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News > OP updates > Women in the Staff Common Room? Whatever next!

Women in the Staff Common Room? Whatever next!

Until well into the 20th century PGS was, like many independent schools, an exclusively male environment...
7 Mar 2022
Written by John Sadden
OP updates
Ms Foster - pioneering PGS teacher, on Sports Day, 1949
Ms Foster - pioneering PGS teacher, on Sports Day, 1949

It was for practical rather than ideological reasons that women first began to be admitted to the school Staff Common Room. During the summer term of 1939 the decision was made to admit boys to the Lower (Junior) School at the age of seven and, for this reason, a Miss Bonney was employed. She had taught at the Preparatory School of Dulwich College, and joined the staff at a difficult time. War was imminent and some male staff were preparing for active service in the military. The evacuation of pupils to Sparsholt, then on to Southbourne, resulted in her feet never really touching the ground in Portsmouth.

In Southbourne, Miss Bonney was active in organising the school's War Savings as part of a national campaign to raise funds to support the war effort. Persuasiveness and pupils' patriotism led to 80% of Lower School pupils taking part.. She was congratulated on her direction of a play about Robin Hood, The King’s Warrant in which “the characters were acted with vigour and conviction”. She also directed  The Mad Hatter's Tea Party, which featured “a most incredibly girlish Alice” and “the Maddest of Hatters”. 

Ill health led to Miss Bonney leaving in 1943 and she was replaced by Miss B. J. (Jane) Foster (1943-52) who came from Froebel Educational College at Knebworth House. Miss Foster played hockey and tennis for her school and college, and it was believed that this would “perhaps, stand her in good stead in dealing with the more restless members of her form”.  Miss D. Gray (1943-46) was taken on at the same time, and it appears that the employment of female staff was felt to be necessary to help meet the maternal needs of young boys far from home.  

Simon Gray OP (OP 1945-47), the late playwright and diarist, had a very restless and disrupted childhood and schooling, but adored Miss Foster. She was “a pretty young woman,soft and round” who went out of her way to help him adapt to the school. “She helped me to catch up to where I would have been if I’d started my education there (at PGS),” he later recalled. 

When Geography and Geology teacher Christine Giles joined PGS in 1978 she was one of only five female teaching staff but she went on to head her department. By 1990, all Pre-Prep staff were women, and there were 4 female teachers in the Lower School and 14 in the Senior School. Today, there are more female teaching staff than male in in PGS as a whole and in recent years women have become increasingly appointed to senior management roles including, of course, Dr Anne Cotten who has served as Head since 2018.   

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