Historian Dorothy Marshall – a product of Preston’s Park School

In the summer of 1732 six assessors were appointed by the mayor of Preston to examine and revise the poor tax collection system for the town by which each owner of land and property was assessed, to determine how much they should pay in poor tax. The assessors devoted eleven days of that summer to their task. They clearly found it testing, and did not complete the survey themselves, relying for some of the assessments on the old records. They published their findings in a book entitled ‘A Regulation of the Poor-Tax of the Burrough of Preston‘, complete with an introduction that explained the basis for their assessment. [1]

Having recently transcribed the key sections of that book and attempted to make sense of their assessments it soon became clear that if the 18th-century assessors found their task daunting some of the challenges facing a latter-day ‘assessor’ could perhaps prove insurmountable.

Fortunately, help was at hand in the person of Dorothy Marshall, an historian of the 18th century whose first publication, The English Poor in the Eighteenth Century: A Study in Social and Administrative History from 1662 to 1782, written nearly a century ago, set out to explain the workings of the Elizabethan Poor Law for her period; workings which by then had become deeply confusing. Dorothy devoted a chapter of her book to the assessment and collection of the tax, something which other writers, including Sidney and Beatrice Webb, seemed to have neglected, concentrating instead on the provision of poor relief. It is worth noting that Sidney is always given preference over Beatrice in any reference to the couple when alphabetical precedence should have put her first, just one example of the way in which historians who happen to be women have been overshadowed by alpha males, as Jane Martin explores below. Of course, in their shared life Beatrice was never overshadowed by Sidney.  [2]

What impressed me about Dorothy’s book was that it was the work of somebody just setting out on their career (in fact, it was based on her PhD thesis) and yet demonstrated a mastery of the subject, a clarity of exposition and a nicely dry sense of humour sadly lacking in the writings of the Webbs. I had read her later books on 18th-century social history but was so impressed by this early work that I set out to discover more about her.

Taking the usual starting point of Wikipedia it appeared that she had been educated at Preston Grammar School. [3] It seemed very odd that a girl should have attended an all-boys school, but following Wikipedia to its source in Dorothy’s obituary in The Times it soon became clear that the Wikipedia writer had mistakenly changed ‘her grammar school at Preston’ in the Times to ‘Preston grammar school’, the boys’ school. [4] In fact, she was a pupil at Preston Park School, which she attended from 1912 to 1918.

Dorothy wrote a lengthy memoir, The Making of a Twentieth Century Woman, published after her death, and that should have been the starting point for this account. Unfortunately, the nearest copy of her book is held at Lancaster University, neither the Lancashire Library nor the UCLan Library has copies. [5]

Lynne Cowperthwaite, secretary of The Park School Old Girls’ Association, came to the rescue. She not only had a copy of the book but had correspondence from Dorothy’s nephew, David Edge Marshall. She supplied the following information:

Dorothy was born in Morecambe on 26th March 1900. Her maternal grandfather was the inventor and manufacturer of Edge’s Dolly Blue and her father, Dr John Willis Marshall, was also trained in chemistry at Owen’s College, Manchester, but he established himself as a schoolmaster, renting Leighton Hall, Cumbria from the Gillow family. Dorothy became the only girl attending a boys’ school sharing the delightful learning environment. In her 13th year when her grandfather died he left Thornlea, his country house in Thornton-le-Fylde, to Dorothy’s mother. It was a pleasant family house not large but comfortable. The lease of Leighton Hall expired at the same time and her father sold the goodwill of the school which moved to Kendal and the family moved to Thornton.

It had originally been decided to send Dorothy to one of the well-established girls’ boarding schools. Meanwhile for a year as a stop gap, she went as a weekly boarder to a private school in Blackpool. She can remember nothing in its favour! The approach of the First World War saved her from having to go away to boarding school and her father decided to explore local possibilities and decided on the Park School, Preston, though it meant a train journey, followed by a long walk. Dorothy, in her memoir, speaks highly of this decision, the school and the headmistress Miss Alice Stoneman.

Dorothy went on to Girton College, Cambridge where she read History. In her memoir she acknowledges in detail the debt that she owed to Miss Stoneman the first Head of the school. Miss Stoneman had followed the Girton path and she won over Dr Marshall to the idea of Dorothy’s enjoying the benefits of Cambridge.

She was awarded the Cairns Studentship in Economic and Social History for 1921-1922 and the Old Girtonian Scholarship from 1922-23. This she held at the London School of Economics where she worked under Dr Lillian Knowles for her PhD. In 1924 she went to the USA and for a time lectured at Vassar College, one of America’s great Ivy League women’s colleges. On her return she was appointed senior History mistress at Reigate County School. The desire to travel once again dominated her life, and she went as a lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Upon her return she was appointed assistant lecturer at Bedford College, then tutor to St Mary ‘s College, Durham. Finally in 1936 she settled at the University of Wales College, Cardiff, where she was senior lecturer in Social and Economic History until she retired in 1965. Before retiring she also spent a year as lecturer at Wellesley College in the USA. In 1984 she was given an honorary D.Lit at Lancaster University where she made an acceptance speech on behalf of Nelson Mandela who, of course, was still in prison at that time but who also had been awarded this honour.

