Although there is no doubt that school played a significant role in the life of Mary Keen, in her memoir, education and schooling is not the most dominant subject. The benefits of receiving education freely obviously were advantageous, affecting her life as she matured and developed. However, there is no mention of any certificates, achievements or skills obtained at any point. Nonetheless, given the fact that her writing is fluid, coherent, extremely well phrased and very descriptive in places, including a wide and varied range of vocabulary, we can assume that Molly Keen was an intelligent girl who learnt a lot from her time spent in the schools she attended.

Winifred and Molly were sent to a different school than their brothers, given the fact that the boys had to walk a long way from home, and faced the danger of crossing a busy road. From this, I imagine that Molly’s parents were quite protective of the girls and put their safety first. It perhaps was more dangerous for girls to walk alone than boys. Thus, they were sent to the Roman Catholic school which was attached to the church, only a short distance from their home. Molly highlights the fact that they had “no roads to cross” (p.7), signifying the importance of their welfare.

In due course, Molly was “five years old and able to go to school with Winifred” (p.7). She recalls a time before this, when she was too young to attend school. Missing Winifred, Molly scrambled over a gate in an attempt to follow her, but this resulted in Molly breaking her arm. This act demonstrates how much Molly enjoyed her sister’s company, as well as evidencing a fervent, determined and eager spirit within her from a very young age.

St. Mary's Magdalene Church: attached was the Roman Catholic School which Molly and her sister Winifred attended.
St. Mary’s Magdalene Church: attached was the Roman Catholic School which Molly and her sister Winifred attended.

At Molly’s first school, which she describes as being “quite a good school” (p.7), Winifred and Molly were taught by nuns. Although most other children were Roman Catholic, they were both made to feel “very welcome and in no way different” (p.7). They joined in with the hymns and prayers, learning them by methods of song and repetition.

Molly states how life at her first school was “happy and secure”.  She notes how her sister and she were fond of the nuns who were kind to them. Recalling with great delight how sometimes a few children were called upon to accompany Mother Maria to the bank – providing much amusement according to Molly. Mother Maria would “walk along as though with chicks under her wing” (p.8). This lovely illustration portrays a positive image of how much Mother Maria loved and cared for her pupils.

The second school which Molly attended was Alexander School for Girls, which was “no doubt better in some ways” (p.8), with “smarter teachers and better equipment” (p.8). Yet, for Molly, this school “lacked something difficult to define with what the Catholic school had” (p.8). Although Molly appears to have received a better education at this second school, she missed the sentimental ties and personal relationships with the loving nuns who were very good to the girls, treating them almost as their own children.

However, Molly does seem to have enjoyed her experience at Alexandra School for Girls and writes of how the school celebrated and marked special events such as Empire Day. During Boat Race Day which Molly describes as “another great event” (p.9), both Winifred and she wore different colours depending on which team they were supporting – Winifred wore dark blue for Oxford and Molly, light blue for Cambridge. Likewise, Empire Day “was a red letter day for all” (p.9), during which the girls went to school wearing white dresses, with red, white or blue ribbons in their hair and carrying small union jacks. As the large union jack waved in the breeze, instead of lessons they sang patriotic songs, all feeling “proud to be British” (p.9) and believing that “England was the best country in the world” (p.9). Being released from school early added to the day’s excitement: “A half day after our hearty singing added enjoyment to the proceedings.” (p.9)

Molly recounts the great feeling of joy upon the commencement of the summer holidays, which in those days was only one month. However, this was not an issue and the children all “looked forward to the prospect of freedom” (p.9).

Although not mentioned directly, I think it goes without saying that education plays a significant role in Molly’s life, even as she gets older. Later in life, Molly joins a camera club and has great satisfaction pursuing this hobby. She also enjoyed “privilege travel tickets” (p.30). Thus education benefits her, as I believe it is education which would have encouraged her to try other activities and become a more adaptable, well-rounded person. She also mentions at one point how she plays tennis. This too I think is a decision influenced by education.

Molly’s ambitious nature, I believe, was inherited from her father, uncles and grandparents, who also believed in working hard to achieve success. Her father, a master Sign Writer who “travelled many miles on a push bicycle” (p.1) back and forth to and from his work and worked lengthy hours in order to succeed in his job, also volunteered at the Red Cross, and “did work at many local churches both Roman Catholic and Protestant.” Moreover, her grandfather “followed the family business” (p.17) opening his own undertaker branch, which influenced three of Molly’s uncles to also follow a career in the undertaker business. Thus Molly has many relatives from whom she can be inspired.

On a heavier note, the devastating death of her mother encouraged Molly to reanalyse her life and think about what she truly desired. Deciding upon a nursing career, she was very cautious and sensible in choosing to hold off applying for the training programme for two years so she could enough money at the Railway where she worked, thus ensuring she would have sufficient money to get by and study while not working.

I do not think that Molly’s identity is entirely shaped by education. However, it is obvious that education had a great influence upon her life, broadening her perspective of the world, teaching her invaluable life lessons and providing her with the confidence to seek and grasp opportunities as they revealed themselves to Molly throughout her life.

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