Mrs Jessie White

Jessie-WhiteJessie White DSc. Lond., B.A. Birm., 67, (1865-1968) was a Montessori specialist and headmistress. An author on Froebel and Montessori, she was not afraid to challenge the pioneering Madame Montessori, whilst also championing her methods.[1] A widow since 1914 (her husband had been the Editor of the Yorkshire Herald) she did not have children. The eldest of six children of a Birmingham hardware merchant who all established themselves in the world: in manufacturing, in the church, in the law or raising families. A truly innovative educationalist.

SEATED BESIDE

Jessie would have been an excellent companion for any of the young guests who were embarking on a career in teaching (for example Gwendolen Harrison).

WHAT’S ON HER MIND?

Looking for the opportunity to engage with any of the innovative people at the dinner.

JESSIE’S STORY SO FAR

Jessie Charles was born in Edgbaston, Birmingham in the Spring of 1865 (baptised on 28th May), the eldest of the six children born to Eliza Hutton Goode, (1837-1902) daughter of a brush manufacturer, and the Londonderry born Andrew Charles, (1833-1910), draper and hardware merchant, son of a gentleman. Jessie’s eldest brother Andrew Douglas became a needle manufacturer, her second brother Arthur a Church of England clergyman, and third brother Thomas Hessin, a steel pin manufacturer before becoming a barrister at law. Her two sisters, Lilla Jane (1930 – 1950) and Leonora Margaret (1877 – 1940) both married surgeons.

Jessie married Robert White, journalist, on 17th October 1898, in Edgbaston. Robert, born 1863 in Carrickmacross, Monaghan, Ireland, son of a farmer, became Editor of the Yorkshire Herald. They had no children.

Jessie was educated at Mason’s College Birmingham, Bedford College, London and Newnham College, Cambridge (First Class, Moral Science Tripos), as a Marion Kennedy student.[2] Marion Kennedy was a founder and benefactress and Hon Sec. of Newnham College, and a supporter of women’s suffrage – the first recipient of her postgraduate studentship was Philippa Fawcett in 1888. Jessie then went on to study at Breslau and Leipzig Universities and was awarded a doctorate of science from London University. In 1898 she took up voluntary social work.[3]

In 1901 she was living at Slane Cottage, Cowley Road, Oxford (from University of London Student Records) and was a Moral Science lecturer at the time of the 1901 census, when a visitor with her husband Robert (and brother Thomas) in Weston-super-Mare – they were staying with her sister Lilla Jane and her family.

In 1907 Jessie published her book The Educational Ideas of Froebel, when she was “the late Vice-Principal of the Home and Colonial School Society’s Kindergarten Training College” ay Highbury. She also lectured at the Ladies College, Cheltenham. [4] [5] [6]

Jessie-book
Jessie’s 1907 book on Froebel

Jessie worked for the introduction of the Montessori Method into the UK and was the Hon. Treasurer and organiser of the Montessori Society from 1914 to 1920. She started the Children’s Home, St Bartholomew’s and at one time was its Directress; and taught at the Montessori School, Gray’s Inn Road (the Mayo School, following Pestalozzi methods).[7] The Mayo School was a girls’ school that had come out of the Home and Colonial Society educational training programme. When space became restricted it transferred to Highbury in 1894.[8] [9] In 1905 or 1906, at the time of writing The Educational Ideas of Froebel, she was at the Home and Colonial School Society’s Kindergarten Training College at 14 Highbury Hill, N.[9]

Jessie was a Member of the O’Seas League and of the London University Club. Her address in Who’s Who was listed as Auto Education Institution at 46 Great Russell Street.[10]

Jessie made a significant contribution in her 1914 paper Montessori schools as seen in the early summer of 1913, where she stressed how schools varied with the personality of the individual teacher directing the class. She had visited Madame Montessori in Italy during 1913. [11]

Jessie-paper
Reprint of Jessie’s 1914 paper on Montessori schools

At the time of this important point in Jessie’s professional life her husband Robert died, on 10th April 1914, at the Amberley Hotel, 39 Tavistock Square, aged 51 (probate to his brother in Ireland).

In 1922 she wasn’t afraid to criticise even the founder of Montessori, at a meeting of the “Auto-Education Allies”:

“Now that the system has been before the world for over a decade, it is time we are quite clear and agreed on what is meant by the Montessori method, which does not change from time to time like the philosophical views of , say, Mr Bertrand Russell”.     “Dr Montessori has not helped matters, for while she demands that teachers should subscribe to her principles, and seek to adopt her method in its entirety, she has continually created the impression that those who understand her ideas can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and that, though the inadequate understanding of the rest equips them for directing children, it does not suffice to fit them to hand on a knowledge of her method to other teachers.”

A quite modern thesis refers to the Hungarian musician Kodály, in reference to Jessie’s 1914 book as follows:

“Even Jessie White, herself a former Vice-Principal of the Home and Colonial Kindergarten Training College, observed: ‘To me the unnatural behaviour of some of the Froebelian teachers I have seen has always been unattractive. I hate to see them singing their silly’little rhymes and looking foolish over gestures which the children ape, not with the natural imitativeness of childhood, but with the imitativeness of command.’ ”. (White 1914, 182)[13]

WHAT JESSIE DID NEXT

Jessie had retired (probably) by the time of the dinner but lived for another quarter century. She died aged 93 on 7th April 1958, when resident at 86 Monument Lane, Rednal, Bromsgrove, Worcs.[14] Probate was granted to her nieces Katherine Bridget Wilson (daughter of Lilla Jane) and Margaret Lilla O’Hara Holness (daughter of Leonora Margaret).

BACK TO TABLE 17


[1] Mrs Jessie White, Hutchinson’s Woman’s Who’s Who 1934, Hutchinson & Co. London. and in Women’s Who’s Who 1934-35.

[2] Marion Kennedy https://www.newn.cam.ac.uk/about/history/biographies/

[3] The Times, 10.4.1958

[4] Caroline Vollans, Wise Words: How Susan Isaacs Changed Parenting, Routledge, 2017

[5] Jessie White, The Educational Ideas of Froebel, 1907,

[6] On a personal note, my mother, the younger daughter of Rev. J.T. Rhys trained for her very innovative teaching career at Froebel College, Roehampton –the publishers of the online version of Jessie’s book.

[7] Home and Colonial School aka The Mayo School

[8] Highbury Hill House school archives at London Metropolitan Archives.

[9] Jessie White’s 1913 book cover in reprint

[10] History of Highbury Fields School accessed online 13.1.2018

[11] Source: correspondence from Angela V. John

[12] Jessie White’s 1913 book cover in reprint

[13] Susan Evelyn Kendall, The Significance of Innovatory Ideas and Enduring Values in Music Education, Submitted in part-fulfilment of requirements, for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, in the University of York, Department of Music, September 1989

[14] The Times, 10.4.1958

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