A basic educational system was operating in Britain by 1914, and whilst for most schoolchildren it did not take them beyond the elementary age limit of 12, Norah Elliott progressed in education up until she was 22. Norah’s autobiography is bursting with fond memories of her days throughout education. From school Christmas concerts to Botany classes, it is evident that Norah thoroughly enjoyed her education, so much so that she went on to become a teacher herself.
Norah was educated at various schools due to her family history of adoption. She first attended Albert Street School in Hucknall, where she was born. Norah doesn’t talk much about her education at this elementary school, rather she remembers fond memories such as her Christmas school concert. By 1910 nearly half a million school girls in England were attending domestic education classes, and as Norah doesn’t give details about her education, we must assume she also partook in these classes. This is supported by the school experiences of other working-class girls such as Mrs W.E Palmer (b.1908) whose ‘school lessons were influenced by the gender assigned roles of patriarchal society.’ (Rimmer, 2017). As discussed by Professor Joanna Bourke, it is possible that lessons in housework and domestic activities were ‘part of an attempt by the middle classes to disseminate a particular form of domestic ideology amongst working-class girls, ensuring that they knew their ‘place’ in society.’ (Bourke, 2008) And when Norah reached High school, her education became much more academic, like today’s.
Mundella High School seems to be a highlight of Norah’s schooling experience. Norah studied Geoffey Chaucer, as well as playing the part of Celia in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Not only did Norah enjoy her classes at Mundella High, she was also particularly sporty. ‘I used to enjoy playing cricket, I wasn’t brilliant at batting or bowling or fielding but got in the 1st eleven as an all rounder’, she writes. In addition, Norah was also on the tennis first team and on the second team in hockey. Although she admits she ‘was not brilliant at [tennis] or gymnastics or athletics.’
“I must have thought of my mother and written eloquently”
Norah also goes into great detail about her classes. She took Botany, Chemistry, Physics and Maths, and during her last year at Mundella, Norah attended Biology evening classes at Nottingham College on Shakespeare Street. After revealing she achieved a distinction in English, Norah movingly notes, ‘I must have thought of my mother and written eloquently’.
Interestingly, Norah states that Mrs Elliott, her adopted mother, ‘delivered an ultimatum that if [Norah] went to a College to become a teacher then [Mrs Elliott] would have nothing to do with [her] and [Norah] couldn’t live there.’ Mrs Elliott stopped talking to Norah. Sadly, Norah didn’t get a college bursary and had to attend a residential college. Norah chose Reading College, and when she left Mundella in July 1922, Norah Elliott was House captain, Prefect and member of the first tennis and cricket teams and second in the hockey team.
At Reading College, Norah studied for Special Botany with Plant Chemistry as subsidiary. Like university students now, Norah had a timetable of lectures and attendance in the laboratory. Norah didn’t make the hockey team, so instead joined the boating club and learned to scull. She also played tennis during the Spring and Summer terms, however she began to develop pains in her foot and ankle and was later diagnosed with incipient tuberculosis by her College doctor. (Find out about Norah’s illness, health and disability here). After having a year out spent with family in Halloughton due to her health problems, Norah transferred from a Degree Course to a Second Year Education Course. During this year (1924/5), Norah achieve a Certificate of Education. And just before leaving Reading College, she paid to become a life member of the Old Students Association.
Applying for general science posts, and securing a job as a science teacher at Maltby Hall School in the West Riding, meant that Norah could continue her journey through education. Defying her adopted mother, and the accustomed education for working-class girls, Norah’s teaching career proves her drive and independence. Her lengthy spell in education shows the alteration in the class system from the turn of the century, and her career in teaching exhibits her own movement within her class-orientated society.
Bourke, Joanna. Working Class Cultures in Britain, 1890-1960: Gender, Class and Ethnicity. London: Routledge, 2008.
Elliott, Norah. ‘Untitled’. The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography. Ed. John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall. Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989 (3 Vols) Nb. 2:242. Available at
‘Norah Elliott’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 2:242