The new President of the London branch of BFWG was there and was asking one of her members if she'd read the government's Green Paper on Education. F said she had found a copy in the Kensington Library and had read the whole thing (brave woman.). She said she had to keep checking the front cover to confirm that she was reading the right paper as she didn't find much about education in it. I asked if it was full of things about inclusion and crime prevention. To which she responded 'Yes, but not only that. Whole sections on drop-in centres for parents and after school child care centres.' I told her that she really must get up to speed on the whole thing and realise that that's what schools were for, the provision of social services. What did she expect, a paper all about teaching and learning?
Our conversation about schools and schooling turned, inevitably, to our own experiences as children. It was then that I learned that not only was F. a convent educated girl (as were 3 other women present at the meeting) but that she was educated by the same nuns as me. She was very interested to hear I'd written a book about my old school and the library's copy was taken down from the shelf. I've just packed a copy to send to F. as she was adament that she had to have one. So, another sale in aid of the FCJs work in the Philippines.
The bit of information that depressed me that day was hearing that the BFWG has only about 1200 members, compared to over 4000 in Holland. '"What are they doing differently?" I asked. The answer "They treat it as a club. Members meet in small groups to dine and talk." The BFWG, on the other hand, is still trying to be what it was when it was first established, a support group for women graduates, active in many different spheres. The Sybil Campbell Library is just one section of the BFWG and it is losing money and eating into capital. The original collection was housed at Cosgrove Hall (set up to accommodate overseas students studying in the UK) The present library houses just a fraction of the Cosgrove Hall collection. Many of the books have been donated to other libraries but the original collection (donated by people such as Virginia Woolfe) remain in BFWG hands. For just how much longer remains to be seen. But the opinion of the Librarian is that the long-term prospects are bleak. Which is a great pity. The collection includes some unpublished autobiographies and some rare primary sources, such as the Strasburg University's bound collection of writings of alumni imprisoned in the Concentration Camps in WWII.
Why does reflecting on all this fill me with guilt about not offering to do something about it, like try to help the BFWG recruit more members, or work towards modernising the way the admin of the organisation works. Ah, I know, cowardice. I have second-hand experience of watching MWNN's growing frustration with the way the OEs operate. Never get involved in trying to restructure the way voluntary organisations work, was the lesson I learned from that.
Recommend Kate Adie's book Corsets to Camouflage for a thorough look at the development of women's role in war.