Mary Alice Douglas

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Mary Alice Douglas was born at Salwarpe, a little country village in Worcestershire, on November 29th, 1860. She was the eighth child and fifth daughter of William and Frances Jane Douglas. All the sixteen children were born in the big Rectory; and except for one little delicate sister who died young, they all grew up in that happy home, and on rare occasions, as when the sailor brother came back from a voyage, they had the great joy of all meeting together. The beautiful little Early English church faced the Rectory, a little iron gate leading from garden to churchyard. Mr. Douglas was the loved and trusted father to his people in the different hamlets of the scattered parish, carrying out his duty with scrupulous faithfulness ; and as he could speak his mind freely to men, women and children he could and did inspire a certain amount of awe. His people learnt, however, full well that they could rely on his sound judgment and ready sympathy. Mrs. Douglas was half-sister to Bishop Walsham How who married Mr. Douglas's sister, so there was a double and very close relationship, much cherished on both sides.

Mrs. Douglas, with the work and responsibilities entailed by so large a family and household, and taking her full share of work in and beyond the parish, was nevertheless the centre of all that made for a peaceful, happy influence among those she dwelt with or came in contact with. Very rarely did she utter a word of reproach to any of her children, though she was heard to say that if a little one should get into a regular tantrum a slap was the most effective way to restore the child's self-control! The example of her transparent goodness was surely rebuke enough for any naughtiness. Possessed as she was of a constant and beautiful serenity and sweet humility, she had a brave and adventurous spirit, making her ready for example to take sail for Gibraltar to be introduced to her sailor son's fiancee; and being caught in a great storm she had her deck chair lashed to a mast and so must have got what excitement she could from the experience. As a young girl, the precious only-surviving daughter of a well-to-do man, she and her pony once joined a hunting party and finding the hunt hesitating before a forbidding looking hedge, she ascertained that there was no ditch on the other side, and then over she went, leaving the rest of the hunt to follow for very shame or admiration. Naturally, however, intellectual in her tastes, her reading was wide and varied, sharing her brother Walsham's love of poetry and in sympathy with his great interest in botany, she could have had little occasion or liking for the use of her needle, yet when her little sons demanded the work of her hands she would set to and do her part in rigging them out, though more especially she trained their little minds by preparing them one by one for their Preparatory School, so that when they left home at nine years old or so they were already grounded in the beginnings of Latin. Though she kept the actual housekeeping in her own hands she was much eased and helped in her responsibilities by two exceptional women, both forming part of the Rectory establishment for many years.

So Mary's very early life was spent mainly under the loving and wise care of Houghton, the devoted nurse of one after another of the children. Her domain, the nursery, was a most happy place under her wise rule. Then, when Mary grew older she would take her place in the schoolroom, where Miss Costerton ruled with the same devotion as the dear nurse, and with a great love for her pupils. The educational methods of the Salwarpe schoolroom would astound and not a little amuse school teachers of these days, and their pupils. The room was quite small, and yet four or five of the girls (and more often than not a cousin or friend as well, sent to take advantage of " Cossie's " teaching) were all kept busy with study, drawing,
music, or " the use of the globes." Her own tiny adjoining bedroom would sometimes accommodate one or two, but even then her musical ear was on the alert to detect any false notes on the piano next door. Then, the dancing class, when she would dispense with any accompaniment, standing in one corner, gently clapping her hands to mark time while the very sedate, so-called dances were performed, e.g. the shawl dance, the cachuca, which was accompanied by castanets. Whatever might be confessed about some of the rest of the tribe she had to deal with, it seems unlikely that Cossie ever had to complain of Mary's laziness or lack of interest, though even she may sometimes have wished for something a little more exciting than what the schoolroom provided. The weekly half-holiday was certainly the gala occasion to which the children most keenly looked forward. An extra "half" was almost unheard of; only specially persuasive people-such as a favourite aunt, or the sailor brother, Harry-migh t be able to wheedle one out of the extra-conscientious governess.

Mary was of an enterprising spirit, and encouraged enterprise in her younger sisters. For example they, with her at the head, started what they called "The Blue Paper Secret." Each girl was expected to write a kind of essay on some given subject, such as "Your Favourite Hero," etc., written on sheets of blue foolscap paper; the results of these very amateurish literary efforts were read out for judgment when the juvenile party met in a bedroom to enjoy each other's productions. She was fond of riding, as were most of the children, and, besides the carriage horse, ridden by her father, there were generally two ponies, so that a party of three could trot off together. Then of course, there were games of various kinds-out-door and in-door. Rounders, Hide-and-Seek over garden and stable yard were among the favourites, and in the evening their father would often challenge one of them in a game of picquet, or their mother would join them in a pencil game, such as " Con-glomerations," when each play er had to answer a question and bring in a particular word, and make them fit together in a poem. The results of the mother's ready brain were naturally applauded and enjoyed by the family. Lucy's stories, every word having to begin with the same letter, were among the most notable and witty of the family's efforts with pencil and paper, for example the story which began " Colin covertly climbed convent."

