May Rainer’s Education and Schooling (b.1909) – Writing Lives

May Rainer’s Education and Schooling (b.1909)

May Rainer writes about moving from a busy school in London to a slow school in the countryside, and finally to a school in Aberdeen. This gives us the opportunity to see how different schools in different areas were in the early 20th century.

In May Rainer’s first school in London, there was 10 classes with 48 pupils in each class. Rainer states, ‘All in all considering the number of pupils in school things were very well organised…’ (Rainer, 31) Unfortunately, Rainer does not mention the school’s name, so I was unable to find a picture. The image below gives us an idea on how a classroom in London at that time would be laid out.

1920 Classroom
A busy classroom in London in 1920

When Rainer had to move to the countryside and change to a rural school, she found that the school, naturally, was much smaller, as less people lived in the countryside. However, she did not realise there would be such a difference between the schools. ‘Leonard and I had to attend the local school, which after the big school in London seemed tiny, the education programme was much slower… (Rainer, 35). Although the programme was slower, Rainer enjoyed her time learning in the countryside, as she had a passion for learning, which made her enjoy all the schools she went to.

When Rainer moved to Aberdeen, she noticed the shortage of schools, which caused half of the children to go to school in the morning, and the other half in the afternoon. She states that the schooling in Aberdeen was even slower than the countryside. ‘..again I had to get used to the standard of education being lower than the South..’ (Rainer, 38).

All this shows that the education in London was far superior to the rest of the UK, although there were more children. I believe that this was because people who lived in the city had more opportunities for different types of work. Children who lived in rural areas would have expected to follow in their mother or fathers footsteps.

During the early 20th century, the success of the child depended heavily on the wealth of the parents, as a child could only carry on with education if the family could afford for them to. If a child came from a middle class family, they would be more likely to continue in education, as they were not required to work or help with domestic work, if the child was a girl.

Unfortunately for May Rainer, she had the intelligence, but her family did not have the money to support her studies. ‘All the scholarships the headmistress insisted I sat for, I passed, but when my Mother saw the list of equipment I had to have she said “it’s quite impossible we cannot afford that.” (Rainer, 39) This meant Rainer could no longer continue with her studies, but instead, helped her mother around the house while she watched her brothers play, keeping their childhood.

Rainer later learned that a girl who was always second to her in school, who had 22 less points in the exam, had the opportunity to go to college. This girl later became a Headmistress, while May Rainer switched jobs a lot, and never had a successful career. However, it was because of Rainer’s love of learning she wanted to stay in school, not because she would have a high paying job.



Gagnier, Regenia. 30.3 (1987): 335-363

London Classroom- (04/11/2015)

Rainer, May, Emma’s Daughter, May 20th 1977, Brunel University, July 1977, Vol 2. 0644

Rose, Jonathan, Journal of the History of Ideas.  53. 1 (1992): 47-70

Vincent, David. ‘ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247


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