Margaret McMillan

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Rachel and Margaret McMillan plaque, Bromley. Rachel and Margaret McMillan plaque, Bromley.jpg
Rachel and Margaret McMillan plaque, Bromley.

Margaret McMillan CH CBE (20 July 1860 27 March 1931) was a nursery school pioneer and lobbied for the 1906 Provision of School Meals Act. Working in deprived districts of London, notably Deptford, and Bradford, she agitated for reforms to improve the health of young children, wrote several books on nursery education and pioneered a play-centred approach that has only latterly found wide acceptance. [1]

Deptford district of south-east London, England

Deptford, an area on the south bank of the River Thames in south-east London, is named after a ford of the River Ravensbourne. From the mid 16th century to the late 19th it was home to Deptford Dockyard, the first of the Royal Dockyards. This was a major shipbuilding dock and attracted Peter the Great to come and study shipbuilding. Deptford and the docks are associated with the knighting of Sir Francis Drake by Queen Elizabeth I aboard the Golden Hind, the legend of Sir Walter Raleigh laying down his cape for Elizabeth, Captain James Cook's third voyage aboard Resolution, and the mysterious murder of Christopher Marlowe in a house along Deptford Strand.

Bradford City and metropolitan borough in England

Bradford is a city in West Yorkshire, England, in the foothills of the Pennines, 8.6 miles (14 km) west of Leeds, and 16 miles (26 km) north-west of Wakefield. Bradford became a municipal borough in 1847, and received its charter as a city in 1897. Following local government reform in 1974, city status was bestowed upon the City of Bradford metropolitan borough.



Margaret McMillan, was born to James and Jean McMillan in Westchester County, New York, on 20 July 1860. Her parents, were from Inverness but had emigrated to the United States in 1840. When she was four, an epidemic of Scarlet fever killed her father and sister and left Margaret deaf (she recovered her hearing at the age of fourteen). Thereupon Mrs. McMillan returned to Scotland with her daughters Margaret and Rachel McMillan, where both attended the Inverness High School. McMillan's mother Jean McMillan died in 1877.

Inverness City in the Scottish Highlands, Scotland, UK

Inverness is a city in the Scottish Highlands. It is the administrative centre for The Highland Council and is regarded as the capital of the Highlands. Inverness lies near two important battle sites: the 11th-century battle of Blàr nam Fèinne against Norway which took place on the Aird and the 18th century Battle of Culloden which took place on Culloden Moor. It is the northernmost city in the United Kingdom and lies within the Great Glen at its north-eastern extremity where the River Ness enters the Moray Firth. At the latest, a settlement was established by the 6th century with the first royal charter being granted by Dabíd mac Maíl Choluim in the 12th century. The Gaelic king Mac Bethad Mac Findláich (MacBeth) whose 11th-century killing of King Duncan was immortalised in Shakespeare's largely fictionalized play Macbeth, held a castle within the city where he ruled as Mormaer of Moray and Ross.

Scarlet fever infectious disease

Scarlet fever is a disease which can occur as a result of a group A streptococcus infection, also known as Streptococcus pyogenes. The signs and symptoms include a sore throat, fever, headaches, swollen lymph nodes, and a characteristic rash. The rash is red and feels like sandpaper and the tongue may be red and bumpy. It most commonly affects children between five and 15 years of age.

Rachel McMillan (1859–1917) was an American health visitor and advisor on education. She came to notice due to the efforts of her sister Margaret McMillan, who memorialised her life after her death. Margaret named the Rachel McMillan Nursery School and Children's Centre after her sister Rachel in 1917, the year of her death.

McMillan went on to study Psychology and Physiology, followed by Languages and Music in Germany. [2] In 1887 McMillan was introduced to Christian socialism and read articles by William Morris and William Thomas Stead and after July 1888 joined her sister in London. Together they attended political meetings, where they met Morris, H. M. Hyndman, Peter Kropotkin, William Stead and Ben Tillett. In 1889, McMillan and her sister helped the workers during the London Dock Strike. In 1892 they moved to Bradford. There they joined the Fabian Society, the Labour Church, the Social Democratic Federation and the Independent Labour Party (ILP).

Christian socialism is a form of religious socialism based on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Many Christian socialists believe capitalism to be idolatrous and rooted in greed, which some Christian denominations consider a mortal sin. Christian socialists identify the cause of inequality to be the greed that they associate with capitalism.

William Morris Textile designer, novelist, and socialist activist (1834–1896)

William Morris was a British textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement. He was a major contributor to the revival of traditional British textile arts and methods of production. His literary contributions helped to establish the modern fantasy genre, while he played a significant role propagating the early socialist movement in Britain.

Peter Kropotkin Anarcho-Communist philosopher

Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin was a Russian activist, revolutionary, scientist, geographer and philosopher who advocated anarcho-communism.

With Bradford's school medical officer, Dr. James Kerr, McMillan carried out the first medical inspection of elementary school children in Britain. They published a report and began a campaign for local authorities to install bathrooms, improve ventilation and supply free school meals for children, after seeing the success of Bradford Cinderella Club providing a warm meal to underprivileged children.

The Cinderella Movement was a late nineteenth century British movement to provide food and entertainment for poor children. Individuals formed "Cinderella Clubs", named after the fairy tale character Cinderella, to address specific problems associated with children's welfare.

In 1902 the sisters joined the recently formed Labour Party, working with James Keir Hardie and George Lansbury. McMillan began to write books on health and education. In 1904 she published her most important books, Education Through the Imagination and The Economic Aspects of Child Labour and Education. Through McMillan's work and joint campaigning with Katharine Glasier, the House of Commons passed the 1906 Provision of School Meals Act.

