Rachel McMillan

Rachel McMillan was born in New York on 25th March, 1859, and her sister Margaret the following year on 20th July, 1860. Their parents, James and Jean McMillan, had originally come from Inverness but had emigrated to America in 1840. In 1865 James and his other daughter Elizabeth died. Mrs. McMillan took her two young daughters back to Scotland, but died in 1877. Rachel remained in Inverness to nurse her grandmother, while Margaret went to train as a governess.

After Rachel’s grandmother died in July 1888 she joined Margaret in London and the two remained together for most of the rest of their lives. Margaret, who was employed as a junior superintendent in a home for young girls, found Rachel a similar job in Bloomsbury.

Rachel and Margaret attended socialist meetings where they met William Morris. They also began contributing to the magazine Christian Socialist and gave free evening lessons to working class girls in London. It was at this time that they became aware of the connection between physical environment and intellectual development.

In 1908 they opened the country’s first school clinic in Bow. This was followed by the Deptford Clinic in 1910 serving schools in the area. The clinic provided dental help, surgical aid and lessons in breathing and posture. The sisters also established a Night Camp where slum children could wash and wear clean nightclothes.

In 1914 the sisters opened a Nursery School Deptford, with classrooms opening on to a garden. The Rachel McMillan Nursery still operates on its original site in many of its original buildings and this year celebrates its centenary. Rachel, who had suffered from poor health for a long time, died on 25th March, 1917. In 1930 Margaret opened a training college for nursery teachers next to the nursery and named it after her, and this eventually became part of Thames Polytechnics. The University owns a substantial and often used archive from the College, and in preparation for the centenary celebrations we are digitising a collection of lantern slides which we believe Margaret used on her many lecture tours. We have chosen these to open the University Archive Blog, the first on-line presence for the University’s archival treasures.