It might be a repeat from my last post but I don’t think I can emphasise enough how much added value our volunteers bring to our archive collections and how much we enjoy having them working with us. We have been very lucky to have a volunteer, Sara Abou El Ella, working on a catalogue enhancement project with the Nicholas Hans Papers at UCL Institute of Education Archives. The Nicholas Hans Papers have been catalogued since 1999 but there were two boxes of additional papers that had been added at a later date. These boxes included correspondence, photographs, postcards and some very special magazines written in Russian by Nicholas Hans. I catalogued what I could and with some help from one of our researchers was able to write a brief overview for the Russian magazines but could not describe the content of them. Luckily for us, and future researchers, Sara is fluent in Russian! Sara has written up her experience of translating and cataloguing these magazines.
This title is very similar to a famous Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich. For me my Wednesdays were absorbed in the reading of Nicholas Hans magazines.
I started cataloguing a small part of the Nicholas Hans Collection in the Institute of Education at UCL. As a volunteer my task consisted in reading and then summarising the contents of five magazines written and hand drawn by Nicholas Hans ‘in 1920 while interned on the island of Principo in 1920 with other refugees leaving from Russia’ (quote from a note written by Grace Hans & included with the magazines).
All his magazines follow the same structure. Nicholas Hans rarely included articles or pieces from other authors. Hans hand-drew every single issue focusing on the front and back covers as well as adding decorations and other drawings inside the magazines. The issues would start with a letter from the editorial staff followed by a brief introduction of the issue’s topic. The main article would follow the topic of the introduction and discuss it in depth. In the final pages of the issue Hans would draw and write rebuses and charades. Moreover, in a couple of issues he also included fairy-tales or poems, for example: Cinderella.
Typically, I would start my work on the collection by reading the different articles and simultaneously translate and summarise them. Each section was divided according to its title. One of the biggest challenges was to decipher Nicholas Hans’ handwriting. Besides, the magazines required careful handling since they are very fragile. In some cases they were stained and the colours of the drawing faded, but it was still possible to discern both the words and the drawings.
It was extremely fascinating to be able to handle and work on such a fine archival specimen. I believe I was particularly stricken by the profound longing that Hans had for his country. This feeling was partially suppressed by the awareness that it was impossible for him to go back to Russia. In my opinion the ability to transpose these feeling through satirical articles and aggravating drawings was very enriching and interesting to analyse.
Volunteers’ week may be long over but that doesn’t mean we can’t say thank you to our volunteers throughout the rest of the year! This time I would like to introduce some of the work done by one of our volunteers, Ashley Zuelke, who you may have come across before in one of the Volunteer Week posts. As well as volunteering in Special Collections we have been lucky enough to have Ashley volunteering with us in UCL IOE Archives. Ashley has worked on catalogue enhancement of Minute Books of the London branch of the National Union of Women Teachers (NUWT). The account which follows is a fascinating analysis of what she uncovered and gives an insight into the interesting stories that can be found in these unassuming looking volumes.
Minute Books Offer Glimpses into the Organisation of Women Teachers at the Turn of the 20th Century
By Ashley Zuelke Summer Volunteer with Special Collections, Archives and Exhibitions studying for an MSc in Business Analytics and Management
In the early 1900s, British women teachers formed their own associations, branching out from the primary teaching organizations of the time to advocate for emerging issues including equal pay, pensions, and the management of “combined” boys and girls school departments. Reading the first minute books kept by the London Branch of the National Union of Women Teachers – then known as the National Federation of Women Teachers – is like sifting through snapshots of history taken every few months.
Entries from 1908 to 1922 reveal glimpses of the expansion of women’s rights and education in the U.K. before, during and after World War I. Discussions on proposed resolutions for national meetings reveal issues on which broad consensus prevailed, such as supporting aging women teachers, as well as points of disagreement, which included Parliament extending the vote to women. In history books, women’s suffrage seems like a natural course within a history punctuated with equal rights victories. The minute books, however, present a more nuanced picture with a spectrum of views and no certain results.
