Ruskin lecture – Beate Howitt, Guild of St George

There’s a mini reunion of May Queens at the lecture, some of whom have not been to Whitelands since the 1970s.

May Queen festival not just about fun and education – trying to do the best you can in your own life.

Beate used to standing in front of children as a teacher. She was at Whitelands Womens college in Putney in 1950s. Everyone lived in as students.

The government introduced 2 year teacher training course and in exchange for a grant, had to commit to 2 years teaching.

May Queen core duties to be charitable works. In the first month had to start teaching. At end of 2nd term, asked to vote for May Queen. Secret ballot paper had to also write vital statistics, so that dress could be made.

Her tutor had created the last 27 years gowns, included during the war – no fabric. Embroidered name of Queen on white muslin.

Some students asked to collect flowers from Covent Garden. Had staves with cowslips attached to the top. Was anxious because invited guardians but they hadn’t arrived.

Her family were German, fleeing the war, living outside as refugees. Settled in a part of Germany that was allocated to British government. Played in streets without shoes, insufficient food and no books.

So told at 17 was not university material but was accepted by Whitelands.

She had been bullied in Uk schools prior to college because her family were foreign and they were called Nazis. However her sporting abilities won them over. Still felt that didn’t quite belong, couldn’t invite people over. In Germany 5 of them shared one room, in UK 5 shared one house. Helped in church, youth work.

Given books as part of May Queen. Became part of a community that had existed since 1880s. Very impressed by Ruskin and social reform outlook.

She wanted to try and make the world a better place, open young minds and inspire them to enjoy nature, learning. Was introduced to care home next door and started to help there occasionally.

Ruskin argued for boys and girls to be given same advantages. He wanted cultivation of moral, spiritual kind, arts, debating meaning of life, delight in nature. Children flourish woth independent, self-directed learning – includes tolerance, Compassion, respect.

Found teaching heartwarming. Helping children to learn to see e.g. through drawing. Education where the mind is liberated from preconceptions and dogma. The May Queen offered a life transforming experience and being accepted for whom she is, in her adopted country. Developed confidence and enriched life beyond measure.

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