Sunday, December 15, 2013

(oh, the indignity of it!)

This is a beautiful collection of correspondence surrounding the article my Nan wrote in 1963 for the Journal of Agriculture's Farm and Home section, which you can read below. I feel the letters speak for themselves!
by Johanna Bowen
Journal of Agriculture, Farm and Home

Many adults look upon the play of the tiny child as merely a way of passing the time and of keeping him out of the way between meals and bed. To the little one, however, playing is living. It is all-important and very, very real. Above all it is the beginning of the child’s education.

Correspondence between Alwyn and Johanna

All thanks to my fabulous Aunt Felicity for her discovery of the correspondence to do with the article, and transcribing all the letters.

COPY of handwritten letter
Sept, 30th [1963]

Dear Mrs Bowen,

Thank you for your letter (of last October!) to the “Journal of Agriculture” with ideas for the “Farm and Home” section.

As you say, there are few mothers who would not welcome suggestions and food for thought re children. Most letters asked for articles on children, particularly pre-school children, entertaining the “only” child, etc. One such is due to be published this month, and I hope more can be done along the lines you suggest in the future.

The Editor tells me that it is very hard to find authors willing to write on suitable topics, however we will do our best to make this section as varied and interesting as possible.

Thanks again for taking the time to write last October. As a mother you must be a busy person.

Yours sincerely

Alwyn Scott
COPY of handwritten draft
4th October ‘63

Dear Mrs Scott,

Thank you for your letter re the “Farm and Home” section of the Journal. I must admit I was very pleased to hear from you as I had begun to think that my suggestions hadn’t warranted any attention. I was disturbed at this – not because they were my suggestions – but because it appeared as if parents of small children were not going to be given the help that they require. However it seems from your letter that most other letter writers felt the same way as I did.

I am prompted to write again now because you indicate that suitable authors, or authors in this field, are difficult to find ...

This draft was unfinished however an original must have been sent as a “personal” reply from Mrs Scott was received.
COPY of handwritten letter
30th October, ‘63

Dear Mrs Bowen,

Thank you for your letter, which I will pass on to the Editor.

This is an entirely personal letter, as I have no position nor authority on the Journal to say “yea” or “nay” to your becoming a contributor. I did intend to suggest to him that he contact you, however, as from your letter I felt you would have the technical background and practical experience to enable you to write helpful articles for mothers of small children.

I have felt that the Women’s Section of the Journal is almost an unwashed baby as far as the men are concerned. When several months had gone by with no acknowledgement of readers’ letters, I wrote suggesting that a paragraph could be inserted in the next issue, thanking those who wrote. When still nothing was published I went to Perth and volunteered to write thank you notes to all the readers, as I felt ashamed that the Journal had not mentioned them. (Those letters took me all my spare time for three weeks!)

I detect a faint note of chiding in your letter, and I can assure you there was more than a faint note of chiding in mine! Please keep this between ourselves, as I must not be disloyal to the Editor and his staff (although I have been very cross at the way some of my articles have been “edited”) In one case the young assistant cut almost half the article, and asked “of what value was it?” I was furious because if I had thought there was no value in it I would not have gone to the trouble of writing, rephrasing, polishing and rewriting it all. I suppose I shouldn’t expect a young lad to see things from the woman’s point of view – really there should be a separate female editor for the Farm and Home section. They also translate the contributor’s articles into “journalistic” style – I know Miss Gloster has been cross at the change of tone in some of her articles, and I too sometimes hardly recognise an article when it is published, it has been altered so much!

I will suggest to Mr Lawson that he accept you as a contributor, and if he agrees he will probably ask you to submit one or two “sample” articles, of about eight or nine foolscap pages of ordinary longhand, just to see what you can do (oh, the indignity of it!)

“Scale of payments is not very high, varying from two to four guineas according to length and quality” – quoted from his reply to another volunteer contributor.

“Entertaining or keeping occupied the pre-school Only Child” would be a suitable topic (several readers asked for an article on this) or, if it is around holiday time, “Keeping Children Busy (or Happy or Occupied) during the Holidays” (Prune these a bit!)

I do hope the Editor will accept your offer, and that he contacts you soon! Sorry I can’t do any more than this – I repeat this is an personal letter only as I’m a nobody on the Journal!

Thanks again for writing,
Yours sincerely,

Alwyn Scott

Correspondence between Editor and Johanna


My Nan also wrote about Women’s Liberation, and it was a testimony to the daily hard work, from my grandmother’s generation onward, of women intent on social and political reform.

These thoughts on Women's Liberation also show that while extraordinary strides have been made in attitudes towards women since my Nan wrote this piece, there is still a long way to go.

