A 101-year-old woman from the Isle of Wight has been awarded an honorary teaching degree from the University of London — eight decades after completing a teaching course at the now-defunct Nonington College of Physical Education.
Centenarian Madge Brown, along with 94-year-old Sheila Gordon, received a bachelor of education degree during a special ceremony on February 22. Both women had attended Nonington in the 1940s, when future teachers were required to take two- or three-year training courses, per a news release from the institution.
The women were the first two recipients of the university’s honorary teaching degrees, which were presented “in recognition of their dedication to teaching and enriching the lives of young people.” The degrees are part of an ongoing initiative to pay tribute to educators who graduated from London-area teaching colleges between the 1930s and the 1980s. After that time, teachers were required to hold bachelor or graduate degrees.
Brown began her course at the college in 1938, taking a year off to work as a nurse during World War II before graduating in 1942. She went on to teach during the war, and recalls leading a hockey lesson as a rocket careened over the school. “On the blow of her whistle, the team dived for the floor and once the explosion had been heard, the team jumped back up and resumed their lesson,” the release states. Gordon finished her course in 1949, a few years after the war ended.
Speaking to the BBC, Brown referred to her time as a teacher as “the happiest days of my life.” She expressed her appreciation for the university’s recognition, and emphasized the rigor of the course she took. “I’m very grateful for this — but it has been a long time coming,” she said.
“When I left college, they always said it should be a proper graduation because of the hard work we did.” She added, “Why they never made the diploma of physical education a degree I don’t know, because it was very intense.”
The February ceremony took place at Brown’s residence on the Isle of Wight, and included family and friends. Professor Mary Stiasny, pro-vice chancellor, international, learning and teaching at the University of London, presented the women — both of whom donned University of London regalia — with their degrees.