Demonstration by the London Unit against the allocation of the Fisher Grant, 1918
The year 1918 marked a watershed moment for the organisation: Parliament passed landmark education reform legislation and the group merged with the Women Teachers Franchise Union to create the London Unit of the National Federation of Women Teachers. The Franchise Union at the time was a politicised organisation, which prompted some members to urge that the group not advocate for political issues. The group did not accept those proposals, though the organisation unanimously postponed advocacy on political issues during the war. With the merger, the group codified its practices into a constitution and began to persistently advocate for equal rights and the implementation of the Education Act of 1918, which was designed to improve school conditions and to study the UK educational system – objectives for which public support increased dramatically after the war.
Within 10 years, the group grew from a handful of regular members to more than 50 subscribers in attendance at annual meetings representing nearly all parts of greater London. The organisation’s behaviour evolved as well. Initial notes that focused mostly on social gatherings and group administration became disciplined accounts of proposed resolutions and active correspondence. Early schisms dissolved as rules and procedures were finalised. By 1916, the group even published meeting minutes in newspapers as public record. Members, some of whom participated in the group for more than a decade, built seniority. The group developed a clear, ringing voice on important issues. The women’s dedication is evident, with many lines commemorating achievements of group presidents and expressing condolences for members with illness or those who passed away.
The minute-book entries represent many hours of work for members outside the classroom, often on weekends. They offer readers a new perspective on events in the first two decades of the 20th Century. The books show how one organisation developed, enduring setbacks and victories on a path that many organisations today would likely recognise. And the books open windows into time as a group made changes and won rights for women and children that today many of us could not imagine doing without.
Thanks so much Ashley for writing up such an interesting account of the early minute books of the NUWT and for all your work in expanding and enhancing the catalogue description for these.
A few months ago a group of students from the MA Archives and Records Management course used the Isabel Fry collection at the IOE archives to create an online exhibition. The exhibition, which is a fantastic resource on Fry, can be found here.
Isabel Fry (1869-1958) was an educationist and social activist. She founded, and was headmistress of, two experimental schools: The Farmhouse School, Mayortorne Manor, Wendover, and later, Church Farm, Buckland, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. She came from a famous reforming Quaker background and was the daughter of Sir Edward Fry (1827-1918), jurist, and sister of (Sara) Margery Fry (1874-1958), penal reformer, and Roger Eliot Fry (1866-1934), artist and critic.
I hope this sensitive interpretation of Fry’s archive continues to be available so people can enjoy a snapshot of the collection.
On 9 February, I delivered a UCL Lunch Hour Lecture entitled ‘The youth of our middling rich’: how egalitarian were UCL’s founders? It was a reflection on research I have been carrying out over the past year on UCL’s much-touted radical and egalitarian credentials, particularly the claim that is often made that it was the first English university to admit students ‘regardless of race, class, religion or gender’.
It’s easy to forget that, in 1825, no university had been founded in the British Isles in over 200 years, and there were only two universities in England, where – at least if you wanted to take a degree – you had to be a member of the Church of England. This created a problem for the growing portion of England’s population that didn’t belong to the established church, such as Jews, Catholics and dissenting Protestants. These people could go abroad, if they had the money. There were academies for dissenters in England – but they weren’t universities. Or there were Scotland’s five universities, which had no religious tests for students, and that’s the path many took, including many of UCL’s founders.
