MOLLY KEEN (B.1903): POLITICS, PROTEST & CLASS

As Molly’s memoir reflects mainly upon events, experiences and memories from her childhood and youth, it is not surprising that a personal interest in politics is excluded from her ‘Childhood Memories’. However, Molly does allude to certain events which, whether she was aware or not, indicated social and cultural changes within the country.

Molly mentions “in due course [she] was five years old and able to go to school with Winifred. (p.7) At this time, the working class attended elementary schools and it was only the upper and middle classes who were able to afford fee-paying grammar and public schools. It was the Balfour’s Education Act of 1902 which first introduced state secondary education. An agreement was reached that grammar schools “were given grants if they gave 25% of their places to poor pupils.”[1] Working class children were given the equal opportunity of taking the necessary exam which, if they passed, would guarantee them a place in a grammar school. However, the unfortunate reality was, despite some children winning themselves a place; most could not go as their parents did not have the money to be able to fund the essential equipment and uniform. Molly mentions how she was fortunate to be able to attend a secondary school, “Alexandra School for Girls” (p.8) which was “no doubt better in some ways with smarter teachers and better equipment” (p.8). This was possible for Molly because her parents worked relentlessly to secure a steady income so as to provide their children with as many opportunities in life as possible. Belonging to the upper working class, Molly was able to receive secondary education and teaching which encouraged her to enrol upon a nursing course later in life.

In mentioning the death of her grandfather and consequent sale of his house and property, Molly highlights the power of twentieth century socialism. With the election of the liberal government in 1906, numerous reforms were introduced which would benefit the working class, such as free school meals and school medical inspections.[2] However, with socialists upholding the belief that “the state should own industry and land”[3], after the death of Molly’s grandfather, the situation was made worse with the realisation that his “house and grounds were to be sold” (p.16) as the remaining family could not afford to maintain the  house and grounds in sufficient running order and were under constant pressure from the government to yield their property to the state.

Molly, a sentimentalist and lover of nature who enjoyed many jubilant times spent in the “paradise” (p.14) of her grandfather’s garden, was not pleased to hear that a new motor road was to be built right through the grounds of the property, affirming, ““Speed had taken over where once there was peace and colour” (p.16) This reflects how voiceless the working class people were against a powerful and affluent governmentAs I have mentioned in other blogs, the First World War is a fundamental event within Molly’s memoir. An experience which “affected the smallest to highest in land” (p.25), the entire country was sent into a state of disarray with the effects of the war impacting upon everyone. Molly notes how there was a “frenzy of anti-German feeling very strongly all over country. A baker’s shop in Hounslow with the owner known to be of German origin although naturalised had his shop smashed up and had to close the business” (p.25). This evidences the division and malice occurring amongst what pre-war, had been peaceful communities. Moreover, with cargo ships struggling to reach Britain due to the Germans, food became limited therefore necessary implications were induced in the form of rationing: “At home we were on strict rations” (p.27). This restriction of food and materials was a regulation for all classes, but in particular it was the working class who suffered the most, with less money to purchase essential items for survival.

Food Rationing
Food Rationming: Housewives queue outside baker and confectioner ‘Williamson’s’ on High Road, Wood Green, London

Molly also makes reference to the Suffragettes; the women who “had for years been fighting for the right to vote for parliament by supporting the Suffragette movement” (p.35). Although a horrific event for all, the First World War provided these women with an opportunity to prove themselves. With men all over the country off fighting at war, the Suffragettes “at once rose to the occasion and showed the government their mettle and courage. They filled the places of the men who joined up performing all kinds of jobs including heavy and dangerous ones.” (p.35) Molly explains how there soon were “women tram conductors and bus conductors, postmen,” (p.35), women “in munitions and other jobs usually done by men” (p.35). With a consistent determination to achieve their desired goals, the Suffragettes fought for their cause with impeccable vigour, eventually accomplishing what they set out to realize: “In 1918 women over 30 were allowed to vote. Women over 21 who owned a house or were married to a house owner were allowed to vote. Meanwhile in 1907 a new law allowed women to stand for election in borough, district and council elections. From 1919 women were allowed to sit on juries and become lawyers and magistrates.  In 1928 universal suffrage was introduced. Afterwards anyone over the age of 21 could vote.”[4] Through this we can see how Molly’s life altered because of the Suffragettes gaining more equal rights for women and giving working class women more opportunities to advance themselves with more ambitious careers and a more prominent voice within society.

SuffragettesImage 1: http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib/45/media-45019/large.jpg

Image2:http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-eHXjxdPAmL0/TjKrKF T3lI/AAAAAAAAANo/9mRYbgSaf3Q/s1600/Suffragettes.jpg


[1]ttp://www.localhistories.org/20thengland.html

[3]ttp://www.localhistories.org/20thengland.html

[4]http://www.localhistories.org/20thengland.html

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