Doors of Possibility: The Life of Emmeline Tanner 1876-1955

By Susan Major

The absorbing story of Emmeline Tanner, headmistress of Roedean, and her impact on girls’ secondary education in England.

ISBN: 9780718829223


Doors of Possibility examines the significant changes to girls’ secondary education between the 1880s and the 1940s, through the life of a woman who, born into the lower middle-classes, rose to become one of the leading educationalists of her time.

Dame Emmeline Tanner started teaching at the age of thirteen, with few resources or connections, and the book follows her career as she progressed from small private schools to more prestigious positions at Sherbourne School for Girls, Nuneaton High School and Bedford High School. By the time she became Headmistress of Roedean School in 1924, she was recognised as an influential leader of headmistresses and was a spokesperson for reform on many educational committees, including the Joint Committee of the Four Secondary Associations, which she chaired during the Second World War.

Building on a wealth of previously unpublished material, this book will appeal to both the general reader and the professional educationalist. It captures the gusto, enthusiasm and humanity that marked out Emmeline Tanner as an exceptional educationalist, campaigner and visionary. “In dealing with young minds,” she believed, “there must be open doors of possibility, even while we recognise that different minds find you in different materials.”

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 416
Illustrations b&w

Trade Information LGEN

About the Author

Susan Major describes herself as an accidental author. Educated at Oxford University, she has worked as a teacher, a copy-editor and for charities, until she was asked to look through her great-aunt’s papers. The great-aunt happened to be Emmeline Tanner. Susan Major says that she immediately “saw possibilities, and was allowed complete freedom to write whatever emerged. So I did.”


List of illustrations
List of abbreviations

1. First things first
2. ‘Awake our souls!’
3. Opening windows
4. Halifax
5. The turning point
6. Sherborne
7. ‘An excellent chance’
8. Nuneaton
9. Inside stories
10. ‘Finding out what it means’
11. The Great War
12. Specialised bits of work
13. Chosing headmistresses
14. Bedford High School
15. The Consultative Committee
16. To build a better world
17. Reluctantly to Roedean
18. A headmistress of the 1920s
19. ‘Popularly known as the Haddow Report’
20. ‘Activity and experience’
21. Aspects of Roedean in the 1930s
22. ‘Even to understand the news’
23. At war again
24. Roedean at Keswick
25. 1944: Education Act and Fleming Report
26. Retirement
27. Travelling on

Sources and Bibliography

Endorsements and Reviews

This book is not only about a woman, but about the history of girls’ education over eighty crucial years, important reading for anyone interested in the evolution of girls’ education.
Prep School