The year 1883 saw the beginning of the Worcester High School, later known as the "Alice Ottley School," after the first remarkable and saintly Head Mistress, and Mary, aged 22, received the post of second mistress the same year. She had the added privilege of being guest at the Deanery, and she much valued the kindness and friendship of the Dean, Lord Alwyne Compton, and Lady Alwyne during the months she spent with them whilst teaching at the school. She soon, however, felt the need of further training herself, and went to Westfield College in 1884, under Miss Maynard. She much enjoyed the new and interesting experience of College life and study, and the making of new friends, Miss Frances Gray, later Head of St. Paul's Girls' School, London, being one of the most intimate among them : but 1885 saw her back again at Worcester, She started a small Mistresses' house "Ivy Bank," and here again her enterprising spirit found scope. One member of the happy little party at Ivy Bank-still living in her old age at Worcester-tells how Mary suggested they should read the Greek Testament together after breakfast.

She would certainly not have pretended to be a Greek scholar, but must have picked up enough during the time at college to make her zealous to improve her knowledge. The same old friend, a former French mistress, relates how, when she was suddenly summoned to France where her Mother had been taken ill, Mary insisted on accompanying her to London and remaining with her in the Charing Cross waiting room at night till the boat train came in. This serves to illustrate Mary's constant and practical sympathy and readiness to give unsparing help where it was needed.

From time to time debates took place-not of too serious a nature-between the Ivy Bank friends ; and on one occasion she carried off her VI Form girls for a delightful Reading Party at Malvern when her brother at Malvern Link lent her his school for a week, in the holidays. Then none of those who were on the Staff at that time, nor indeed the Salwarpe Rectory family, will forget the annual delightful afternoon on Ascension Day, when Miss Ottley and her staff would take train to Droitwich and walk out to Salwarpe by the side of the winding canal. A jolly picnic was usually the form of entertainment, and Evensong in the lovely old Church ended the happy day, before they all trooped back to the station.

Mary had a very happy breezy way with children, never rubbing them up the wrong way. Finding the girls in one of the boarding houses in anything but a peaceful mood, and thoroughly on each others' nerves, she carried them off for a jolly expedition to Malvern and a walk on the hills. When they returned home they were hardly like the same children, all clouds and ill-temper blown away ! Children could never have had cause to accuse her of being unjust, and at the same time she would act towards them with a quiet and honest directness.

n November 1889 after seven years’ of teaching experience, Mary Alice Douglas was appointed Head Mistress of Godolphin School. in Salisbury. She is regarded as an accomplished educationalist and the ‘second founder’ and headmistress of Godolphin School for three decades. She was considered to be a ‘headmistress of genius’. Mary was also a suffragist who chaired several of the large women’s suffrage meetings held in Salisbury, where she was praised for her ‘clear and balanced statements’.

During her time at the school Miss Douglas worked extremely hard and had a huge impact on the school, increasing the number of pupils attending (approximately a tenfold increase in the three decades, from 23 to 230) and changing the ethos. Mary’s time as an educationalist was reflected in her presence on a number of committees and boards including the Consultation Committee Board of Education (1913) and the Salisbury Education Committee and After Care Committee (1920-1929). During her time at Godolphin she was also invited to have the school join the Union of Girls’ Schools for Social Service, setting up a link with schools in South London. During her three decades as headmistress she was very well-liked and respected amongst the pupils and fellow teaching staff.

The Godolphin School Archives say: “Miss Douglas was, from the start, eager to give every girl and every type of girl, the opportunity to do her own best work and to express all that was in her, in the best possible way. So, whenever anyone had an idea for some new project, it was always given an opportunity for thorough trial and investigation.

Her life plainly was a dedicated one. She seemed to live with the eternal things whence came her strength, her courage, her patience, her serene hopefulness. Her deep belief in the power of goodness and in the possibilities before every human soul won for her from grateful hearts their devoted love, service and effort.”


Died unmarried: 7 November 1941


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Sources for this article include:
  • Daily Express; 17 Sep 2019

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