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1847-1981 :

A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, by Julia Twigg
©AUTUMN 1981 - Thesis Index

The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.


[Numerical links are to the author's footnotes, use your back button to return to the same point in the text. Text links are to relevant items on the IVU website, all open in new windows]


Vegetarianism has long been associated with progressive educational ideas, (1) and in this, as with other of its early connections, it drew on the romantic tradition of social criticism embodied here in the ideas associated with Rousseau.

The modern progressive school (2) originates in the late nineteenth century with the founding in 1889 of Abbotsholme by Cecil Reddie. Reddie bad been influenced by Carpenter, and Abbotsholme was originally intended to reflect the principles of the Fellowship of the New Life; however as Reddie increasingly moved away from socialism, under the influence of German conservative thought, the link with the Fellowship faded. In 1893, A.C. Badley, an ex-master at Abbotsholtne, founded the co-educational Bedales. Both Badley and Reddie subscribed to diet-reform ideas, (3) and from the start both schools catered for vegetarian pupils. (4)

The early years of the century brought the Quaker schools into this stream. There had been a long tradition of Quaker boarding schools, many of which had been founded in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; and the separateness of Quaker society, together with the repudiation of the classical syllabus and the teaching of science, marked these schools apart from the public schools. In the early twentieth century the differences became more pronounced with the spread among them of co-education. Stewart believes this was the principal reason that brought the Quaker schools into the world of progressive education; though a more fundamental factor must be the shift that occurs in Quakerism generally that takes it into the orbit of liberal progressive thought. (5) While Quaker schools have not been vegetarian, they have since the twenties provided liberal facilities for vegetarian pupils.

The second important influence was theosophy, which was in the early years of this century much involved in progressive social causes and had not yet adopted the social introversionism that came later. In 1915 a number of progressively minded theosophists led by Mrs Ensor and George Arundale founded the Theosophical Fraternity in Education, and in the same year the Garden City Theosophical School was founded in Letchworth, later to be called the Arundale School and finally St Christopher School. St Christopher is marked among progressive schools for being specifically vegetarian. (6) Letchworth had been a centre for vegetarianism since its founding as the first Garden City in 1903. (7) Two other vegetarian schools of the period were Pinehurst School, Heathfield, (8) and the Garden School, High Wycombe. (9)

In 1925 amid upheavals, Mrs Ensor resigned from the Theosophical Educational Trust and Miss King from the headship of St Christopher, where she was succeeded by Lyn and Eleanor Harris (Lyn Harris had been a CO and was a vegetarian Quaker) who continued to run the school until their retirement in 1956. Mrs Ensor and Miss King moved on to Surrey where they founded Frensham Heights, though they left after two years and with them the theosophical link ended. Mrs Ensor's work continued, however, in the New Educational Fellowship, founded in 1921, which acted between the wars as an international focus and forum for the progressive school movement.

Despite some important differences within the progressive school movement, especially between the conservative and radical wings, certain shared themes emerge, and I shall touch in particular here on those that are relevant to the vegetarian link.

The first of these was their anti-urbanism and stress upon the experience of nature. Many of these schools were situated in the country, with beautiful natural surroundings stressed. Gardening was traditionally favoured, and many were termed garden or open-air schools. Sunbathing or sleeping in the open were often practised. A number of these schools and other movements of the period aimed at bringing children into direct contact with nature, with particular stress put on the idea of the woodland, as a means of developing confidence and skills. The feeling is best expressed in Ernest Westlake's Order of Woodcraft Chivalry which was intended to be a more adventurous and libertarian version of the Boy Scouts, and with none of its militaristic tone. (10) Westlake believed that man had by civilisation been separated from the true source of education - nature - and that by this alone could be develop true instincts and faculties, and he aimed to teach not just 'the lore of the woodman, but also that simple life in nature which is the heritage, material, mental and spiritual of man in common with all living creatures'. (11)

