Another publication from members of Research Catalyst (Rachel Bird and Dee McMahon).

This article discusses the value of Edge Hill College Magazine as social history. The first Edge Hill College Magazine was produced by the staff and students in 1892 and the magazine was published annually until 1964. It is a powerful, socially reflective and relatively untapped source of social history for this time. The articles is published in the quarterly magazine of the Social History Curators Group so is aimed primarily at a professional curator’s group, although their membership ranges into other related professions. Their fascinating quarterly magazine shares museum best practice and insights on archives, projects and exhibition.

Front cover of Edge Hill College magazine

Edge Hill College opened in Liverpool in 1885 as the country’s first non-denominational teacher training college for women. In 1892 the first Edge Hill College Magazine was produced by the staff and students, partly as a review of the year allowing current and previous students to keep up to date with college life and to enable ex-students to maintain contact with the college and old friends. The magazine was published annually until 1964 and remains a powerful, socially reflective and relatively untapped source of social history for this time.

Historic image of Edge Hill College exterior
North Wing, Durning Road

The magazine was broadly organised into an editorial, the principal’s notes, articles by existing and past students and staff, college notes and college societies. All these sections are rich sources of social history describing local and world events, and offering a variety of opinions from differing perspectives, ages and backgrounds.

The college magazine allows today’s reader to build up a clear picture of Edge Hill College over the years, giving us an insight into the lives of staff and students, their teaching, study and leisure patterns. The fact that past students and staff sent numerous updates, letters and articles to the magazine demonstrates the great respect and affection they held for Edge Hill College, and the firm friendships that they made there.

Through college notes we learn of the previous year’s activities and events, including various lectures that were commonly held on Saturday evenings. In the early years of the college these lectures focussed on travel, literature, education, and missionary work. In one 1898 lecture, a Travelling Secretary of the British College Christian Union urges the college to set up their own branch of this Union and encourages students to engage in overseas missionary work, something many did and provided accounts of their work for the magazine. Interestingly, also in 1898, we see a call to the students to join the National Union of Teachers, perhaps indicating that the Principal supported unions.

In the 40s and 50s the focus of lectures was on topics such as The United Nations, The National Health Council, the National Trust, Social Services and The Police, reflecting the growth of nationalised services that was taking place in Britain at the time.  

Through articles we can trace the social mood of the day. One example of this is the women’s suffrage movement which had been growing since the second half of the 19th century. In the 1907 magazine, an article by Ethel Snowden discussing the right of women to vote legally, appears. A former Edge Hill student, Ethel was a well-known and outspoken figure in the burgeoning human and women’s rights movements. Her husband would become the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the Labour governments of the 1920’s. Published in the 1908 magazine are two articles about the huge suffrage marches that took place in London that Summer. The first, by Helena Normanton, who later became the first female barrister in England, details the march on 13 June 1908, of approximately 10,000 women from Embankment to the Albert Hall – from academics, doctors and nurses to artists, writers, teachers, and actors. In the same edition is an account by student Kathleen Ratcliffe of the “Women’s Sunday” marches with up to 500,000 people from all parts of the country. The two articles provide an interesting contrast, as Normanton aligns herself with the non-militant suffragists, but Ratcliffe is clearly questioning if more is needed, writing of women ‘who would willingly lay down their lives’ for the movement.

Principal notes on Suffrage from Edge Hill College Magazine, 1906
Principal’s notes on suffrage, College Magazine, 1906

The college magazines give us a fascinating insight into travel undertaken by staff and students. The reasons for travelling varied massively, ranging from a holidays, relocation due to their own or their husbands’ employment, and missionary work. For those who wished to share their experiences, articles detailing descriptions of journeys, locations, cultures, and customs were written. This would have proved interesting to readers of the college magazine at the time, allowing them to go along for the journey with old friends and learn about various parts of the world, but also to readers of today having access to a first-hand account of the women’s adventures, and their opinions of the world around them. Locations visited included many countries in Europe but also Indonesia, Zanzibar, USA; Newfoundland, Russia and India.

In her article for the 1917 College Magazine, Marion Merkin describes her home on a coffee and rubber estate in the South East of Java as being twenty five miles from the nearest town and nineteen miles from a railway station. This meant that to make any trips ‘the journey must at present be made on horseback, or in a tandoe, that is, a chair supported on bamboo poles and carried on the shoulders of natives,’ offering a clear visual of her life as a European in a country under colonial rule.

H.R.H Princess Margaret at the official opening of the new extension to Edge Hill College, 1963.
H.R.H Princess Margaret at the official opening of the new extension to the college, 1963

As a missionary worker Annie Williams wrote letters to the magazine detailing her time in Assam, India, teaching children and student teachers. In the 1897 magazine, she describes her days teaching and her interactions with the local population, providing a valuable insight into the perspective of a young, British woman with strong religious convictions encountering unfamiliar cultures at the heart of the British Empire.

In another fascinating insight from the pre-First World War world, Isabel Hill writes letters to the magazine from Russia in the years prior to the 1917 revolution and in 1910 describes a growing discontent among the local people and their ‘appalling’ poverty; despite which she believes them to be ‘happy enough.’

The Edge Hill College magazines provide a unique window into the views of women during periods of massive societal and cultural shifts across the world. They are an important source regarding contemporary values and beliefs, some of which might be alien or even unacceptable to us now. They also provide rich and textured accounts of everyday life in a teacher training college for women in the North West of England. They are currently in the process of being digitised and at the Edge Hill University archive catalogue

Rachel Bird, Dee McMahon – Edge Hill University Archives Team, on behalf of Research Catalyst.