The Labour Party is a centre-left political party in the United Kingdom that has been described as an alliance of social democrats, democratic socialists and trade unionists. The party's platform emphasises greater state intervention, social justice and strengthening workers' rights.

George Lansbury British politician and social reformer

George Lansbury was a British politician and social reformer who led the Labour Party from 1932 to 1935. Apart from a brief period of ministerial office during the Labour government of 1929–31, he spent his political life campaigning against established authority and vested interests, his main causes being the promotion of social justice, women's rights and world disarmament.

Katharine Glasier British journalist

Katharine Glasier was an English socialist politician, journalist and novelist. She became a founder member of the Independent Labour Party in 1893.

In 1908 McMillan and her sister opened England's first school clinic at Bow followed by the Deptford Clinic in 1910. A Night Camp where slum children could wash and wear clean nightclothes followed. In The Child and the State published in 1911, McMillan argued that schools should be offering a broad and humane education instead of preparing children for unskilled, monotonous jobs.

Bow, London district in East London, England

Bow is an area in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in East End of London, England. It is primarily a built-up and mostly residential area and is 4.6 miles (7.4 km) east of Charing Cross.

McMillan and her sister campaigned for Universal suffrage. McMillan was injured while protesting the way Women's Social and Political Union members were treated in prison through the Cat and Mouse Act.

In 1914 the sisters founded the Open-Air Nursery School & Training Centre in Deptford for children from eighteen months to seven years and for adult trainees. McMillan invited personalities like Bernard Shaw and Walter de la Mare to speak to audiences in Deptford. On 25 March 1917 her sister Rachel McMillan died. McMillan continued to run the Nursery, which she named the Rachel McMillan College after her sister. Margaret McMillan's nursery in Deptford was the first to receive local education authorities (LEAs) funding in 1917. [3]

In 1922 she was brought in touch with the work of Rudolf Steiner through Prof Millicent Mackenzie and joined the initiative Educational Union for the Realization of Spiritual Values in Education, becoming one of the organisers and presiding over the 1923 conference in Ilkley where Steiner held the lecture cycle The New Art of Education. Steiner acknowledged the work McMillan was doing, referring to her as an educational genius in his subsequent report. McMillan visited Dornach in Switzerland and saw the first Waldorf school. [4] She remained connected with the work of Anthroposophy and assisted the growing Steiner school's movement. Later in life she became interested in the subject of nursing and established the Rachel McMillan College to train nurses and teachers in Deptford in May 1930.

McMillan died in Harrow, London in 1931.


The Rachel McMillan College, named after Margaret's sister, was founded in 1930 and merged with Goldsmiths College in the 1970s, although student accommodation still exists in Creek Road, Deptford, bearing her name.

In early May 1936 the Duke of York opened Margaret McMillan House [ dead link ]. The first purpose-built outdoor centre created in memory of Margaret McMillan. The centre is now part of the charity, Widehorizons, which delivers a range of adventure based activities.

A memorial college to Margaret McMillan was opened in Bradford in 1952. [5]

An English Heritage blue plaque commemorates McMillan and her sister, Rachel, at 51 Tweedy Road in Bromley where they lodged. [6]

An award-winning park named after her [7] stands on the site of what was once one of the most deprived streets in Deptford, as shown on the Poverty map published by Charles Booth (social reformer) [8]

Published work

The Life of Rachel McMillan by Margaret McMillan. J.M. Dent and Sons, London (1927)

Education Through the Imagination by Margaret McMillan. BiblioBazaar (February 10, 2009) ISBN   978-1103333233

Early Childhood Education: A Series of Classic Readings by Margaret McMillan. Cosmo Publications (November 30, 2008) ISBN   978-8130706689

The Nursery School by Margaret McMillan. BiblioLife (10 Dec 2009) ISBN   978-1117660783

Reflections on Contemporary Nursing by Judith Townsend and Margaret McMillan. Butterworth-Heinemann (July 17, 1995) ISBN   978-0750689113

Labour and Childhood by Margaret McMillan. Cambridge University Press; Reissue edition (September 26, 2013) ISBN   978-1108062411

Child Labour and the Half-time System (Clarion pamphlet) by Margaret McMillan (1896) "Clarion" Newspaper Co (1896) ASIN B0008BN3JG

The Passing of Rudolf Steiner McMillan, Margaret. 1925 Article: Journal of Education and School World 57 (June): 392-393.

Further reading

Margaret Macmillan: Portrait of a Pioneer by Elizabeth Bradburn. Routledge (April 1989) ISBN   978-0415012546

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  1. Margaret McMillan, Spartacus Education, retrieved 13 August 2011
  2. McMillan Margaret, Biographische Dokumentation der Forschungsstelle Kulturimpuls, retrieved 8 September 2014
  3. Pam Hirsch; Mary Hilton (30 July 2014). Practical Visionaries: Women, Education and Social Progress, 1790-1930. Routledge. p. 197. ISBN   978-1-317-87722-6.
  4. Rudolf Steiner in Britain by Crispian Villeneuve. Temple Lodge Press 2009 ISBN   978-1-906999-03-2
  5. Miriam Lord, History to Her Story, archived from the original on 29 September 2011, retrieved 13 August 2011
  6. "McMILLAN, Margaret (1860-1931) & McMILLAN, Rachel (1859-1917)". English Heritage. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
  7. "London Gardens Online, Margaret McMillan Park" . Retrieved 26 October 2018.
  8. "Charles Booth's London Poverty Maps and Police Notebooks" . Retrieved 26 October 2018.
Party political offices
Preceded by
New position
Southern Division representative on the Independent Labour Party National Administrative Council
Succeeded by
Robert Ensor