In 1929 he founded the Forest School - a mixture of Freud and Red Indians, according to one master - and here the aim was to restore children to their 'lost birthright of freedom'. (12) In all these movements the paradise theme was strong, and Ernest Westlake speaks of the ultimate purpose as 'to regain paradise' (13)

Progressive education is important in vegetarianism because it provides the concrete embodiment of a recurring social metaphor in the tradition: that of the visionary image of the child as the embodiment of man's innocence. Running through it is the idea of the goodness, in potential at least, of the child; education should be a nurturing and encouragement, rather than a coercion and punishment, and self-directed discovery was stressed and the child, not the teacher, made the centre of the educational process. During the twenties the influence of Freud on the progressive school movement - and indeed on progressivism generally - was marked, and Freudian theory was used to underpin the liberation of the child from adult repression and to justify the belief that the natural impulses should have free expression. In certain of the schools this produced a move towards a libertarian and anarchic ideal. The progressivism of the period, however, largely used Freud as a dissolvent of conservative social values, taking up the attack on traditional religion and upon patriarchal authority. It was, however, an essentially selective reading of Freud, one that passed over the darker Hobbesian aspects of his thought, focusing instead on its libertarian potential, which was then grafted on to an essentially non-Freudian model of-man and his destiny - one that derived from the older romantic tradition.

Education meant here the education of the whole child and that involved both an emphasis on the emotional development of the child, and a widening of the curriculum to include artistic expression and craft work. In this they were influenced both by the older criticisms of the public school and its denial of feeling, and by the later psychoanalytic emphasis on the emotional and unconscious aspects of being.

Education was regarded as fundamental in the reform of society, and these schools aimed to foster co-operative and harmonious social relations. This was partly to be achieved by discouraging direct competition, whether academic or sporting (sport tended to be, as in the vegetarian milieu more widely, individual, non-competitive and. 'non-contact'), and partly through the creation of a freer, less repressed sort of person who would not need to live through earlier psychic repressions in ways that produced a distorted and destructive form of society. They were notably anti-militaristic, and they attacked in particular the harsh beatings of the public school tradition; and violence was seen here to beget violence and to brutalise children, and the prevention of war was seen as intimately bound up with the ending of violence in the home and. school. Child of Dartington Hall, summed up some of these aspects:

We were against war, against violence, against corporal punishment, against uniforms, against authoritarianism (and very likely against authority!). In fact largely "agin the government". We were for peace, for love, for life, for nature (and nature cure). And of course for freedom - and maybe for community. (14)

Finally the schools enshrined an anti-structural ideal. This was found in the reduction and even at times extirpation of social hierarchy and of the division between pupils and teachers, now often called by their Christian names. Egalitarian ideals also underlay the popularity of school councils and democratic control. Maurice Punch has interpreted Dartington Hall in terms of the anti-institution which he sees as based on:

the desire to escape what is perceived as the deleterious consequences of a permanent social structure and the attempt to capture the absence of constraint in an association with an anti- institutional and anti-authoritarian ideology . . . it is an attempt to live perpetually on the margin, resisting the encroachments of formalisation. (15)

Punch believes that the pupils identify with the radical institution and with the anti-structural ideal. Here the headmaster controls not by the imposition of rules or norms but by force of personality. Authority is thus exercised but in a covert form; roles becomes personal and attacks upon authority are deflected into attacks upon persons. Stewart makes a similar point that the psychological orientation of the progressive education means that social life is seen in terms of personal relationships, and social structure is thus devalued and only weakly perceived. (16)

