Katherine Henderson (B.1908): Education and Schooling – Writing Lives

Katherine Henderson (B.1908): Education and Schooling

Katherine was an enthusiastic learner as she begged her Mother to send her to school from a younger age than most children. Her memoir does not state the exact age in which she started but it does recall it was a very early age, before five. Katherine initially attended a school close to her home, Ruckinge School. Katherine did not stay at this school for long as a conflict occurred with her teacher. Miss Burman ‘had a rough edge to her tongue’ (4) making an ‘unkind remark’ (4) regarding Katherine’s family.  This resulted in Katherine and Sister Louie ‘welcoming the move’ (5) to a new school just over a mile away, Belsington School.

Katherine originally viewed school as a social activity. Being the youngest of fourteen she had no one to enjoy time with at home as all her siblings were either at school or had already joined the working world. Going to school with her older sister Louie meant she had the companionship she longed for. School was a positive aspect of Katherine’s life as she writes that she was ‘keen to learn, developing a thirst for knowledge,’ and particularly enjoyed Geography, Maths and Sewing.

Since ‘life was hard in those days, long hours at work, and small wages,’ (8) Katherine had to leave school at fourteen like many working- class children in the early twentieth century. Katherine was so against entering a life with no social position that she begged her mum to keep her in education, but due to their financial situation of the Wightwick family they needed the source of extra income Katherine could provide at such a young age.

Education, for Katherine, did not appear to have helped her needs in her first role as an Under-Nannie. Katherine began her occupation as she ‘wanted to go out into the world and make a life’ (8) of her own.  Katherine’s only other option was to help ‘in the dairy and with the milking’ (8) at home, something which she believed she would be ‘useless at.’ (8) However, her education did help with her ambition to write her memoir, but she does not, with the exception of reading, writing and sewing, use many of the scholarly lessons in her working life.

It is apparent from her autobiography that Katherine’s identity was shaped more by the lessons she learned at home and in Sunday School than those she took at school. The discipline her father placed upon her prepared her for working life. Her Father taught her the meaning of hard work, as her Father ‘took pride in his work.’ Although her Fathers ‘martinet’ (2) and violent ways frightened Katherine, ‘I was too afraid of his belt,’ (5a) his dedication to his work influenced Katherine’s work ethic.

ruckinge meth church
Ruckinge Methodist Chapel, built in 1839.


Katherine speaks exceedingly highly of the Methodist Church. Unlike the lessons she learnt at school, Church and Sunday school provided Katherine with values that helped sustain her through difficult life experiences. A message which struck a chord with Katherine throughout her life, something she could refer to when life was a struggle, was preached to her in Sunday school:

‘Never run away from fear, because it will pursue you,

Stand up to it and face it, and you will conquer it.’ (2)

The values that Katherine acquired in Sunday School seem to have helped her to conquer her fears and may have proved more empowering than the lessons she learned from her school teachers.





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