She had one younger brother, William who was killed in action on 10th May 1944 and two nephews David and Nicholas. Dorothy died after an accident near her home in Old Hutton, Cumbria, in February 1994 just before her 94th birthday.

Dorothy was always proud that she was a Victorian. Throughout her memoir she looks back on her early girlish prejudices with good humour and honesty and recalls the post war intellectual and emotional excitement so much welcomed by men returning from the trenches. The personal qualities of her teachers and friends more than balances the frivolity of the women of the leisured classes satirised in the novels of Evelyn Waugh.

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

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 recently-published 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. She drew heavily on Dorothy’s memoir in her account, of which I have only seen the part which a Google preview allows and which does not supply page numbers.

Jane Martin explains her purpose thus:

This article brings together six talented women historians in twentieth-century England whose scholarly productions helped shape modern historical practice but who are little known in the canonical accounts of history-writing in the period … The crux of the argument is that these intellectual portraits tell us something about the ‘career’ chances for scholarly women that are significant to debates over politics, professions and identity, and women’s position in higher education today. … The study is partly … a corrective to historians’ amnesia on women’s participation in intellectual work when looking at the cultural history of the intellectual.’ [6]

The other five women featured in Martin’s essay are Barbara Hammond, Olive Banks, Lilian Knowles, Eileen Power, who was Dorothy Marshall’s tutor at Girton where she studied, and Joan Simon.

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.’ Dorothy Marshall was not among the 124 women historians included.

Martin draws on Marshall’s memoirs to provide a biography:

It was at Preston’s Park School that she developed a love of history, something that became so much a part of her identity that she never wondered why she studied it or what use it was. Spurred on by her feminist head teacher she went up to Girton. In her memoirs she says she found the College lacking in ‘mod cons’ like water closets and stuck in the quagmires of social convention that dominated the English upper classes. The rules of ‘The Prop’ meant a ‘fresher’ or first-year could only be on first-name terms with a member of her own year and had to wait for the honour of being ‘propped’ (shorthand for ‘May I propose to call you by your Christian name?’) by a senior. Social lives revolved around the college custom of ‘jug’ or cocoa parties named after the jug of milk which the domestic servants left in each student’s room after dinner. Dinner was a corporate ritual:

One ‘changed’ from one’s daytime attire, as in the twenties any young lady living at home would be expected to do, and suitably dressed we stood silently behind our chairs. It was the only meal of the day at which we were waited on by the gyps as we, in accordance with Cambridge custom, called our domestic servants. Wearing spotless black dresses with white caps and aprons, all 32 were drawn up in a line in front of the hot plates or serving hatches. Silence prevailed as the Mistress followed by the dons made her stately progress to the High Table. Then came the familiar grace, and we sat down.

Change came with demobilisation in 1919. Chaperones for lectures were less of a requirement and mixed dances became as much a part of university life as they had not been for the first Girtonians. Attending her first Cambridge May Ball was not the ordeal Dorothy anticipated. An ‘atrocious’ dancer, she wore her ‘best white georgette dress trimmed with pearls’ and hoped for the best. Dorothy Marshall got a Cambridge First and a doctorate in 1926, one of the first gained by a woman in history. [7]

An interesting side note is that she played an influential role in the early life of the future politician 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.’ [8]

She probably did little for his spelling and punctuation, since her own was idiosyncratic, as she reveals in one of her books. Dorothy was editor of a social history series entitled Development of English Society to which she contributed a title, Industrial England 1776-1851. In her series editor’s preface she expressed her grateful thanks ‘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.’ [9]

[1] ‘Regulation of Poor Tax Book’, 1732, CNP/3/1/11, Lancashire Archives.
[2] Dorothy Marshall, The English Poor in the Eighteenth Century: A Study in Social and Administrative History from 1662 to 1782, Studies in Social History (London: Routledge, 2007).
[3] ‘Dorothy Marshall (Historian)’, Wikipedia, 20 July 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dorothy_Marshall_(historian)&oldid=851219166.
[4] ‘Dorothy Marshall’, Times [London, England] 17 Feb. 1994: 19. The Times Digital Archive, n.d., accessed 12 September 2018.
[5] Dorothy Marshall, The Making of a Twentieth Century Woman: A Memoir (London: Snowbooks Ltd, 2003).
[6] Jane Martin, ‘Intellectual Portraits: Politics, Professions and Identity in Twentieth-Century England’, in Politics, Professionals and Practitioners, ed. Wendy Robinson, Rob Freathy, and Jonathan Doney (Routledge, 2018), 4, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=a81mDwAAQBAJ.
[7] Martin, ‘Intellectual Portraits: Politics, Professions and Identity in Twentieth-Century England’.
[8] John Campbell, Roy Jenkins (Random House, 2014).
[9] Dorothy Marshall, Industrial England 1776-1851 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973), vii.

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