E.H. (Ethel Howard) Spalding

From the papers of L R Reeve* this affectionate portrait of a minor character in British education. She does not have a Wikipedia page and is unknown to the DNB, but WorldCat record many books on history and education by her, some of which were continually reprinted into the 1960s. Her first book The problem of rural schools and teachers in North America (London : Stationery Office) was published in 1908 and she is noted as revising a book in 1960, so one could speculate her dates were something like 1880 - 1965. Her text books Piers Plowman Histories were in print from 1913 - 1957.

Miss Spalding

Miss Spalding was a most astonishing historian who still makes me feel google-eyed when I remember some of her activities.

In appearance she seemed so fragile that one would think a gentle summer breeze would blow her over. Yet when she lectured at Goldsmiths' College, London, cheeky men students, immediately after ragging unmercifully an instructor in physical training, would sit in her presence during a history lecture hardly daring to flicker an eyelid. Should, however, an unusually presumptuous newcomer take a chance, a slightly sarcastic smile and a softly spoken snub would make a blushing, wriggling mortal wish he were miles away from such and unexpected agony; and the tributes to Miss Spalding's uncanny disciplinary power can be heard even to this day when elderly men meet at college reunions.

She once gave a paper on the history of Deptford to members of St. David's Congregational Church, Lewisham Way, Brockley. The address ended, a  man who proposed the vote of thanks declared that for the rest of their lives most of the audience, who lived in Deptford, would feel very superior to the unfortunate people who lived in the neighbouring boroughs of Lewisham and Greenwich.

The series of Piers Plowman Histories under her editorship, still I believe, used extensively in schools, created a mild sensation when published and the historians responsible for certain books in the group were themselves a tribute to her discernment. Several years after their first issuer I met Mr. Snape, who wrote on one period of history. He assured me complacently in a train from Liverpool Street to Cambridge that he still enjoyed some royalties for his share in the historical enterprise.

An historian of Miss Spalding's distinction could hardly fail to each a position of great responsibility and no one was surprised to learn later that eventually she became the head of a woman's college, and Bingley could never have known a more successful principal. Moreover, I believe that during her brilliant career she was elected president of the Training College Association, and certainly no other occupant could ever have given more devotion to that high office, for a casual attention to any task was unknown to her.

Back to Goldsmith's College. In her leisure moments she proved to be a delightful after-dinner speaker. I remember one occasion when her menu was signed by a number of old students. During her brilliant and short speech she announced with a chuckle that attached to one signature was the phrase 'failed in history'. I can still hear the appreciative laughter.

At one time among the numerous societies at college was a small group, the Howard Club, with two or three lectures attached who discussed current problems, and at the end of every meeting it was the custom to choose a new chairman for the next meeting: obviously to train students in the important office of chairmanship. We were young enough to feel very flattered when nominated for the honour, and when I think of those halcyon little assemblies I always experience a feeling of thanks to Miss Spalding for proposing me as chairman for one of those evenings. I trust I conducted myself with adequate precision and successfully disguised both my modest pride and my nervousness.

Miss Spalding evidently loved Goldsmith's College, and after her retirement from Bingley ex-students, men and women, were always delighted to see her radiant presence, and her obvious enjoyment in being again at her old home could not have been more pronounced on the countenance of an unusually sentimental college girl.

Her last appearance at the reunion was at once tragic yet triumphant. Now nearly blind, guided throughout the Great Hall by a devoted old pupil, her sightless face, lighted up by a tremulous, yet happy smile, she could not fail to realise that the hundreds of old scholars lined up on the either side who greeted her so warmly as she passed through were united in a wave of affection for a wonderful little woman.

* There is much on this amazing man at our posting on Cloudesley Brereton

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