‘I was developing into a clever little girl … I wanted very badly to get good marks, to please my mother, she was my inspiration’
Born in 1899 into a working-class family, Lottie Martin grew up in Beeston, Nottingham. Martin’s memoir Never Let Anyone Draw the Blinds explores the role education played in her life. However, it is important to explore how gender and social class affected Lottie’s chances of developing academically.
The Elementary Education Act of 1870 entitled all children regardless of class to a free education. It is interesting to note the immediate differences in education between Lottie’s generation and her mother’s generation:
‘despite the fact that she could neither read or write herself she had a great desire that her children should benefit from the free education now a compulsory law and always sent us to school regularly’.
As Lottie’s mother did not receive free education, her literacy rates were consequently affected. Indeed, education changed drastically from the late 18th Century to the early 20th Century. William Cameron, born in 1785, writes about his schooling:
‘My teacher was an old decrepit man who had tried to be a nailer … he was quite unfit … I was as far advanced as my teacher’[i].
It is important to recognise and compare the education amongst the working-classes. But as Jonathan Rose states, the Elementary Education Act was a ‘better than nothing institute’[ii].
From Lottie’s memoir we gain a sense that children were being taught more discipline than academic work: ‘Punctuality was one of the things we were taught’. Rose confirms this idea when he writes: ‘most Victorian and Edwardian schools did a fair job of teaching the basics … They succeeded in maintaining discipline’[iii]. Therefore, we can see that teaching was only satisfactory as children were taught mainly the ‘basics’ and discipline.
Regardless of this moderate depiction of schooling, Lottie ‘was developing into a clever little girl’ and highly enjoyed school: ‘I was quite clever at school and this delighted my mother, everyone was shown my reports’. Not only was school an enjoyable time for Lottie, it was also a proud time for her mother.
There are undertones, however, that suggest Lottie worked hard at school just for her mother’s benefit: ‘but I could never sew very well … I knew this and it always caused me great worry for I wanted very badly to get good marks, to please my mother, she was my inspiration’. Lottie’s mother, after giving birth to her last child, became very ill. Lottie was more worried about being bad at sewing for her mother’s sake rather than for her own profit. Lottie’s academic progress, therefore, was a beneficial distraction for her mother.
However, it is later on in the discourse that Lottie’s language becomes mournful as her ambitions were obliterated. Lottie’s working-class identity ultimately shaped her future prospects:
‘I … sat examinations with a view to further education … alas this was not to be … Sarah Ann would have to buy my uniform and books and pay my train…she had other ideas for me, I never reached Brincliffe College, and my ideas of becoming a teacher … never materialised’.
We can see how Lottie’s working-class status has prevented her from achieving her dreams. College would mean further expense for the working-class Martin family as they would have to pay for clothing, transport and books.
Gender was also a major factor in preventing Lottie from achieving academic success. It was expected of a girl of thirteen, who had just left school, to enter into the domestic world of the home on a full-time basis: ‘But no one at home encouraged me except perhaps in my cookery … Mrs Hemmings … immediately asked for my services on Saturday mornings to make her mince pies’. Domestic duties – designated to the woman of society – have taken priority in this case where Lottie was required to take one of her first jobs in baking pies and cakes for her neighbour.
Rose states that: ‘according to Standish Meacham, neither parents not children were much interested in further education’[iv]. Lottie’s memoir challenges this statement. Indeed, Lottie was ‘considered a well-spoken intelligent child’ who had dreams of becoming a teacher. However, both social class and gender prevented any chance of success.
However, the story does not end there. In the postscript of Never Let Anyone Draw the Blinds Paula Hill – Lottie’s granddaughter – informs us that in later years Lottie eventually achieved her dreams by becoming a cookery teacher. Alongside full-time employment, Lottie attended night school to fulfil her ambitions. This proves that one must fight for one’s goals regardless of such social factors as class and gender as they will ultimately come true.
[i] Cited in Jonathan Rose’s The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001) p. 176
[i][i] Ibid, p.153
[iii] Ibid, p.186
[iv] Ibid, p.172
Barker, Lottie, ‘My Life as I Remember It, 1899-1920′, TS, pp.70 (c.31,000 words). Brunel University Library.
Burnett, John, David Vincent, David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography (Brighton: Harvester, 1987) vol.2 no.37.
Hill, Paula Never Let Anyone Draw the Blinds by Lottie Martin (Nottingham: 125 Bramcote Lane, 1985.
Rose, Jonathan. The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001)