About this Archive
The Dawson Family Archive documents the family history of the Dawson family from 1864 to 1971, most notably the life and activities of the three sisters: Agnes Dawson, Elizabeth Tidswell and Clara Dawson Follett.
The sisters’ paternal grandparents were Hannah (1810-1878) and Jacob Dawson (1803-?), a Dissenting minister. Their parents were Sarah Burford (1842-1917) and Isaac Dawson (1844-1932), a journeyman carpenter. The eldest sister, Mary Dawson Bowden-Smith (1866-1911), emigrated to South Africa. Agnes Dawson, Elizabeth Tidswell (nee Dawson) and Clara Dawson Follett, became educators, feminists and members of the NUWT.
Dawson, Agnes (1873-1953), educator and feminist
Agnes Dawson trained at Saffron Walden College. By 1917 she was headteacher at Crawford Street Infants’ School in Camberwell. She was an enthusiastic supporter of Montessori active education for young children. In a pamphlet, she called for nursery schools to be built wherever there was a demand, in order to assist working-class women.
A member of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) Agnes campaigned for the union to support women’s suffrage and equal pay. She opposed mixed elementary schools as female teachers would be denied status and promotion in male-dominated mixed schools. In 1912 she became the first president of the Women Teachers’ Franchise Union. She stood for the national executive of the NUT unsuccessfully in 1916 and 1917. In 1919 she became president of the National Federation of Women Teachers (NFWT; a group within the NUT). Although a Labour Party member, she dissuaded the central council of the NFWT from affiliating, believing that women in the Labour Party would be ‘swamped’. She later helped lead the campaign for the NFWT to leave the NUT and become an autonomous union, the National Union of Women Teachers.
She was a constitutional suffragist and stated that the only militant act she ever undertook was to sit up all night at a friend’s house during Census night 1911.
In 1925 she resigned her teaching job and stood successfully for the London County Council (LCC) as a Labour Party candidate for North Camberwell. She did this full-time, sustained by money from NUWT members. When Labour gained control of the council for the first time in 1934, Agnes became chair of the powerful Finance and General Purposes sub-committee. After much campaigning she persuaded the leader, Herbert Morrison, to remove the marriage bar on women teachers in 1935.
In 1937 Agnes left her advisory post with the NUWT and did not stand again for the LCC. She retired to Newport, Essex, where she continued public work as a JP. From 1925 she lived with Anne Munn, a former teacher, whom she called her ‘pal and partner’, until Anne’s death in 1952.
Tidswell, Elizabeth (1875-1966) nee Dawson, educator and feminist
Elizabeth Tidswell was active in the teaching profession and the Suffrage movement, and a member of the National Union of Women Teachers (NUWT).
In the 1891 Census Elizabeth, then 15 years of age, is given as a dressmaker’s apprentice. By the time of the 1901 Census she is Elizabeth Tidswell, having married Charles Tidswell in December of 1900.
Between 1896 and 1911 Elizabeth trained and received certificates and diplomas in Housewifery, Inorganic Chemistry, Hygiene and Cookery from the Joint Committee on Manual Training of the School Board for London, the Board of Education, the National Union for the Technical Education of Women in Domestic Sciences and the Metropolitan Board Teachers’ Training School of Domestic Economy. In 1927 she became Registered as a Teacher and admitted as a Member of the Royal Society of Teachers. With her sister Agnes she appears in a photograph in the book ‘History of the N.U.W.T’ by Emily Phipps (1928), included in this collection. She retired from teaching in 1935, at which time she was awarded a formal certificate acknowledging her ‘valuable and faithful service’ to the teaching profession (included in this collection). She died 22 May 1966, aged 90.
Follett, Clara Dawson (1877-1955), educator and feminist
In the 1901 Census, Clara is listed as an Elementary School teacher. By the time of the 1911 Census she is Clara Follett, having married Ernest Jones Follett in July of that year. Her father-in-law, Henry Gillard Follett, was a ship-builder.
An active member of her profession and the NUWT, Clara is included in a photograph (together with her sisters Agnes and Elizabeth) of a group of approximately 200 women outside Portsmouth Guildhall, possibly at the NUWT Conference that took place there in 1921 (photograph included in this collection). She is also depicted in a photograph of protesters with placards reading ‘Women Teachers Are Training Citizens’, ‘Women Teachers Require the Parliamentary Franchise’ and ‘Public Sympathy is Practical Help’ (photograph included in this collection).
Clara Dawson Follett died in January of 1955.
Scope and content
Archive of the Dawson Family, primarily the activities and careers of the sisters Agnes Dawson, Elizabeth Tidswell and Clara Follett, including:
- Family-related memorabilia - correspondence, personal items, birth/marriage/death certificates - of sisters Mary Dawson Bowden Smith, Agnes Dawson, Elizabeth Dawson Tidswell and Clara Dawson Follett, their parents, grandparents, Mary’s daughter-in-law Elizabeth (known as Fairy) Bowden Smith and Clara’s daughter Mary Follett Hanson, 1864-1955
- Certificates, diplomas, correspondence and papers regarding the professional lives of Agnes, Elizabeth and Clara Dawson, with documents regarding the National Union of Women Teachers (NUWT) and London County Council, 1896-1971
- 39 photographs of the family and professional lives of the three Dawson sisters (Agnes Dawson, Clara Dawson Follett and Elizabeth Dawson Tidswell), 1865-1954
- Suffragette tea service, brooches, belt, sashes, shawls, stationery and other ephemera in the colours (purple, green white) and with the logo of the Women's Social and Political Union, c1906.
3 boxes and 5 oversize boxes.