As long as women have existed, they have thought deeply and practically about their position in the world, and it is a pleasure to be able to see some of that recorded in my own family history.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Little Ones at Home

This article, written by my Nan, was published by Department of Agriculture WA’s Journal of Agriculture in July 1964 for the “Farm and Home” series.

My Nan trained as a Kindergarten Teacher in the very early days of Kindergarten in WA and at the age of 23 she was in charge of a cutting-edge Kindergarten in North Perth.

In an interesting side note, she was also a Voice Actor for the radio plays on the ABC during that time; my Nan is way cool, and a person who always brings out imagination and stories from the people she meets.

As with her writing on Women’s Liberation, I find this article fascinating for its practical love and respect for children and their play, and the respect for the incredibly important educational role of parents in the home with young children.

As is consistent with the way I was brought up, this educational role is about the parent being the educator and guide, not simply the provider of education from other people and sources.

My Mum and her mother-in-law were both Teachers in the Home, and I appreciate the influence of this attitude in my Father and my siblings. While the role of education and respect in the home may be have been the role of Mother in my Nan’s time, it is the role of Parents now.


Where there is just one child at home by day, whether it be an only child or the youngest of an older family, Mother frequently has a lonely child on her hands – and very often a bored little one at that.

Even where there are two, three or more pre-school children and loneliness is not a problem, it is wise for a mother to realise that children must have a certain amount of her time and help if they are to play happily and constructively.

Many adults look upon the play of the tiny child as merely a way of passing the time and of keeping him out of the way between meals and bed. To the little one, however, playing is living. It is all-important and very, very real. Above all it is the beginning of the child’s education.

Good habits established when tiny play a vital part in a child’s healthy development. Concentration, cooperation, independence, obedience, tidiness, enthusiasm and a desire to learn are all desirable qualities in school age children, but cannot be expected if there has been no grounding in the formative years. These all depend on the way in which a child has been encouraged to spend his playing time.

There are a number of steps which the mother must take to ensure happy play at home.

Choose suitable play materials

Suggestions for a variety of materials were given in the March issue of the Journal of Agriculture.

Provide a suitable environment for play

A place free from interruptions but not too far from the centre of domestic activity – a sheltered veranda is ideal for this. Outdoors a suitable spot should preferably be within sight of the kitchen window and with its fair share of sun and shade. This should be enclosed with a fence if the age of the children and / or the layout of the homestead warrant it.

Establish good play habits from a very early age

By providing a roomy cupboard for toys and equipment, a low table and chair, the small child is encouraged to concentrate his play in one place. He can then be reasonably expected to keep his activities away from under his mother’s feet.

Encourage the child to be helpful

Much of a little one’s time can be usefully and happily occupied in helping mother. With a good deal of patience and a little thought, it is surprising how helpful a little one can become. There are few chores which cannot be adapted to include the pre-school child. One of the many advantages of farm life is the fact that this also applies, to some extent, to helping father.

It is essential that both parents realise and respect the importance of play in the life of the child. One needs something of a routine, or perhaps just a striving for balance, in the child’s day.

If we first consider some of the wide variety of activities which a little one needs and enjoys, mothers can best work out a mixture to suit themselves and their own children. Here are some of the things that should be encouraged:

Helping mother and being made to feel useful;

Playing indoors with specialised activities such as cutting out, pasting in, painting, drawing and modelling. Some of these need help from mother, depending on age. If so they are better encouraged at a convenient time;

Entertaining himself indoors or out at activities not requiring help but perhaps an occasional word of encouragement, praise or stimulation. These activities should occupy by far the greater part of the day. Under this heading comes good physical exercise such as climbing, swinging, jumping, running and so on. This is where cheap equipment is invaluable. Packing cases (from the electrical store), empty drums, a good smooth plank for jouncing or sliding (Oregon is expensive but perfect for this when cleated at the ends), an old steering wheel, car tyres and wooden cable reels provide endless scope for physical development and dramatic play;

Quiet time with books or music while waiting for meals;

Radio broadcasts beginning with “kindergarten of the air”. This very often stimulates play for the day. School broadcasts, although obviously planned for school age children, are often a great delight to the older pre-school child. It is easy to judge whether the 4 – 6 year old is interested and able and one can readily switch off if the programme is found to be too old;

Daytime sleep is important for mother’s sake as well as the children and should be encouraged, if not insisted upon, until they are nearly ready for school. By this time they do not need much more than a rest anyway;

Ideally all children deserve a story time at the end of the day with mother or, better still, father. It is unfortunate that, with our busy programmes and most often TV, this is one of those treasures of parenthood of which we are depriving ourselves. Perhaps with a little planning the middle of the day might hold more possibilities. There is nothing quite so rewarding when it can be arranged.

