Wycombe Abbey Senior, Elsie Bowerman, in Edwardian England
20 April 2023 - All
Elsie Bowerman, Wycombe Abbey Senior, was a key figure in the history of the School. She joined at age 11 in 1901, shortly after the School was opened. Her education at Wycombe Abbey prepared her for a life of achievements and Elsie’s influence extends far beyond the School.
Social historian, Martin Williams, has explored Elsie’s pioneering work in Edwardian England in his new book, The King is Dead, Long Live the King! Elsie was a key figure of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), which campaigned for women’s suffrage. She travelled the world campaigning for equal rights, and it was on a trip to the mid-west of America that Elsie and her mother survived the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.
She became the first female barrister at the Old Bailey in 1924 and helped establish the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in 1947. Despite travelling the world and campaigning for equal rights for all, Elsie remained devoted to Wycombe Abbey and continued to be involved with the School. Williams writes that Elsie was “the embodiment of the principles of self-reliance and public service expounded by Frances Dove”.
Williams’ description of Elsie’s experience at Wycombe Abbey is remarkably similar to how many current pupils describe their time at the School. This is a fantastic connection to the School’s heritage which we can still see in daily life today.
“Elsie loved every minute of her time at Wycombe Abbey. She relished its communal routines and rituals and threw herself with gusto into the packed programme of lessons and games. Her classmates became her surrogate family. Inspired by Dove’s ethos of ‘corporate values’, she grew into a confident, motivated and boundlessly energetic young woman who retained an open-minded innocence that led her to not only embrace but actively seek out fresh challenges.”
Elsie held fond memories of her time at Wycombe Abbey and wrote Stands There a School: Memories of Dame Frances Dove in 1965. Her legacy still lives on after her death in 1973. The Dove-Bowerman Society recognises the benefaction of those who have made provision of a gift to the School in their will, as Elsie did.
It is fantastic to see Elsie’s life and work being recognised in Williams’ book. It is clear that she had a wide-reaching impact not only on women’s rights but on civil advancement globally.
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