Ben Oliver


Terms and Conditions

Life in Girls’ Boarding Schools, 1939-1979
27 October 2020

A look at day to day life in English girls’ boarding schools, from the start of the Second World War to the late 1970s, told through a series of interviews with former students or ‘old girls’.

It’s important not to understate the role of the author here. There is so much primary source material that it would have been easy to simply stitch together page after page of anecdotes. Instead, Ysenda Maxtone Graham takes a scalpel to it all and assembles a coherent and well organised book. It follows an arc, from picking a school, to living there, to leaving, but never becomes a slave to its format. People and stories get room to breath when they need it, and the author knows when to intervene when appropriate.

The end result is a wonderful collection of memories carefully compiled to appeal to outsiders as well as those who lived through the experience. It’s nostalgic but also frank and not afraid to be critical of the boarding school system.

Most striking to me was just how lop-sided and variable the quality of education could be. So many schools were just holding-pens to teach good manners, ready to send their girls to secretarial college and find a good man. Some schools did expect to send their students to university, but even then the expected outcome was to find a man and settle down.

A warm, funny, gentle but intelligent book that cleverly hides the sheer amount of effort put into its creation.