General Principles

After noting the broad outlines of the various activites, it is worth considering some general principles which go to make the pre-school years a memorable time for both mother and children. I always feel that these early years should be enjoyed to the utmost. They are really such leisurely years by comparison to the rush and bustle of school days ahead and when a mother is thoughtful, patient and sensible there is much to be enjoyed.

I mentioned earlier the need for respect for the child’s play. If we remember this we will not make unreasonable demands upon him such as expecting him to cease play at a moment’s notice. Of course there are times when this is unavoidable. It is more thoughtful to give warning: “It’s nearly time for you to pack away your blocks and wash for dinner”. To the older ones: “dinner will be ready in 15 minutes. I expect your game to be finished and away by then.”

When drawings or paintings are brought for inspection a thoughtful mother will say “What a pretty picture! Tell me about it” but not “What’s that?” So often we are requested, in our busy moments, to “Come and see how I can turn over on the bar” or “Mum, we have made a beautiful farm in the sand patch. We want you to come and see it.” There are times when we want to say, and in fact do say, “But I’m so busy.” It’s not until we go that we realise the pleasure we give, perhaps the stimulating suggestion we can make and, above all, the very few minutes that it takes.

This subject of respect is two-way and it is most important for parents to expect and receive the same consideration that they give. While it has been suggested that parents give time and help to the children’s play, the children must not be allowed to expect this at any unreasonable time. They must realise that mother’s work is important too. So often when she is seen to sit with a cup of tea the little ones come with their many requests. “Yes, I’ll help you with that later but not until I have finished my tea” and not until then should it be done. When in the middle of a huge wash we are asked to help with some intricate or messy activity, we must refuse. “No, I’m afraid this washing must be done today. I’d like to help but we’ll try and find time for that when the washing is done.” However, it is wise to make suggestions for alternative activity or better still allow them to help with the washing.

It is surprising to see how many parents these days give their children all the consideration, yet expect and receive none in return.

When we stop to think how much there is to be learned in the world around us and how receptive is the child’s mind we are struck by a sense of challenge. Our conversation alone can become stimulating. When we’re busy it is easy to close our minds to the child’s chatter and answer “yes” and “no” to their questions. After all this doesn’t get them far.

Try giving the children some simple, accurate information or ask them some questions: “What happens to a caterpillar?”; “Do men make honey?”; “How many legs have you? – a table? – a horse? – a hen?” When a new insect or bird appears, help them to identify it, consulting the encyclopaedia if necessary.

We want our children to develop enquiring minds for the world is full of wonder: Shadows, for instance, are fun to watch at various times of day; or the trees that lose their leaves and those that don’t; the colour of each garment as it comes from the washing machine; the names of the flowers in the garden; all the animals that crawl, those that fly and those that live in water. Most of these thoughts can be transferred to paper and projected into the child’s drawing, painting, modelling, cutting and pasting activities. With a little thought any mother can offer stimulating contributions to conversation and consequently to their play. This is easily done during routine chores. An easy chair outdoors when darning is enjoyed by mother and children alike. There is much to be seen and shared during a walk to the gate, or simply while pegging out the clothes. A visit to such places as the fire station, railway station, post office, flour mill and so on, is easily arranged and so helpful for worthwhile play.


In conclusion, a word on the subject of independence: This should be one of our main aims in guiding our children’s behaviour. It is a very natural desire among them from a very early age and a wise parent will always foster and develop it in all forms of activity even though it often makes more work.

We all know to our grief how much the nine month old wants to feed himself. We are tempted to refuse this for the mess seems intolerable for a while, however it is not long before we are grateful for this little bit of independence.
Correspondence between Journal of Agriculture and Mrs Johanna Bowen

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Women's Liberation: What is it?

My Nan and Papa were great storytellers and their children are preserving their writing and sending it out to their grandchildren to read. Mostly the stories are anecdotes from real life and stories told to their children.

This piece of writing from my Nan about Women’s Liberation was a surprise inclusion, but I was particularly glad to read it, because it was a testimony to the daily hard work, from my grandmother’s generation onward, of women intent on social and political reform.

If you want to see exactly how my Nan embodied the ideas in the writing below when imparting her own practical advice for women educating children in the home, here is her article for the Journal of Agriculture.

Even more interesting is the correspondence between my Nan and Mrs Alwyn Scott of the Journal of Agriculture.

These thoughts on Women's Liberation also show that while extraordinary strides have been made in attitudes towards women since my Nan wrote this piece, there is still a long way to go.

I felt compelled to reply to my Nan’s words with my own because I wanted to let her know that all her hard work had freed my generation to widen the influence of Liberation ideas to more people, including children and men, and more areas of inequality in ability, ethnicity, residency and education.

As long as women have existed, they have thought deeply and practically about their position in the world, and it is a pleasure to be able to see some of that recorded in my own family history.


Today, as it was for you Nan, it is a great way of thinking about the world and how to change it so people can be humans and not resources.

If it’s encouraging women to think for themselves as individuals, I’m for it.

Women today now hope that men can think for themselves as individuals too. We hope that men are allowed the choice not to buy into the male violence and constant work outside their families that the current work system requires of them.

If it’s widening female horizons beyond the domestic chores, I’m for it.

Women today now hope that male horizons can include something other than the public sphere, including equal time at home with their family, enjoying childrearing and sharing the chores.

If it’s taking the female away from the sink for a break and putting the male there to relieve her, I’m for it.

Women today now hope that the work at the sink is shared equally by all who produce the mess, no matter what their gender.

If it means liberating the female and allowing her to work alongside men I’m doubtful. Does this mean she will be allowed to chop the wood, fight the bushfires, and carry heavy loads? Does it mean she is allowed to stand in a crowded bus? If it does I’m against it as I’m just not capable.

I’m for it if it means women following physically possible men’s careers such as carpentry, boot making and bus driving.

Women and men today would concur that small, slight people of any gender, age or ability are not capable of the physical work that other taller and bigger people may do. But they would also say that gender, age and ability do not determine physical workloads; training, attitude and necessity determine physical workloads.

If it means that woman is to cease to be a sex symbol I’ll carry a banner for Women’s Lib.

I don’t think you’ll find a woman who does not agree with this! From the dawn of Women’s Liberation thousands of years ago to now, this has been the constant cry.

If it means wearing no bras, I’m against it. I saw too many ruined breasts among Papuan women to wish this upon anyone.

Women now and in your time concur, the movement was about quite a bit more than the concept of not wearing bras. Women’s Liberation was about education, the vote, better working conditions, safety on the streets, child care, social welfare, women’s refuges and reforms in the law. The bra issue was a headline grabbing ploy used by Women’s Liberation and their opponents, not a central plank in a platform of social reforms aimed at gender equality.

But if it means that woman renounces her place in the home as mother and centre of family life, I’m very much against it.

Education, voting, working conditions, safety, economic independence, welfare, refuges and reforms ensure that the mother is part of a family in which all members are treated equally in the public and private sphere. Women’s Liberation does not detract from her position as mother or as a part of her family, it allows her to be free to shape that position as she wishes.

If families cease to look upon and treat their mothers as the drudge whose work never ends and never should, I’m for it.

Women today are still fighting for this respect from society. Reading your words made me glad that there has always been a call for equality in the family. Reading your words made me sad that my generation still has to fight for it, despite the hard work of the women who have gone before us.

I’ve even heard that allowing little boys to cry if they feel like it is part of Women’s Lib! I can’t see how, but I agree.

This is a very logical step from the ideas of Women’s Liberation to the freedom of men to also start to questions traditional ideas of behaviour. Just as women are questioning and freeing themselves from gendered social expectations, they are beginning to hope their sons can escape those same constraints.

If it means that children are left in child care centres while mothers are liberated to work – or more especially if children roam the streets or stay home alone after school for the same reason I’m very much against it.

Balancing parenthood and economic participation is still a problem for women and men today. Of course, what needs to be considered is the idea of bending the public sphere work patterns to accommodate parents of both and all genders taking time to raise the next generation. Children are the social and economic workers of the future, and the system is created by us, so we can change it so parents’ time with children does not have to bend to the ancient constraints of a 300 year old work pattern.

If it involves allowing girls to play boys’ games then I guess I’ve been an unconscious Women’s Libber.

Not unconscious Nan, just sensible. When it comes to games and toys, there is only one question to ask:

Is the toy/game operated by the genitals of the child?

If yes, it is NOT a toy/game for children. If no, it is a toy/game for all children, regardless of gender.

My boys have all learnt to cook and sew, clean house and wash dishes. The girls on the other hand do farm work when needed and play football and cricket with the best.

And I think that is the essence of the matter for you and for me; gender is taught and learnt, not inherent or essential. Gender is constructed. And Nan, you decided not to construct gender so as to restrict the freedoms of your children. And women are still trying to do this for their children today, to the best of their abilities, and in their own ways.
Thanks Nan, you are inspiring.