On this day … 26 March 1900

Dorothy Marshall, the future historian and product of Preston’s Park School and Girton College, Cambridge, was born in Morecambe. The family later moved to Thornton Cleveleys when Dorothy was twelve, and a year later she started attending the Park School, travelling by train and walking from the station to the school. The school’s first headmistress Miss Stoneman steered her in the direction of Girton, which Miss Stoneman herself had attended, to read history,.

Dorothy did well at Cambridge and went on to study for a PhD at the London School of Economics. That gained, she took up a lecturer’s post at Vassar College in the USA, one of the top women’s colleges in that country.

She returned to England for a spell of school teaching, before taking another overseas post as a lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Back in England, she continued as a university history lecturer, eventually settling, at the age of thirty-six, at the University of Wales College in Cardiff, where she lectured in social and economic history until she retired in 1965.

In 1984 Lancaster University awarded her an honorary degree and she made an acceptance speech on behalf of Nelson Mandela who had also been awarded an honorary degree by the university, but was unable to attend the ceremony, being still imprisoned in South Africa.

Dorothy died after an accident at her home in the Lake District, where she had moved in her retirement, shortly before her 94th birthday.

She was the author of several academic books on social history, and she also wrote a memoir, The Making of a Twentieth Century Woman, published after her death.

Her memoir clearly impressed Jane Martin, of Birmingham University, who chose Dorothy as one of six early 20th-century women historians she selected for a chapter in a book in which she argues that the role of women historians in the development of history scholarship in the last century has been grievously underplayed.

The amnesia that can erase women from the historical record, Martin believes, is clearly evident in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’s selection criteria, which she finds results in the fact that ‘most entries are of alpha males’. To back this up she points out that ‘Quick rummages in the dictionary’s powerful search engine for subjects with “historian” in the statement of occupation returns 1388 results, and 1264 of these are men.’

A letter Dorothy wrote from Girton, published in the 1919 edition of the Park School magazine

An interesting side note is that Dorothy played an influential role in the early life of the future Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, as his biographer reveals. Jenkins left school in 1937 with ‘indifferent’ Higher Certificate results and spent a year at University College, Cardiff, where he was ‘crammed’ to get a place at Balliol College, Oxford (he omitted this period from his Who’s Who entry). Of his time at Cardiff ‘he mainly remembered writing nineteenth-century history essays for Dorothy Marshall … whom he credited with teaching him to write in the approved Oxford style.’

She probably did little for his spelling and punctuation, since her own could be so bad that she sought the help of one of her old Park School friends to correct her work before publication, expressing her thanks in one of her books:

‘… to my old friend Ethel Tattersall Dodd, whose knowledge of my very individual spelling and punctuation goes back to our days together in the Upper IV, and who, despite this knowledge, gallantly undertook the task of both struggling with my typescript and correcting my proofs.’

For a fuller biography of Dorothy: Historian Dorothy Marshall – a product of Preston’s Park School

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