Phyllis L. Buss (1902): Home & Family – Writing Lives

Phyllis L. Buss (1902): Home & Family

“I have heard say that ‘That Driver Family’ are well turned out.” (p4)


Family and home life are a central theme in the memoir of Phyllis L. Buss, the influence she obtains from her various family members is significant to positively moulding her own views and morals.  It is clear that his family are extremely important to her, as firstly she focuses her memoir on her immediate family during her childhood, and then continues onto her husband and her own daughters in her adulthood.

It is not surprising that her family had a major influence upon her life as she had a vast one. From the 1911 census, Phyllis’ household consisted of her parents; Harry and Harriett Driver and her six brothers! Cecil and Oliver who were her elders, and William, Aubrey, Alfred and Leonard who were younger.  Phyllis was the only female sibling, and she notes how;  ‘my birth was a truly very happy event since my mother’s first baby girl had died…I would think that I was petted a good deal as a daughter was really wanted by my parents'(p1).


(1911 England Census, showing the Driver family who resided in 5 Dychurch Lane, Northampton. List of names and ages of entire family.)

The death of young children was not an uncommon occurrence in the 1900s, it was something that most families had to endure, both rich and poor. Young children died from such epidemics as Whooping Cough, Measles, Diarrhoea, Diphtheria and Scarlet Fever, working-class families had an increased chance of catching illnesses due to their lack of hygienic housing, cold temperatures and no medical assistance.

Being the only female child in a household of boys could have been challenging for Phyllis, as she grew up in a working class environment where it was usually expected for female children to help with domestic duties rather than males, whose education took preference (this is discussed further in the Life & Labour post) However, it seems as though Phyllis did have an extremely good relationship with her brothers; she describes playing outside with them as children, causing mischief by playing truant and making jokes of other people; ‘My brothers told me that he had a birds nest behind his long dirty beard and I tried to picture a baby robin hiding there.'(p4) Being labelled a ‘Tom-Boy'(p2), Phyllis obviously learnt to play alongside males due to not having any sisters, and being one of only three families in the street in which she grew up, especially in the masculine based industry of the Fire Service that her father was employed into, there must have been a lack of female playmates.

This is why, I believe, that her Grandmother was such an inspirational figure to Phyllis in that she constantly mentions her anecdotes, her morals, her sayings and most of her memories include the presence of this ‘wise old lady.'(p5) This is because of both gender and generational reasons, that she was a female figure that Phyllis could admire. Firstly, her Grandmother was a lady whom assisted with the birth and care of every single sibling: ‘I suppose today she would be called a Home Help but then an Under Midwife. The best in all the World.'(p1).  She also gave Phyllis life advice as a child: ‘Grandma said it was food or the brain and I did wish to be clever'(p3) and such medical myths like ‘remembering my Granma saying that sitting on cold steps would result in Rheumatism or worse in later life.'(p5) She tells how they ‘laughed and laughed together'(p7) and Phyllis also found her Grandmothers memories to be extremely interesting, stating that she ‘would never tire of [her] stories of how she did when she was in training'(p7) to be a seamstress. This could be the reason why Phyllis writes this memoir, as she constantly relays memories of her own Grandmother, and her audience, as stated at the end of the text, is Phyllis’ own grandchildren. Phyllis obviously wishes her own grandchildren to look up to and take her advice, just as she did to her Grandmother as a child.

Working Class Children

(Example of a group of working-class children in the 1900s)

Although Phyllis and the Driver family were of a working-class background, it seems that they were respected within the community, most probably because of her father’s occupation in the Fire Brigade and Motorman for the Merryweather fire engine. Phyllis writes; ‘I have heard say that ‘That Driver Family’ are well turned out. True very true, did not our father quench fires to earn extra money to keep his family well clad, well fed? and above all well behaved?'(p4) They were ‘taught to do any kind deed'(p6) for the elderly, and ‘like well brought up children, attended St. Giles Sunday School'(p4) (Sunday School is discussed further in the Education & Schooling post).

Phyllis is evidently a very family orientated person, it is only a couple of times that she mentions anyone outside of her immediate family whilst writing about work, for the most part she focuses on her parents, brothers, Grandmother and then her husband and two daughters. Once she writes of meeting her husband though, she no longer writes about her own family, but changes the focus of the end of the memoir to them. She is obviously extremely thankful for the birth of her own daughters, Brenda and Audrey, and takes pride in mentioning their occupations and how successful they have become. She writes how having her own family was ‘the happiest years’ of her life, and when she found herself ‘becoming a mother’, her Grandmother was too old to assist in the birth but was ‘happy to give her blessings and prayers.'(p12)

Working Class Fam

(Example of a working-class families residence during the early twenieth century)

Phyllis ends the memoir by stating: ‘My husband and I are very proud of our five grandchildren. We had a grand get together last Jan. 24th to celebrate our Golden Wedding.'(p13) Phyllis was fortunate enough in her life to have many generations of a happy, devoted, caring and loving family. From her childhood living with her parents and sibling brothers, with the addition of having her Grandmother around, to living with her husband and having two daughters, to then gaining five grandchildren of her own. Her pride for her vast family shines through her writing, especially in mentioning her Grandmother’s quotes and morals, as well as finally dedicating the piece to members of the younger generation of the Buss/Driver family.


Image 1) – 1911 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.

Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1911. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA), 1911.

Image 2)

Image 3)

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