Ellen Gill (1888-1988): Education and Schooling – Writing Lives

Ellen Gill (1888-1988): Education and Schooling

One year I was the only scholar with a full attendance.’ (p1)

Schooling proved to be an important part of Ellen’s life and one of the main focuses that surround her childhood. ‘I loved school and never stayed away if I could help it.’ (p.1).  Her enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge is conveyed through her positive stance towards schooling. Expressing the anxieties she felt when she had to take her younger brother to school in fear that she would be late to class highlights her eagerness to be a worthy student.

(St. Mark’s Church School, Raglan Road)

However, coming from a working-class background Ellen had to leave school at 13 years old to take on the responsibilities of domestic life experiencing an early ascent into adulthood. The memoir highlights on the awareness that schooling depended on the family economy and thus it was foreseeable that Ellen would have to withdraw from education at such a young age. Many working class children were forced to leave school during the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century to support their family, girls for domestic work around the home, and boys to find paid labour; ‘Adult males were ideally, and normally in practice, the main wage earners; their wives, particularly once children started to be born, rarely worked for wages on a regular basis outside the home; children found waged work as soon as they were able, or as soon as the law allowed, and turned over most of their earnings to their mothers for family use’[enter reference when finished]. Ellen left to work at a tailorsand to help her mother with housework. However, she does not express any sign of sadness when speaking about withdrawing from school, here we sense Ellen’s gender consciousness playing part as she herself was aware of her responsibilities and thus making very little impact.

Sunday School, LeedsIn addition to this, Sunday school was an extra form of education that Ellen and her siblings attended at Trinity Congregational church in Woodhouse Lane. Her attitude towards attending Sunday School seems somewhat submissive, ‘I never remember being interested in any of the sermons.’ (p.4) The purpose ‘initially of Sunday schools was on the education and instruction of the poor…special worship material was produced for them’, and by numbers increased rapidly ‘and by 1900 there were at least five million children attending them in Britain’[3]. This religious education taught such subjects as duty and morality, about creation and warning of sins. They were given prayers, hymns and extracts from the Bible to read, and in the memoir there is a tone of disinterest which may possibly highlight her thoughts on religious education.

The lack of opportunities Ellen had growing up makes me believe that this played a positive influence on the way she views schooling. She decides to attend night classes at Woodhouse Temperance, further educating herself in tailoring which appears to be one of her true passions and reinforcing the idea that she liked to learn and it was very important to her. Furthermore, we find out that Ellen becomes a Sunday school teacher and her husband Arthur became a Sunday School Superintendent confirming Ellen’s perspective on the importance of education playing an influential role in a person’s life.



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