The man who deserves the credit for changing this was the poet Thomas Campbell who, impressed by the liberal education on offer at the recently-founded universities in Bonn and Berlin, wrote to The Times in February 1825:
The plan which I suggest is a great London University. Not a place for lecturing to people of both sexes (except as an appendage to the establishment), but for effectively and multifariously teaching, examining, exercising, and rewarding with honours in the liberal arts and sciences, the youth of our middling rich people, between the age of 15 or 16 and 20, or later if you please. By the middling rich I mean all between mechanics and the enormously rich…
This got the ball rolling remarkably quickly: a preliminary meeting was held in April, and the first prospectus appeared in July. The land for the building was purchased in September, a Council elected in December, and on 11 February 1826 our first foundation document, the Deed of Settlement,
was signed. The foundation stone was laid in April 1827, and the first students arrived in October 1828. That Deed of Settlement says the object of the university is:
The advancement and promotion of Literature and Science, by affording young Men … adequate opportunities for obtaining Literary and Scientific Education at a moderate expence.
It was to be a joint-stock company, selling shares for £100 each to Proprietors, who would elect the Council at an annual general meeting. The professors would be paid a ‘modest’ salary for three years only, as they had to support themselves directly from the students’ fees – a precarious system that lasted decades.
And students would not live on the premises, which meant fees really could be set at a comparatively modest level, giving access to university education to the sons of the new middle classes. This occasioned the kind of mockery that appeared in John Bull magazine, where it was claimed:
Each Dustman shall speak, both in Latin and Greek,
And Tinkers beat Bishops in knowledge –
If the opulent tribe will consent to subscribe
To build up a new Cockney College.
What doesn’t appear in the curriculum, an area which Campbell deliberately avoided in his letter, is religion, which brings us back to the treasured notion of a supposed principled opposition at UCL to the teaching or promotion of theology. In fact many, possibly most, of the founders were men of faith, such as the Catholic Duke of Norfolk, and the Baptist minister Francis Augustus Cox. They were anxious to provide some kind of religious teaching in the new institution, and planned to have professors of theology.
However, ultimately it proved impossible both to keep to the principle that there would be no religious tests or barriers, and to teach theology to the satisfaction of the different religious groups involved. Instead, the spiritual and moral welfare of the young men who didn’t live at home were to be overseen by boarding-house keepers with ‘satisfactory religious habits and morals’ who, among other things, would ensure their charges attended public worship regularly: in other words, it was a last ditch compromise, designed to keep everyone on board.
So, to go back to the title of the lecture – how egalitarian were our founders? Well, if we measure UCL against the criteria I mentioned, that it was ‘the first English university … to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender’, we would have to say:
On race: no university in Britain discriminated explicitly against students on grounds of race, and we know that some non-white students did study at our universities before UCL was even thought of.
On class: there were certainly no barriers in terms of class, except in the sense that you needed the money to pay, and UCL was much cheaper. But you could say the same about Oxford and Cambridge – there were no actual class barriers: if you were Anglican, and could pay, you could come, and some students did have very humble origins.
On religion – in this context, UCL represented a revolution, making a university education available to those who were not members of the Church of England. But this was partly because the men who founded this institution cared deeply about faith and the religious and moral well-being of its students.
On gender – this is really part of a different story, but the answer would probably be: ‘it’s complicated’. UCL was the first to admit women to degrees (fifty years after it opened) but actually not on equal terms for a further forty years.
In these ‘post-factual’ times, I think we need to be careful about UCL’s myths (and what better way to do that than resort to our own amazing archives). The new university didn’t ‘open up’ education to everyone from the outset, and we do ourselves a disservice if we buy too much into the ‘godless’, ‘Cockney university’ image, because that would overlook the fact that this was hostile propaganda on the part of a threatened establishment. The truth is richer and more interesting: UCL did make university education affordable and available to a much more representative cross-section of society, largely the new middle classes who had been, for the reasons I’ve discussed, excluded from it. And it did it in new and ground-breaking ways.
We are currently digitising the Council minutes and student registers, which will enable us to do so much more, and faster. I’m particularly interested in mapping the origins and subsequent careers of our earliest students, and automating the transcription of the earliest minutes and correspondence. So this lecture was a great opportunity to share some of my findings, but there is a fascinating story still to be told, and we’ve so far barely scratched the surface. UCL’s 200th birthday in 2026 is fast approaching – watch this space for further developments!