Women’s History Month: Story of a Reading education pioneer
09 March 2023
Research informed by the University’s archives has uncovered the story of an outdoor education pioneer whose work more than a century ago paved the way for modern-day teaching and research at Reading.
As part of Women’s History Month, we are featuring the story of Eliza Chattaway, a primary education specialist in the early 20th century.
She was the subject of a recent research project by Leah Rashid, an Art student at Reading who is working with a team of Reading academics to produce the first academic biography on the lecturer.
Who was Eliza Chattaway?
Miss Chattaway taught primary education at the University College of Reading – the precursor to the University of Reading – alongside her work as headteacher in local schools.
She was a contemporary of Edith Morley at the University College, recognised by the University as England’s first woman professor.
Born in Wednesbury, Staffordshire, in 1870, Miss Chattaway trained as a teacher as a teenager, going on to teach in Ely, Cambridgeshire, and Norwich, Norfolk, before accepting a position as headteacher at Redlands Primary School in Reading in 1895.
Outdoor education pioneer
Wanting to break away from the classroom and learning textbooks by rote, Miss Chattaway was inspired by the cycle of nature, as well as the agricultural education at the University College.
Recognising the educational benefits of time spent outdoors, she would take her pupils on nature walks, including at what is now our Whiteknights campus.
In 1912, Miss Chattaway published School Nature Rambles, the story of a year at Redlands, documenting the nature walks and offering advice on nature lesson planning.
She became headteacher at Wokingham Road Infants school, now Alfred Sutton School, in 1913, where she worked until retirement in 1934. She moved to Bournemouth, Dorset, in 1939, where she spent her final months.
Miss Chattaway’s legacy lives on at Reading, both through the research into outdoor education that continues at the Institute of Education today, and our climate education work with local schools.
Third year student Leah’s research was carried out through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP), and was supervised by Dr Rhi Smith, Director of Academic Learning and Engagement in the University Museums and Special Collections Services.
The project involved delving into the University’s archives, which hold materials evidencing Miss Chattaway’s time at the University. This informed Leah’s research and highlighted how Reading’s special collections is playing an important role in revealing hidden local histories and boosting community participation in research.
They are working with Professor Helen Bilton, Professor of Outdoor Learning and Play in the Institute of Education, and Dr Jacqui Turner, an early feminism researcher in the Department of History, to better recognise Miss Chattaway’s contribution to the University’s history and education more widely.
The resulting biography on Miss Chattaway will be published on the Berkshire Record Office website.
Colleagues at the University’s Museum of English Rural Life (The MERL) are supporting Redlands Primary School to create a sensory garden inspired by Miss Chattaway’s work. Resources allowing other schools to learn from Leah’s research are also set to be added to The MERL’s collections.
Women’s History Month
A range of activities are taking place at the University to mark Women’s History Month, including the Edith Morley Lecture on coping with cancer, and a panel event on maternity inequalities. Both events are taking place on 23 March and both are open to the public.
All images are the property of the Berkshire Record Office.