Dr Elsa H. Walters

Found in the papers of L.R. Reeve (see A.J. Balfour for background on him) this piece about the West Indian writer, educational psychologist and teacher Dr Elsa H.(Hopkins) Waters. There is little online about her and Reeve's piece will add substantially to knowledge of her life. Her first book Ability and Knowledge. The Standpoint of the London School (Macmillan, London) came out in 1935 she wrote about five more (several published by the National Froebel Foundation)  and her last book Principles of education: with special reference to teaching in the Caribbean was published by the O.U.P. in 1967. She was probably born about 1900 and was still alive when Reeve wrote this piece about 1970.


There came into our compartment at Newton Abbot station a well-dressed West Indian girl. She asked timidly if the train went to Paignton. Answered in the affirmative she lifted her suitcase on to the rack and responded readily to our inquisitive questions, then joined quietly in the general conversation. She informed us that she was a student at the Institute of Education, London.
  After Torquay, the young student and I were the only passengers in the compartment and she continued the story of her early life in the West Indies. Could she, I asked, tell me anything about Dr Walters, a university lecturer who had gone to her country. "Do you mean Miss Elsa Walters?" At my affirmative nod she informed me that she had heard of the lady but had never seen her. Strange, I thought, that a young West Indian scholar could give me the elusive, forgotten Christian name of an acquaintance.
  When Elsa Walters, several years younger than I, was at college she rarely missed an attendance at any meeting of the debating society. She frequently joined in the discussions, rather tense, but full of courage and her quiet voice could be heard by everybody. She, like me and many others, probably thought of future occasions when public appearances on the platform would be essential, and we needed training in the art of self control when aware that a hundred eyes were focussed in our direction. Years later college debates were mentioned by an old Goldsmithian whom I met on a cruise to Madeira. Within half an hour of our chat on college days he said that his greatest mistake when in training was not to learn the art of public speaking. "When you were secretary," he declared, "you always rose to say something, if only to ask a question. Had I done the same I should have been a better public speaker as a councillor."
  I am sure that Elsa Walters became a better lecturer and orator through her early college training, and would moreover have been an asset to the B.B.C., for she had a perfect voice on the microphone. This asset was demonstrated at Leeds some years later at the Annual Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. At one social evening a large assembly of members was entertained by an official of the B.B.C. He informed us he wanted to demonstrate that people could recognize voices on the microphone without a previous declaration of their presence. In the next room there was a microphone with some script to be read by volunteers. Came the inevitable question, "Would someone agree to be the first reader?" Miss Walters agreed, went into the adjoining room, read the brief article perfectly, and returned. Then the official asked me whether I could have recognized the voice had I not been forewarned. My reply was: "Perhaps. I might have thought the voice was familiar. No more." Then he asked me, "Will you go and read it?" So I went into the next room. There was the desk; there was the script lit by a reading lamp. I read. On my return the demonstrator was beaming. He informed me that "this young lady says she would know your voice anywhere!”
  That never-to-be-forgotten evening witnessed many excited volunteers, and on the whole the verdict was that most people would recognize an unexpected voice on the radio. Today such a verdict would of course be much more emphatic, for since then communications on the air have been greatly improved, and technicians continue to experiment in new fields of science.
  But again Miss Walters. Subsequent to her graduation at Goldsmiths' she succeeded in joining the staff of a first-class secondary school at Streatham. In the evenings she studied for several years at King's College, Strand, and on a thesis on the Validity of Intelligence Tests she attained her Ph. D. Before very long she was appointed as a lecturer at the Training College for Women at Brighton, followed in a few years by a staff appointment at the Froebel Institute. Next, I am informed, she achieved an important post at the University College of the West Indies Department of Education, Kingston, Jamaica.
  Her high appointments as a psychologist were inevitable, for when many of her acquaintances were frequently involved in dances and theatres she, as I have said, persistently studied for her Ph.D. and was rewarded for her determined efforts by important posts in educational circles. I once met one of her old Froebel students who informed me that Dr Walters was rather strict, but a very good lecturer; and as regards her qualifications it must be one of her rewarding memories that the first time she had worn her Ph.D. robes in public was when Queen Mary opened the New Bethlehem Hospital in S. E. London and Dr Walters was briefed to demonstrate and explain the apparatus in the Psychological Laboratory. Later in the day Her Majesty asked a lecturer to tell Dr Walters how glad she was to see a lady among the learned doctors.
  Now, since retirement in England, she finds her life abundantly satisfying and active, for she has been examining practice teaching for London University, and nowadays much of her work is with the elderly in homes and hospitals. Moreover, I am sure her questing mind is still searching for additional knowledge in some psychological field, and if she makes her century she will continue to be interested in every new fact that happens to come her way.

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