May 1917: The view from the home front

The Somerville JCR held two meetings in May 1917. The subjects under discussion included the usual items of college business such as the river rules, the storage of bicycles, noise in the quad and a vote on taking a college photograph. Issues reflecting the wider concerns of the civilian population were also under consideration and highlight the effects of the war on the home front after almost three years of conflict.

Rationing and shortages were discussed; waste paper was to be saved (in sacks being provided for each landing) and volunteers were instructed in how to sort it once it had been transferred to the depot at St Aldates. It was decided, after some debate, to display cards issued by the Food Controller guaranteeing the observance of the voluntary ration order in the college. It was felt that, whilst it would make no difference to the behaviour of those in the college, it might set a good example to people passing by! (No doubt, the notoriously bad food served in Somerville at this time would have discouraged over-indulgence by anyone in the college).

Over the previous year, measures had been introduced to address the shortage of teachers; for example, women teachers, formerly banned from continuing in the profession once they married, had been allowed to return to the classroom. In the wake of HAL Fisher’s appeal to women students to complete their studies (see February 2017 blog), a scheme had been launched to survey university women, identifying those prepared to consider teaching as a career on leaving college. State-aided schools were particularly in need of staff and it was felt that the information provided by the survey “would be of the greatest value to the Board of Education“. The college would distribute forms for students to complete, whilst a teaching agency offered to visit Somerville and interview potential recruits. Other works schemes looking for student volunteers included a land workers scheme and a forestry party to work in the summer vacation.

College Meeting minutes 3 May 1917The minutes also included an appeal for information “for a national museum of women’s war-work“. Two months previously, the War Cabinet had approved a plan for a museum to commemorate all aspects of the war. A National War Museum Committee was set up to collect information and artefacts from the battlefields and the home front, from combatants and civilians (including women) and the resulting collection would form the Imperial War Museum. All members of college, past and present, were asked to describe their national service, with the Principal Emily Penrose undertaking to recount college activities such as the Somerville hospital and refugee relief.

After almost three years of war, there was much to record.

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