Molly Keen Childhood Memories (1903-1921): Life and Labour – Writing Lives

Molly Keen Childhood Memories (1903-1921): Life and Labour

I would situate the Keen family as upper-working-class because they had little income, apart from the father’s work as a master sign writer, but they also did not have any family members who would work as a manufacturer or in a factory workplace. They were clearly comfortably higher than lower-working-class too, bearing in mind they had a large garden, and could provide for five children. The Keen family’s source of fellowship derived from their family culture, which included a shared protestant religious belief, hard-working philosophy, and a love for nature. Even though Molly’s sister Winifred became the most domesticated due to her devotion to their ill mother, and baby sister Ivy, she chose that lifestyle and enjoyed it.

The father of the Keen family set the standard, as he worked long hours to provide for them. He also undertook community work where he could deploy his master sign writing skills, such as on “local churches both Roman Catholic and Protestant” (p.1). This should the devotion to their work that the family culture embraced, where he would do all he could within the capabilities of his working-class lifestyle. The mother of the family was an icon for the children in terms of their loving and well-rounded identities. Molly described her as “a dear gentle soul who suffered much ill health” (p.1), but she still worked continuously within their home, completing the domestic work when she could. The children grew up in a parentally cohesive home and can be seen as a representation of most working-class families prior to the First World War; in terms of men making the money to provide, whilst the women were more domestic, and enjoyed the life of a housewife. Housewifery was mainly adopted by Winifred, whilst Molly was more similar to her father, I believe, due to her ambition, particularly to work.

Molly’s ambition resulted in her career as a nurse at the end of her memoire, whereby she completed another two years of work in her railway job so that she did not have to work during her studies. This shows her determination to succeed academically, and her desire to completely devote herself to her nursing studies. Furthermore, Molly presents her willingness to work that was not hugely common amongst women during these times, because prior to the war most jobs were dominated by men. Molly’s career as a nurse shows one of the few, but great, positives to have come from the First World War, whereby women would take masculine roles upon themselves, swapping domestic work for better wages and vocational jobs. Molly’s desire to become a nurse will have derived from the death of her mother, as Molly will want to try and prevent her fellow countrymen from suffering and mourning death as she did, if she could. Furthermore, the war caused several injuries, particularly to men fighting, and thus Molly helped to supply the demand for nurses following the war. Patricia Fara stated that many, “enthusiastic young women who volunteered as nurses to escape the tedium of domestic servitude” (p.12), which relates to Molly, because she seemed very motivated and driven to work and have a job, which derived from her Fathers hard-working ethic.

West Middlesex Hospital during World War One

Both of Molly’s parents showed their voluntary humility during the war, whereby her father volunteered for the red cross and West Middlesex hospital work on top of his job. This shows the family culture of hard work, and also how he spearheaded the hard-working ethic many working-class families needed, for the good of the country, during the war. Her mother took in soldiers during the war and “cared for them as if her own” (p.27) which further shows where the love, kindness, and well-rounded spirit Molly derived from. Molly’s mother’s humility and caring spirit was similar to that of the nuns Molly was taught by at her Roman Catholic Primary School. Not only was Molly warmly welcomed, even as a protestant, the nuns would shelter the children as though “chicks under her wing” (p.8), which articulates the caring spirit that Molly will have adopted outside her family as well during her childhood.

Molly’s wider family too were similarly hard-working, as her uncle Albert Edward Ray was a mineral water maker, and her Aunt was a market gardener, both near London. The only reason why they were not as working-class as Molly’s immediate family was due to the demand for food and drink, particularly during the war. They provided well for their children, Albert, Sid and Doll Ray, but they were only able to due to their hard-working identities that Molly’s family embraced too; however, their businesses flourished due to demand.

Molly’s memoire end on her new life as a nurse, showing her new purpose in life. Molly presents the factors that helped to shape her identity during her childhood, and thus how her new career was a direct result of her work and labour, which derived from her family’s influence.


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Fara, Patricia, “Women, Science, and Suffrage in World War One”, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, vol. 69, no. 1, 2015, pp. 11–24.

Keen, Molly, “Childhood Memories 1903-1921”, Brunel University, 1987

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