Selina Dix – the Campaigning Head

SelinaDix

Selina Dix was the daughter of Edward Dix, a lace machine smith and his wife Emma, and was born in Beeston, Nottingham, on 15th March, 1859.

She took over the headship of the Girls department of South Street Board School (later Southfields Primary School) in 1889 and made huge improvements to the standard of education in the school and an enormous contribution to the improvement of the quality of life and opportunity for many children in the Hillfields area.

She was the first woman president of the Warwickshire County Teachers Association, a president of the Coventry Head Teachers Association, a member of the executive of the National Union of Teachers, a worker for its Benevolent and Orphans Fund (see below), a founder member of the local branch of the NSPCC, a worker for the Red Cross Society and a representative of the Prince of Wales Fund, visiting hard-pressed families in the Hillfields ward.

At South Street she began domestic science classes for the girls in 1890, correlating these with instruction in first aid and home nursing, and encouraged all the members of staff and older children to attend evening classes to broaden their knowledge, leading by example. She also introduced a lending library at the school. She was presented with the Bronze Medal from the Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce for the highest success in Great Britain in an examination in Domestic Economy.

Selina Dix & South St Children 1892
Selina Dix with South Street Girls in 1892

She held views well in advance of her time on sanitation and personal hygiene and, working as she did in an area where deprivation was rife in the 1890’s, she introduced order, cleanliness, punctuality and regular attendance, along with an understanding of the importance of preparing nourishing food to improve the health of the next generation. She was elected, on attainments, to the Institute of Hygiene and she lectured in Hygiene and Physiology at the Technical Institute in the evenings whilst still working at the school.

In 1893, she was appointed head teacher of the girls’ department of the newly-built Wheatley Street School, a showpiece in its day, which received visitors from across the world. She established many links with the ‘outside world’ (the RSPCA, the Children’s National Guild of Courtesy, the Young Helpers League, etc.) and expanded the curriculum to include French, school visits to places of interest, trips to lectures and concerts, fieldwork in geography, swimming, netball and gymnastics, all innovations at the time. Miss Dix even arranged cookery demonstrations for adults during the deprivations of the First World War to advise on the best and most economical use of food, which was in very short supply.

wheatley-st-schools1904

She received the MBE in 1918 in recognition of her labours in the cause of education and for the welfare of women and children, particularly during the war and, although she was not a suffragette, she was a strong proponent of the right of women to the vote.

She was the secretary of the Coventry Benevolent and Orphans fund for fifteen years from 1895, during which the membership grew from 11 to 373, and served on the National Committee of the Central Council, pioneering its work.

She founded the original philanthropic Coventry Society in 1900 and when women later became eligible for membership of the House of Commons she was offered support if she wished to become a parliamentary candidate but had to decline because of failing health.

She was an extraordinary woman who made a major contribution to the welfare and education of girls and women in Hillfields during thirty-five years of working there and continued to work for their interests in the city at large right up until her death in 1942.

I would suggest that Selina eminently qualifies to be accorded ‘Earned Coventrian Status’.

Brian Stote, CovSoc member and former teacher at Southfields School

CovSoc Comment: Selina Dix used to be commemorated in the name of a block of flats in Hillfields. However since that block was demolished, she is not recognised or acknowledged in any public building, road or structure. Isn’t it time that we put this right?

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