Ellen Cooper (b.1921-2000) Education and Schooling: Part 2 – Writing Lives

Ellen Cooper (b.1921-2000) Education and Schooling: Part 2

‘Being at the Art School was a lovely time of my life. I learned so much.’ (pg. 5).

Ellen Cooper’s eight-paged memoir provides emotional and inspiring stories from her life focusing on childhood. Ellen retells the important and monumental moments significant to her in her life and explains these to her readers.

Similarly, to Ellen’s mention of she does not provide the name of the secondary school she attends. Ellen, as the eldest sibling, was the first to attend secondary school. When her younger siblings were old enough they walked to school with their friends and this gave Ellen the opportunity to make friends of her own age. ‘When I went to a secondary school they were old enough to go with their friends, and I made friends of my own age.’ (pg. 4).

We can sense that Ellen thoroughly enjoyed her duration at secondary school. ‘It was a new school with cookery classes and dressmaking room.’ (pg. 4). She developed a range of skills and one which she was particularly good at and enjoyed was drawing. ‘It was at secondary school that I learned to draw amongst other things.’ (pg. 4). Ellen was very artistic and the classes allowed her to develop her natural artistic abilities. Ellen recalls that she was ‘very happy there and worked hard’. (pg. 4).

The positivity of Ellen’s description of school increases the positivity of her memoir. It is lovely to hear such a positive depiction of secondary school considering many another authors such as Amy Gomm for example did not have the same experience which is explored later in this blog.

One of the most interesting aspects of Ellen’s memoir is when she won a scholarship for the Arts and Craft School in Southend. Ellen recalls how this was a proud moment in her life, ‘Mum was so proud of me and at great sacrifice to her self allowed me to stay there until I was seventeen.’ (pg. 4). The artistic classes in Ellen’s secondary school contributed to her future as it paved the way for her acceptance into the scholarship programme.

As mentioned in the introduction post it was at the Arts and Crafts school that Ellen’s name was changed from Nellie to Ellen at the suggestion of her art mistress. Ellen’s memories from art school seem to be nothing but positive. ‘Being at the Art School was a lovely time of my life. I learnt so much.’ (pg. 5).

Her experiences at the arts and crafts school was invaluable. The headmaster of Ellen’s secondary school Mr Blakney acquired her with employment in a local workroom after her scholarship. It is reassuring to know that Ellen’s headmaster helped with her future employment.

The opportunity for scholarships is seen in a range of memoirs from The Burnett collection. May Jones’s education and schooling in her untitled memoir came to an unfortunate end at age 12 as her responsibilities to her family dominated her life. Her teacher, Miss Gilchrist, wanted her to stay in school. May recalls her teacher going ‘to see my mother and father and told them I was scholarship material and begged to be allowed to coach me for high school and college but this was a utter impossibility.’ (Jones, pg. 26). John Burnett states that ‘autobiographers make it clear that schooling often had to take second place to the needs of the family economy.’ (Burnett; 1982, 8).

Image of May Jones hand writing in her untitled memoir
Image of Amy Gomm’s memoir titled ‘Water Under the Bridge’

Amy Gomm, who’s memoir was entitled ‘Water Under the Bridge’ also had an opportunity for a scholarship. Amy was encouraged by her teacher to apply for a scholarship. However, she did not have the self-belief and backing from her parents and therefore she did not apply. In comparison to these working- class authors, Ellen had a privileged experience with education. Her experience was positive, rewarding and through the scholarship, Ellen gained valuable experience that helped her with future employment.


Mrs. E. Cooper ‘The house where I grew up’, unpublished memoir, 1993, 8pp, Burnett Collection of Working Class Autobiography, Special Collections Library, Brunel University

Burnett, J. Autobiographies of Childhood. The experience of education. Vol. 32, Issue 10. History Today. 1982.

Gomm, Amy Frances, ‘Water Under the Bridge’, TS, pp. 163 (c.55,000 words). Brunel University Library.

Jones, May, untitled, MS (C. 17,000 words). Brunel University Library.

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