Norah Brain (1907-1987): Education & Schooling – Writing Lives

Norah Brain (1907-1987): Education & Schooling

Norah’s short school experience started around 1914 when she was aged seven and finished  in 1918 when she was aged eleven,  for working- class children in the early twentieth century this was quite common as shown by John Burnett’s  Destiny Obscure:Autobiographies of Childhood, Education, and Family from the1820s to the 1920s.

Throughout the memoir Norah mentions school is  in passing. She doesn’t say where she went to school only that:  ‘ I went to the village school with my cousins, at first I was put with my age group, in a few days I was moved to the top of the group, I had no trouble with arithmetic.'(33)

Norah’s-  memoir emphasizes work rather than education. She describes staying off school to potato pick. ‘ Soon it was time to dig potatoes, we children stayed away from school to pick & sort them, they were put into long heeps the good ones in one, the others for the fowl & pigs.’(41) Throughout childhood she was called away from school, whether to hunt, or to look after her younger siblings.child picking potatoes

Although Norah scarcely mentions her experience of school, she dwells on the fact that her father stopped her from continuing her education: ‘During the morning master [ one word illegible] called me to his desk, “ tell your aunt I wish to see your father”,  he said, fear filled my soul, what had I done wrong now. It was nearly a month later my father came, I was called from lessons [one word crossed out] after a while master [one word illegible] was saying, “ I [one word illegible] teach any more – send her to college, she is worth it” my father’s reply was, “ If you can’t teach her any more she knows enough!” that was my last day at school I was 11.‘ (47)

Norah’s father’s response shows how for many families work was more important than education.  He had a large family and Norah was an expense – another mouth to feed.  If Norah was able to leave school aged eleven, in her family’s eyes she would be seen as an adult and able to work.

Though Norah’s schooling was cut short we must assume that she continued reading and perhaps writing too. From her hand-written memoir we can tell that she is reasonably educated and can write fluently and clearly. Presumably she read and enjoyed poetry in her leisure time since she ends the memoir with her own poem.

Further Reading : Burnett, John ed. Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood, Education, and Family
from the1820s to the 1920s.
Alan Lane, 1982.

Picture reference: Hine, Lewis W. American (1874-1940) Doherty, Jonathan L., comp. –Lewis Wickes Hine’s Interpretive Photography: The
Six Early Projects.– Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.//
Alan. –Lewis Hine.– Granada, Spain: Diputacion Provincial de Granada, 1991. p.

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