20 September 2016 - LYDIA LONGMORE


G'day folks,

Welcome to some background on another outstanding achiever. 

Lydia Longmore (1874-1967), infant-teacher, was born on 15 July 1874 at Little Chilton Colliery, Durham, England, daughter of Rev. Isaiah Longmore, Wesleyan home missionary, and his wife Martha Susan, née Lynax. The family migrated to South Australia in 1884, Lydia and her aunt remaining in Adelaide while her father and mother followed his calling as a bush missionary.

Longmore's career began at Kadina in 1895 after four years as a pupil-teacher and a year at the Training College. In 1906, with Elsie Claxton, she was sent to Melbourne to gain the Infant Teachers' Certificate. Two years later she was appointed by Alfred Williams to the newly established Observation and Practising School in Currie Street, Adelaide, before heading the State's first infant school for 5- to 7-year-olds, at Norwood in 1910; an inspector noted that she was 'very capable, intensely enthusiastic and sympathetic' and 'filled with “divine fire”'. In 1915 and 1916 she was at Blackfriars Public School in Sydney to study Dr Maria Montessori's method under Martha Simpson. On her return Longmore began a Montessori class at Norwood.

In January 1917 she became an inspector of schools with a special interest in infant classes. This was the first such position, for a woman, in Australia; later that year New South Wales, the leader in Australian infant education, appointed Miss Simpson as Longmore's counterpart. With the co-operation of the new director of education W. T. McCoy, Longmore organized the flowering of infant education in South Australia. In 1920 separate infant departments, with a high degree of autonomy and headed by infant-mistresses responsible to Longmore, were established in the larger schools. That year she encouraged the formation of the Infant Mistresses' Club and the first mothers' clubs. For both teachers and Longmore, who presided over fortnightly meetings, the club provided friendship and stimulus. 

The mothers' clubs, headed by infant-mistresses, grew from one in 1920 to thirty-seven in 1931 with over 20,000 mothers being involved; their Froebelian aim was to deepen both mothers' and teachers' understanding of children. The clubs' impact on school life impressed the superintendent of primary education: 'At no time … in South Australia has there been such living contact between the school and the home'.

Lydia Longmore opposed drill and revolutionized infant schools by fostering in them a joyous atmosphere, 'as necessary to the growing child as sunlight is to the growing plant'. She used Montessori's methods to mobilize both infant-teachers and mothers. Her own example inspired in them loyalty and self-sacrifice and, in their children, a love of school and learning. Infant-mistresses in metropolitan schools supervised infant classes in neighbouring schools and corresponded with country teachers. Mothers' clubs supported their less fortunate members, especially during the Depression. Thus Longmore demonstrated the power women could have in the community. 

From 1926 the new Infant Schools Mothers' Clubs Association, with Longmore as president and the director of education's wife as patron, held annual rallies, drawing 4500 from city and country in 1932. Its symbol was a bluebird in a silver circle: 'happiness is in unity'. The association protested to the minister of education when in 1931 press reports indicated that, as cost-saving measures, infant schools might lose their independence and infant-mistresses their status. The director of education agreed that infant-teachers had transformed schools 'from prison houses to houses of joy'.

Moved by the plight of outback children, in 1917 Miss Longmore had begun to organize a correspondence school. Also, with her close friend and colleague Dr Gertrude Halley, whose emphasis on a psychological approach to teaching she shared, Longmore established and supervised several playgrounds in Adelaide. She was convener of the child welfare committee of the South Australian branch of the National Council of Women. When she retired in 1934 she became secretary of the metropolitan branch of the Country Women's Association, but care of her aged aunt precluded further community service. Her Wesleyan childhood and Congregational membership influenced all that she wrote: 'To have power to create the right atmosphere the teacher must adjust her own inner life so that a spirit of peace and serenity may prevail'. In 1957 she was appointed O.B.E.

When young, Lydia Longmore had been shy. She was warned against being 'a modest violet', and developed 'an indomitable will' while remaining warm and witty. She loved cream sponge and pretty china, but was also a pioneer camper who enjoyed motoring, photography, was clever with her hands and a skilled puppeteer. She died at Allambi Home for the Aged, Glengowrie, on 30 October 1967 and was buried in Mitcham cemetery. In 1969 the Mothers' Club Association established the Lydia Longmore Trust Fund to commemorate her work.

Clancy's comment: Another woman ahead of her time. 

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