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Women and Oxford House

mixedIn its early days Oxford House held no place for women. For the young priests and ordinands who lived there, it was a monastic settlement on the model of the Oxford College, devoted to work and study. Maids waited on the residents by day, but even they were forbidden from living there. Undeterred, the women of Oxford started their own settlement at St Margaret’s House in 1889.

But the work of the two settlements was kept separate, and the first clubs Oxford House set up in the community were for men and boys alone.

Change, when it came, was fiercely opposed. When in 1938 Head of Oxford House John Lewis had his wife move in, one member of the House’s Council, Lord Hugh Cecil – then Provost of Eton – resigned in protest. And though tentative attempts were made to introduce mixed activities in the clubs, the House was quick to reassure members that it had no intention of going any further.

But with the start of the war everything changed. By 1940 girls had started to ask to join in the activities of the boys’ and mens’ clubs. A girl’s club was started, run by the few women now on the staff of Oxford House. According to the annual report from 1940-1941, girls would Molly Clutton-Brock by Sally Roschnikparticipate in activities such as “sewing, dressmaking, first aid, cooking, typing, reading, physical training, netball, dancing and indoor games.” Speakers also attended the club to deliver talks on hygiene, sex, beauty and other important topics of concern.

Among the leaders of the girls club was the wife of the new Head, Molly Clutton-Brock. Later, she would go on with her social work to create pioneering physiotherapy clinics for disabled children in Rhodesia and Botswana.

By 1946 women could play a full part in the life of Oxford House, both as student residents and members of the local community. The war had broken down the boundaries between the residents of the House and the community of Bethnal Green, and with them the barriers that had kept women out of Oxford House.

Do you have any personal stories, from yourself or family members, about Oxford House Girls Club, or Oxford House Junior Club? Get in touch via email at heritage@oxfordouse.org.uk, or find us on Facebook or Twitter.

Text: Lucy Valsamidis and Laura Newby

Images:
1: Pottery Class with the girls, 1957. Oxford House Annual Report, 1957-1958
2: The mixed Junior Club in the canteen, 1954. Oxford House Annual Report, 1953-1954
3. Molly Clutton-Brock by Sally Roschnik

 

Heritage
WANTED: Archivist for heritage project Fascism in the East End The Blitz The Original Oxford House Conscientious objectors The Welsh Schools The Excelsior The Effects of World War I in Oxford House War Memorial The Inauguration of the Oxford House Building 1892 From Oxford House to Local and International Stardom In the Spotlight: the Repton Boxing Club and Oxford House Hensley Henson, Oxford House leader The Kray Twins Alfred Soord, The Crucifixion. Oxford House Chapel Women and Oxford House Oxford House and its Clubs Why you should donate to save our secret chapel The Bethnal Green Tube Tragedy The Webbe Boys’ Club Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It’s Super Kid (a.k.a. Eddie Marsan) Save Oxford House's 'Secret' Chapel Oxford House and Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram Our resolution? Raise all the funds to start our major heritage project Post War Regeneration of Bethnal Green Weavers’ Fields and the Huguenots Guy Clutton-Brock: from Oxford House to hero of Zimbabwe WWI: Zeppelins or ‘Take me back to dear old Blighty’ The Hidden Gem: Oxford House Chapel History in the making Oxford House and Ben Uri Gallery The Chapel Oxford House Arms: Dominus Illuminatio Mea Why is Oxford House listed as Grade II Heritage? Heritage Lottery Fund - 'Oh! ‘wins’ the lottery' Who designed Oxford House? The Boys and Men’s Clubs in the 19th and early 20th century Why a new building in 1891? Rise under Rev. Winnington-Ingram How it all begun. Clubs and activities at Oxford House 1884 Who created Oxford House? What is a settlement? 130 Not out! Our pre-history: The Oxford Movement From Victorian Gap Year to Community Hub
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