have it easier. Because of this, Dora’s memoir acts as a political comment on the new society that she is writing in, and she commends the women who worked so hard under these tough conditions, considering now, people have it so easy.

View of Portsmouth from Gosport Ferry

It seems to me that Dora was most likely not writing for her family. Although she highly praises her mother for the brilliant childhood that she had, her views on her father towards the end tend to be quite negative. “The happy life we had known when Dad was in the Navy and only a casual visitor, gradually changed … He was increasingly irritable and short tempered and difficult to live with” [p. 34]. She also speaks quite poorly of her youngest brother Percival, “I learned that another addition to the family was imminent, and I really hated and resented his coming now that I know the facts behind it” [p. 34].

Dora explains that her bitterness towards her father and brother, stem from the fact that Percival seemed to be her father’s favourite child. “Dad’s attitude towards this boy never changed throughout the rest of his life, he could do no wrong … I can only think he looks on this last child as something special because he hadn’t really seen the rest of us growing up” [p. 34]. This resentment presented is presumably something that ideally would not have been read by the family. Thus, Dora’s memoir, although dedicated to her mother, was most likely not made for the enjoyment of the rest of her siblings or her parents. It is also unlikely that she was writing for her children. Upon research of Dora’s records, she had one child after her marriage with John Hannan, a Clifford Hannan, whom sadly passed in 1973 aged 39. Due to this, it may be that Dora was reflecting on her childhood and her mother, after experiencing motherhood, and losing it. Considering this, the memoir may be purely written for the celebration of her mother and women like her, who survived as a single parent in the time of her childhood, despite the hard times that they experienced. The subtle political stance that she takes within the memoir, may also act as a critique on the welfare state that she saw develop whilst in her adulthood.

To see when the next post is up, and discover more information about Dora, follow me on Twitter at ‘wl_d_hannan’!

Works Cited

357 HANNAN, Dora R., ‘Those Happy Highways: An Autobiography’, TS, pp.36 (c.20,000 words). Brunel University Library.

Hogg, D. (2018) John Gibson (1887-1980): Politics and Protest. Writing Lives. [blog] URL: Date Accessed: 25/04/18

Savage, M & Miles, A. (1994) The Remaking of the British Working Class 1840-1940. Routledge: London.

Stewart, J. (1993) Ramsay MacDonald, the Labour Party, and Child Welfare, 1900-1914. Twentieth Century British History. 4(2) p. 105-125


Royal Museums Greenwich (2018) First World War Lives at Sea. [image] URL: Date accessed: 09/02/18

Labour Party Conference 1909. Hayes People’s History. (2016) Labour Party Conference 1909. [image] URL: Date accessed: 09/02/18

Antique Maps and Prints. (2018) Portsmouth: View from Gosport Ferry. [image] URL: Date Accessed: 09/02/18


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *