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 Post subject: The six headmistresses
PostPosted: 04 Oct 2018, 10:16 
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What do people think of the six different CS headmistresses? It's difficult to make comparisons because the school changes so much from Madge's day to the later Swiss books, but these are the six heads we see:

Madge Bettany – sets up the school from scratch, and builds it up, but it's still fairly small when she leaves. No qualifications or training, but adored by girls, parents and staff. Not particularly strict, e.g. doesn't punish the ice carnival gang, but copes well in times of crisis. Makes mistakes – as we all do! – e.g. taken in by the Carricks, employs Matron Webb without meeting her first, and allowed to have self-doubts, e.g. wishing that she had someone to advise her on building plans. Close personal relationship with everyone, at a time when the school is still small enough to feel like a family.

Therese Lepattre – very sweet person, and also much loved (everyone is devastated when she dies), but is forced (by Madge's marriage) into a job she probably never wanted, and doesn't seem to cope well. Her immediate reaction to Deira burning Grizel's book is to wish that Madge was there to deal with it, and she seems ineffectual in dealing with Eustacia, Thekla, or the feud with St Scholastika's. I think EBD realised she was no good as Head, but I wish she'd got a happy ending! Supposed to have been very close to Cornelia, although we don't see it.

Hilda Annersley
– EBD's ideal headmistress? Admired by everyone. Copes with numerous crises. Has various showdowns in the study, which mark turning points in girls' lives – but sometimes seem a bit OTT, especially with poor Hilda Jukes! Strangely reliant on advice from Joey. Doesn't have the same personal relationship with the girls that Madge had (school probably too big by then), but we see how much she cares when we see her deep distress over Naomi's accident. EBD does not allow her, or the school in general by then, to make mistakes. Everything is always the fault of either the girls or their parents/guardians. Usually described as being very fair, wise and just.

Nell Wilson – described as co-head, but seems to be more of a deputy when Miss Annersley is around. In charge briefly when Miss Annersley is off. Pushed into returning early after the accident by Joey's guilt-tripping! Directly involved in more storylines than Miss Annersley is, notably in Exile. Described as sarcastic. Popularises science lessons at a time when girls' schools often concentrated on arts subjects.

Mabel Bubb – hated by EBD, the girls and the rest of the staff! Very poor interpersonal skills! However, her ideas about the importance of exams and university entrance are far more practical and realistic than those of people like Matey, who say that they don't care if everyone fails all their exams.

Nancy Wilmot – presumably EBD intended that she would eventually take over, but, whilst she's usually shown as being very capable, she doesn't cope well as Head. Possibly finds it difficult to command respect from staff who are too used to seeing her as just one of the crowd, or even as a pupil: Matey treats her like a naughty Middle. Very popular as a teacher, but both she and Miss Bubb suffer from being compared unfavourably with Miss Annersley.

And do people think Nancy was definitely earmarked as Hilda's successor? The school was quite insular by that time and I think an internal "boot room" candidate would have been preferred, but EBD doesn't seem keen to show Nancy coping well in Challenge.

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 Post subject: Re: The six headmistresses
PostPosted: 04 Oct 2018, 21:29 
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I’m going along with EBD in liking Hilda as head. Her main weakness was an over reliance on Joey... and the OTT reactions later in the Swiss years.

I think that Nell wasn’t used enough as Head, although she manages well when Hilda is away and again at Welsen (in Oberland)

Miss Bubb... her introduction was designed to raise red flags. Asking the staff and girls to support her, the comments on “not being familiar with the traditions” is a way of explaining that this person is not one of us. Having said that, her bulldozer approach was so ill-advised and her arrogance so palpable that she was making herself into a public enemy. I’m not sure how realistic her ambition was, and really, in the space of 2 weeks to have created such an uncomfortable atmosphere is amazing. (Pause to note that Matron Webb lasted 2 weeks also, although the timeline is odd!)

Nancy Wilmot was an overall weak choice. Mademoiselle was a caretaker, and Madge was out of her depth with a larger school.


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 Post subject: Re: The six headmistresses
PostPosted: 05 Oct 2018, 00:54 
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Madge - excellent for the small family-like school that the CS started out. She had no education, training or experience for the job, but a great deal of personal magnetism, and led by affection (rather than discipline), and growing into the role. I don't think she would have been able to step in to a Head position of an existing school, however. I think she struggled balancing being Joey's Head Mistress as well as her guardian, and indulged her sister more than was good for her.

Therese - weak and ineffective. She was a nice person, and a decent teacher, but not comfortable with authority, decision making or handling crises. She was a good backup for Madge - someone for her to talk to and be there for emotional support, but wasn't happy or effective as Head, and always seemed to be waiting for Madge to arrive to fix things. Both the Deira dust-up and the mishandling of Eustacia's situation happened when she was head, things that I don't think Madge would have let go on as long. But I don't think she *wanted* to be head, but took it over because Madge dumped it on her.

Hilda - generally excellent. Calm, decisive, fair, liked and respected by the girls, and good at admin. In later years she was a little too reliant on reducing an office full of girls to tears as a discipline measure. Her weakness in the Swiss years was her personal entanglement with the Maynard family - an over reliance on Joey to solve school issues and an inability to see the triplets and their issues clearly.

Nell - also good. She's my favourite personality wise, but I think she's not quite as socially deft or comfortable as Hilda, and less polished in her demeanour. That makes her a good match as a co-head, however, providing a different viewpoint to the school and problems. (I'd love to see them do a good-cop bad-cop routine). I think she was wasted on St Mildred's and would have been better co-heading the main school.

Bubb - a bad choice, but she did have a difficult time. I'm not sure how clear Madge was when hiring her about the school and situation. For example - that doctors from the San had veto power over her decisions, or that studying hard for exams was frowned on in favour of playing on teams and attending random weddings. She would have been much better as head of a day school, handling academics and discipline only.

Wilmot - competent but not outstanding, and clearly a placeholder for a single semester. I don't think she has the sort of personality that wanted to be Head - she's an excellent teacher, but I can't see her holding authority at more than head of a small maths department level. And honestly, I wouldn't want to take over as Head with Matey there ready to boss me around and demand that I personally step in to deal with individual arguments with girls, and Joey next door ready to butt in at any moment.

Miss Annersley's replacement would have had an extraordinarily difficult time regardless of who they were. Hilda's been the head for decades - an internal candidate would be stuck in her shadow and unable to make her own mark, while an external candidate would not be able to cope with the school's insularity and rigidly established traditions. Of the school staff, I see Kathie Ferrars as having the personality and skills to be a candidate Head. Her main weakness would be lack of external experience - it would be better for her to take five years and teach at another school, as a department head, before returning to take over the CS.

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 Post subject: Re: The six headmistresses
PostPosted: 05 Oct 2018, 07:33 
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A bit like trying to replace Sir Alex Ferguson - no-one seems to be up to the job :cry: :cry: :cry: . I feel a bit sorry for Miss Bubb when EBD says that the girls don't like her because her eyes are a different colour to Miss Annersley's! And her voice isn't the same. It might be easier for Miss Annersley's successor if a lot of the older staff retired at the same time, but that probably wouldn't have happened.

When Kathie's off ill and they need a sub for a few weeks, they insist that it has to be an Old Girl who understands the school's ways.

I quite like the thought of Pam Slater making a triumphant reappearance :lol: . I suspect they'd go for an internal candidate, though - who would probably feel obliged to try to do everything exactly as Hilda had done it, and end up being criticised because she didn't get it spot on. Even when Madge left, Nell Wilson suggested they ask her to come and sort out Grizel and Deira, which must have been quite demoralising for Mlle.

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 Post subject: Re: The six headmistresses
PostPosted: 05 Oct 2018, 08:29 
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Miss Annersley was 30 when she took over as head, so she'd be in her early 50s at the end of the series. That means she could have more than a decade as Head before thinking about retirement.

The problem is that by that point an internal candidate is likely to be both too insular and too cowed to by the Abbess's reputation to be easily able to take over as anything but a pale imitation, and an external hire would run into Miss Bubb like issues - "What do you mean we skip classes for rambles when the weather is nice?" or "Who is this Mrs Maynard person and why won't she leave me alone?"

They might be best off hiring a deputy Head - someone external who had experience in boarding schools and ideally with both UK and continental systems. She could be brought in as a co-Head for a couple of years, groomed to take over from Miss Annersley. Miss Wilson, Mlle Lachenais, the Dennys and Matey would be retiring around the same age, so all the Tyrol era staff would have moved on.

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 Post subject: Re: The six headmistresses
PostPosted: 06 Oct 2018, 15:20 
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I agree that Madge was a good Head when the school was a small family unit, but I think she was often unreasonable snappy - often we read that she 'frowned blacky' or 'her brows drew together in a quick frown.' She relied heavily on her charm and the gallantry of Herrs Mensch and Marani and I can't imagine Hilda asking a new matron to call her 'Madame.' Hilda is always calm and tempers justice with mercy though in later years consults Joey too much. Poor Mlle L is given a rough time by EBD in order for Madge to shine and then the poor woman has to be ill and die - why can't she simply retire? Miss Bubb is a pantomime villain who has the temerity to criticise and wants to change the CS. Nell is in the wrong job at St Mildred's and would have been better as Head at Glendower house, but would have made her disappear. Nancy as Head - I don't think so. It's a pity one of the MRB clan didn't go in for teaching, but EBD was anxious for them all to marry young and have lots of children. Peggy perhaps - she's very much like Madge.


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 Post subject: Re: The six headmistresses
PostPosted: 06 Oct 2018, 17:49 
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I think Madge and Hilda were ideal Heads for the size the school was during their tenures - small and intimate in Madge's time, bigger and more regimented in Hilda's era.

Mlle, though very nice, seems more of a placeholder than anything else, it was probably clear to EBD early on that she wasn't working out well as Head, hence why she starts grooming Hilda to take over roughly from Eustacia onwards.

I agree Nell was absolutely wasted at St Mildred's, she should have remained full-time at the main school with Hilda.

Miss Bubb is a mere plot device - she has to be someone who comes in and stirs things up, as that was the whole point of putting four senior staff out of action; to upset the status quo and cause some drama. She'd be fine in a day school, or even just a boarding school that wasn't so obsessed with health as the CS.

Nancy does OK, but is adamant that she hates it and can't wait to hand the reins back to Hilda at the end of her term. Personally I don't find her really suited to it as a character; I think I said in the Challenge discussion thread that I think Miss Derwent would have been better, she just comes across as more authoritarian than easy-going Nancy.

Mel wrote:
It's a pity one of the MRB clan didn't go in for teaching, but EBD was anxious for them all to marry young and have lots of children. Peggy perhaps - she's very much like Madge.

How about Bride? It was EBDism'd in one book - was it maybe Island when Annis was thinking about her future? - that she did want to teach. I think she'd have been an excellent and very popular mistress, especially with the Middles.

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 Post subject: Re: The six headmistresses
PostPosted: 06 Oct 2018, 18:17 
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I wonder whether Miss Edwards might have been a possible replacement as head for the Swiss School with Miss Wilmot going to Glendower House.

That would have resolved the problem of "too much familiarity" with the staff room or as a pupil whilst still having experience of the CS ethos.


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 Post subject: Re: The six headmistresses
PostPosted: 06 Oct 2018, 19:27 
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Mdlle handled the Eustacia situation really badly. She sees Eustacia crying herself to sleep, and then later Eustacia ran off and her response is, "Why didn't anyone tell me she was unhappy?" Er...hello? Did you forget the bit where you saw her crying?

Miss Bubb was awful and made far too many changes for someone who was just a temp (yes, I know, for the sake of plot). The Gay incident put the tin lid on it. Alienating members of staff didn't help either, especially given the number of shortages. Grizel and Jo both threatened to leave and Miss Dene nearly got ill from overwork.

Miss Annersley was best headmistress, if a bit too reliant on Joey in the Swiss years. I can't remember much about Challenge and whether Miss Wilmot was any good or not. And yes, replacing Miss Annersley would be like when David Moyes replaced Sir Alex Ferguson at Man United. There's a lot to live up to.


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 Post subject: Re: The six headmistresses
PostPosted: 06 Oct 2018, 21:08 
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I'm never entirely convinced that Nancy was so dreadful as we're led to believe. Yes, she made mistakes, but who wouldn't, catapulted into that position without any experience? It's not even as if she'd been deputy head. And wasn't it a bit unrealistic that there wasn't a deputy?


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 Post subject: Re: The six headmistresses
PostPosted: 07 Oct 2018, 04:17 
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The school really did need a co- or deputy Head in the Swiss years. It would give two people to handle all the administration and discipline and meeting with parents and other management stuff, it keeps things continuous if one person is ill or away, and gives the Heads a peer to discuss school issues with. The school is physically quite isolated, so having two school heads plus a St Mildred's Head would give a group of three who could discuss school issues as peers.

I think Nancy did a perfectly decent job, she just didn't like the responsibility. And I do think that having Matey around was an issue - she clearly sees herself as an authority over Nancy, which makes it hard for Nancy to really see herself as in charge.

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 Post subject: Re: The six headmistresses
PostPosted: 07 Oct 2018, 07:41 
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Rosalie does a lot of the admin work, such as timetabling, which a deputy head would usually do. She has a huge role - I just hope she got paid accordingly!

I'm not sure what the Senior Mistress - especially as we're never actually sure whether it's Mlle de Lachennais or Miss Derwent - actually does, but then I was never sure what they did at my own school either!

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 Post subject: Re: The six headmistresses
PostPosted: 07 Oct 2018, 11:06 
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Alison H wrote:
Rosalie does a lot of the admin work, such as timetabling, which a deputy head would usually do. She has a huge role - I just hope she got paid accordingly!
Actually, that situation's even madder than not having a deputy head, to my way of thinking. By the Swiss years at least, Rosalie should have been head of a small team, not tackling all that she does on her own. Yes, I don't think EMBD cared for the practical realities, and the readers undoubtedly didn't either, but I'm sure that most sizeable boarding schools by that date had a bursar to do all the financial stuff as well as a secretary.

I've no experience of boarding school myself, but my grammar school (just over 1000 pupils by the time I left) had a head, two deputy heads, a head's secretary and at least one typist, that I know of, and that's without having to be responsible for the pupils round the clock. They may not have had to do the payroll stuff, either, beyond keeping basic records, as I think that was done by the local education authority.

To get back to the CS headmistresses, they must all (apart from Miss Bubb) have had to take the ultimate responsibility for pretty much everything by way of admin, correspondence, finances, logistics and supplies themselves, even if they had some help from other staff, as Rosalie seems not to become school secretary until after they leave Tyrol. I'm not sure I'd even want to write the job description for an advertisement for the post!


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 Post subject: Re: The six headmistresses
PostPosted: 07 Oct 2018, 13:01 
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By the end of the series the school is 400+ students. They'd probably need a head and deputy head, a bursar, a secretary to the Head, a general secretary, and a couple of undersecretaries.

My high school was 800 people, and had a principal, two vice principals and a full office of secretaries. Financial planning, ordering curricula and staffing issues were done at the school district level. And this was a day school that didn't serve meals - they didn't have to do things like sort and deliver mail for 450 people a day, or order food. They also had a district wide system for substitutes for teacher who were ill.

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 Post subject: Re: The six headmistresses
PostPosted: 07 Oct 2018, 18:16 
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Why does EBD suggest the Rosalie doesn't want a secretary - she tells her once that she will have to have extra help like it or not or something similar. I think in EBD's head the school is still small and cosy as perhaps she can't actually visualise what 400 pupils look like. The school needs more staff general - especially for languages!


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 Post subject: Re: The six headmistresses
PostPosted: 08 Oct 2018, 15:37 
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Perhaps Rosalie didn't want to lose that close friendships she had with Hilda, Mel, though I thought Clare Kennedy appeared near the end of the series to help her.

My school in the late fifties and early 60s, had the same number of pupils as the CS, and also one head, one deputy and one secretary. There were more or less the same number of pupils - I certainly had the same English teacher from Form 1 right through to upper sixth. In those days many girls left at age of 15, and not so many did 0 levels and even fewer did A levels. Times change, as do circumstances.

My daughter went to a grammar school run by the same nuns - different city - in the late 80s and early 90s, and they had over 1000 pupils, one Head, two deputies, a bursar, three secretaries and many, many more members of staff, including heads of dept for every subject. As I said, different circumstances.

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 Post subject: Re: The six headmistresses
PostPosted: 11 Oct 2018, 08:21 
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I always felt that Rosalie needed help, as an adult I could never work out just when she got any free time.
Am I right in thinking that at some point she also did some teaching/coaching, perhaps in languages?


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 Post subject: Re: The six headmistresses
PostPosted: 11 Oct 2018, 08:26 
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Terrygo wrote:
I always felt that Rosalie needed help, as an adult I could never work out just when she got any free time.
Am I right in thinking that at some point she also did some teaching/coaching, perhaps in languages?
Didn't she run a course of 'secretarial skills' lessons?


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 Post subject: Re: The six headmistresses
PostPosted: 11 Oct 2018, 09:06 
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Yes, for Elinor Pennell.

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 Post subject: Re: The six headmistresses
PostPosted: 11 Oct 2018, 15:18 
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I think Rosalie coaches some sports as well as the secretarial classes. She's probably the most overworked staff member after Miss Denny (Italian, German, Spanish, junior piano, junior geography, history and grammar and handcrafts, plus looking after her delicate brother).

Mind you, n Trials, after a bad case of the flu, Rosalie is taken off on vacation, leaving the school with no secretary, and Miss Denny has several long absences when Mr Denny is ill, and neither of those situations seems to cause any problems for the school.

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