  1. 131. From the concerns of the Bible Christians and Swedenborgians the broadly Owenite circles of the Ham Concordium with their Pestalozzian influence, to New England Transcendentalists like Bronson Alcott, one of the founders of the American progressive tradition.
  2. 132. For this generally, see The Modern Schools Handbook, ed. Trevor Blewill, 1934; W.A.C. Stewart, The Educational Innovators, Vol II, Progressive Schools, 1881-1967, 1968; W. Boyd and W. Rawson, The Story of the New Education, 1965; M.D. Lawson and R.C. Peterson, Progressive Education, 1972; Robert Skidelsky, English Progressive Schools, 1969.
  3. 133. Reddie subscribed to the theory of meat as inflaming: 'If boys at school are fed on highly Inflammatory food they are apt to lose control of themselves and have fits or irritability, leading very often to moral vice, whereas those fed on a cooler diet of cereals and vegetables run far less risk of those storms of superabundant vitality', quoted by Punch in Progressive Retreat: A Sociological Study of Dartington Hall School..., Cambridge 1977, p11. Reddie was also influenced by the spiritual tradition familiar In this context: Boehme, Blake, Kingsford and Maitland (see Stewart, p249 for this aspect).
  4. 134. Information from the schools, see also The Food Reformer's Year Book for the interwar period.
  5. 135. See p.283
  6. 136. For an account of St Christopher, see H. Lyn Harris in The Modern Schools Handbook, 1934, p96. Also an account of its history and character in a booklet published by the school, by Reginald Snell, nd.
  7. 137. Unwin, one of the founders of Letchworth, was a vegetarian (see, Walter L. Creese, The Search for Environment: The Garden City: Before and After, Yale, 1966, for Unwin's background and for his links with Fellowship and. Brotherhood Church ideas); so too was C.B. Purdom, who became the historian of the garden cities: see his biography, Life Over Again, 1951, and his The Letchworth Achieverment, 1963. For a picture of a typical garden city citizen, including vegetarianism, see Charles Lee, ‘From a Letchworth Diary', Town and Country Planning, 1953, p21. There are also vegetarian associations with the Alpha Union and the Cloisters at Letchworth and with local theosophical, & Liberal Catholic and Quaker groups.
  8. 138. Co-educational school founded by a friend of Eva Gore-Booth, who was one of its supporters. Encouraged sunbathing and nature cure. See advertisements in vegetarian magazines and in Mazdaznan Call of the period. See also, for this and other schools catering for vegetarian pupils, The Food Reformer's Year Book for the interwar years.
  9. 139. Founded in 1917 as an open-air school following Adlerian psychological principles by Winifred Nicholls and Margaret Ormrod. Free syllabus, and competition avoided. See account in The Modern Schools Handbook, 1934.
  10. 140. The order had peace movement links, emerging as it did according to Aubrey Westlake (Ernest Westlake's son) out of the post-war feeling in certain Quaker schools of the need for some alternative form of citizen service, and the belief in the need for the provision of functional equivalents of war for young men. This was also a strong element in the Grith Fyrd camps which developed out of the Order and which catered in the thirties for men out of work. See Aubrey Westlake, Woodcraft Chivalry, Weston super Mare 1917; Ernest Westlake, The Forest School, or Evolutionary Education, Salisbury 1930, and The Grith Fyrd Idea, several authors including Aubrey Westlake, Salisbury, 1933. Though Aubrey Westlake was only very briefly a vegetarian while an undergraduate, his writing, especially Health Abounding, 1944, and The Pattern of Health, 1961, illustrate some of the inter-connections of this milieu. Westlake came from Quaker background trained as a doctor, worked with Salter in Bermondsey, involved in Woodcraft Chivalry and Grith Pyrd, follower of early developments in alternative medicine and psychiatry, involved in Social Credit Party, developed his estate at Godshill according to Soil Association ideas.
  11. 141. Woodcraft Chivalry, p.2
  12. 142. The Forest School, p11, J.N. Glaister.
  13. 143. The Forest School, p30.
  14. 144. The Independent Progressive School, ed. H.A.T. Child, 1962, p76.
  15. 145. M. Punch, Progressive Retreat, p163.
  16. 146. W.A.C. Stewart, Educational Innovators, p351. For the relevance of this anti-structural theme, see Part III.

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