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Lillian de Lissa, Women Teachers and Teacher Education in the Twentieth Century

A Transnational History

Kay Whitehead

Beginning with Lillian de Lissa’s career as foundation principal of the Adelaide Kindergarten Training College in Australia (1907–1917) and Gipsy Hill Training College in London (1917–1947), and incorporating the lives and work of her Australian and British graduates, this book illuminates the transnational circulation of knowledge about teacher education and early childhood education in the twentieth century. Acutely aware of anxieties regarding the role of modern women and the social positioning of teachers, students who attended college under de Lissa’s leadership experienced a progressive institutional culture and comprehensive preparation for work as kindergarten, nursery and infant teachers.

Drawing on a broad range of archival material, this study explores graduates’ professional and domestic lives, leisure activities and civic participation, from their initial work as novice teachers through diverse life paths to their senior years. Due to the interwar marriage bar, many women teachers married, resigned from paid work and became mothers. The book explores their experiences, along with those of lifelong teachers whose work spread across a range of educational fields and different parts of the world. Although most graduates spent their lives in Australia or England, de Lissa’s personal and professional networks traversed the British dominions and colonies, Europe and the USA, fostering fascinating global connections between people, places and educational ideas.

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CHAPTER 7: A Long World War Two on the Home Front


← 156 | 157 →CHAPTER 7

A Long World War Two on the Home Front

In January 1939, GHTC graduate and quintessential modern woman teacher, Dorothy Walker, was living with her parents in Birmingham, enjoying an active social life including ‘keep-fit classes to knock off a little Christmas weight and get myself in condition for netball’, and meeting her boyfriend, Stanley Chamberlain, every weekend.1 Walker was one of three GHTC graduates who were ‘assistant heads’ in Birmingham.2 According to National Union of Teachers president and governor of GHTC, Evelyn Parker, the Birmingham ‘authority is very backward in regard to nursery schools’ and many of its infant schools were ‘amalgamated with junior schools under a man head teacher’.3 Walker was experiencing this situation first-hand at Oakley Road School. She understood that the head teacher, Mr Fields, was dogged by ill-health, but he was also ‘bad-tempered’ and she resented this ‘Little Hitler’ even though he rarely visited her classroom.4 In July 1939 she wrote to Stanley

I have had a flaming row with the boss who has told me to look for another job etc. I was informed this morning that I was impudent – all because I try to point out that Infant technique is different from any other and needs a different approach. Hell to men who don’t understand children and who walk around crushing initiative and all decent feeling with their ignorant blasting!!!5

She concluded her letter with her overarching belief, also held...

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