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Rebellion in the Staff Room by Valerie Morse

This story is to remember Lilias Ashworth Hallet who planted her tree on 19 March 1910

In 1971 I joined the teaching staff of a large middle school in outer London. At least half the teaching staff were women and most of them very young, under 25. I was 22. We were cheap you see!

All the female staff wore skirts or dresses: not the most practical of garments for teaching. Often, as we stood on desks to put up pupils’ art work on the school’s high Victorian walls, we thought that the boys’ education went beyond their usual studies! I usually displayed the children’s masterpieces only after school ended .

The oldest woman on our staff was Miss Price, who was Welsh and taught music. Miss Price was a disciplinarian, very unbending and quite scary to both staff and children. She seemed very old-fashioned to us all, wore tweed skirts and walked with a stick.

One day a new member of staff – Sally, a popular and enthusiastic teacher – came to school wearing a very smart dark green trouser suit. She was called into the Headmaster’s study. Mr Evans was in his late sixties and waiting to retire. The only thing ever on his desk was polish. He asked Sally not to wear this garment again as “I like to see your nice legs, you young girls.“

An angry Sally came back to the staffroom to relate this story to us all. She asked that all the female staff come to school the next day wearing trousers, but to be as smart as we could be too. Miss Price said nothing.

The next day I wore trousers to school, and so did the other women.

“Shame to cover your nice legs,” said Mr Evans when he came to the staffroom. Then Miss Price walked in a little late, wearing a navy trouser suit, in tweed. She had bought it the previous afternoon, she told us later.

Mr Evans realised he was beaten.

Valerie Morse was born in Norfolk but moved aged 10 to live in various counties in the South East and London. She qualified as a History teacher in 1970 and returned to University to gain a History Degree, and a Masters in Comparative World History in the 1990s. She has taught History to children and Adults for over forty years. Recently on retiring to Norfolk she has taught a variety of History Courses for the WEA all over the county. The most popular of which has been undoubtedly "Hyenas in Petticoats" about difficult and protesting women in history.