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Minute Books offer glimpses into the organisation of women teachers at the turn of the 20th Century

KathrynHannan21 August 2017

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

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.

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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.

For more information on the National Union of Women Teachers please refer to our libguide or our online catalogue.

 

All images ©UCL Institute of Education Archives

 

Young Minds Explore Old Archives: Work Experience at SCAR

Vicky APrice21 July 2017

Kate, Jacinta and Suad explore the archives at the IOE

Kate, Jacinta and Suad explore the archives at the IOE

We were honoured to play host to three young visitors this month, who spent some time learning about what it means to work at UCL’s Special Collections, Archives and Records department and at the UCL Institute of Education’s Library.

Jacinta (15), Suad (17) and Kate (17) came to us from schools in Southwark, Yorkshire and Camden respectively, and they brought with them a range of skills, interests and aspirations that made them real assets to our team during their time with us.

Their timetables included assisting at the Library Services staff conference, helping deliver an adult learners outreach workshop Camden, assisting Francesca Ezzelino at the IOE with checking a substantial number of DERA records and helping to move part of the IOE’s Official Publications collection so that some sections have room to grow.
They also wrote a blog post, each focussing on a chosen aspect of their placement, which you can find below.

Thank you to all the staff members who spent time with Jacinta, Suad and Kate – it was of real benefit to them to learn about your roles.

Jacinta: My First Days at UCL
On my 4th day at UCL Special Collections, Archives and Records I helped at the same session of a conference twice, in the morning from 10:45 until lunch time. I really enjoyed it at the end because lots of jokes were being made which made it funny to watch as well as listen to, and I ended up having to contain my manic laugh so I didn’t frighten the audience.
After lunch I went to a Japanese block printing session with my supervisor Vicky Price. I got engaged in it eventually and it was pretty fun until I cut my finger (unintentionally) with my Stanley knife (oops)…

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Hokusai

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Hokusai

This fortnight was overall really interesting for me to experience what it’s really like in a workplace, and to learn the ways of the library and how to treat the special collections and archives. I found it fascinating to learn about people in the past and read their journals and diaries in the reading room, also finding out what it was like for people (mostly women) to cope in that day and age. It was quite enraging to look at all the rules that women had to follow and the misogyny and allegations that they had to deal with and face.

Suad: Worthy work experience
Work experience is a crucial part of a student’s life as it provides both experience into the working field and fun, depending on where you are placed. I cleverly chose to work with UCL Special Collections, Archives and Records, Library Services.

One of our activities consisted of helping Vicky to investigate further into the women’s position during and post-war. I may say that it was mind-blowing! Witnessing how letters were written to one another using typewriters and the multiple mistakes that were made, made me realise how lucky we are to now have a decent keyboard. I say decent but I really mean spectacular! It’s amazing how there is a huge difference from when you’re told about history and important figures as to when you have items written by a witness. It really is eye opening and in my opinion, this the best way a student can widen their understanding.

I took part in a library exploration where I had to locate 12 books across two libraries. At first it was confusing as you had many codes to look at and different floors or different areas to go to, but as the time went on I got the hang of it. I managed to locate 10/12 which was pretty impressive.

The main library

The Main Library

To sum my experience here at UCL Libraries, I can definitely say that it was an absorbing, thrilling and worthy work experience that any student should take upon.

Kate: Inspecting Archives of the NUWT
Throughout my A-level career, I would like to believe I have learned a substantial amount about women’s fight for equal rights. However, my eyes weren’t truly opened until I had the opportunity to peruse a collection from the Institute of Education’s archives. The most important thing I learned was that the battle for equality didn’t stop at gaining the vote.

I stumbled upon letters concerning the struggle of women being ignored and ridiculed in the Commons, including a complaint of politician, Sir William Lane Mitchell, that women gave teachers a bad name due to their rallying for more rights! (I, too, was appalled).  However, the collection was not all struggle and strife. I had the fortune to come across a heartening advertisement for all women teachers to come along to the Commons and lobby (and to have a ‘good tea’ beforehand), encouraging women to get their voices heard.

When thinking of the First World War, people seem to immediately think of men fighting on the front line, without taking into consideration the role women played in the effort. This included resuming the job vacancies left behind, working in factories and hospitals for the wounded or even baking cakes for those on the front line!

Rifling through these archives gave me a deeper awareness of the often overlooked, yet extremely vital role women have played in history, and gave me a deeper appreciation of the struggle they have gone through and continue to go through for equality.