Great Leaps Forward – Introducing The Dalton Plan to Ascham

Ascham owes a debt of thanks to our third Head of School, Miss Margaret Bailey, who brought the Dalton Plan to Ascham in 1922. In the 100 years that have since passed, the Dalton Plan has not only formed the basis for School studies but has underpinned the way generations of Ascham girls have approached their careers and their lives.

In 1922, Ascham celebrated its 36th anniversary as a school and had occupied our current campus for 13 years. At the time, there were around 170 students. The devastating social impact of World War I left educators of girls with both an obligation and opportunity to provide pathways for their female students to focus on their studies and consider pursuing university studies or a career, or both, upon leaving school. By bringing the Dalton Plan to Ascham, Miss Bailey hoped ‘to create an education model that captured the progressive spirit of the age.’

Fortunately for Ascham, the philosophy of the Dalton Plan fitted neatly into an ethos already established by the first three Ascham Heads: Miss Marie Wallis, Mr Herbert Carter and Miss Bailey herself, all of whom were passionate about girls reaching their full potential. In August 1922, Miss Bailey travelled to Europe and the US to further research the Dalton Plan and see it in practice in schools in America and England.

The Dalton Plan was developed by American educator, Helen Parkhurst. She had first trialled what she called ‘The Dalton Laboratory Plan’ at the High School of Dalton, Massachusetts. The three principles of the Plan were ‘Freedom, Cooperation and Assignment’. Miss Parkhurst moved to New York City in 1919 and established a school, later renamed The Dalton School. One of the tenets of the philosophy was to establish a ‘culture achieved through individual development and through collective cooperation. It is no longer school. It is life.’

At Ascham in 1922 a modified version of the new system was introduced at the start of the year. The girls noted in our yearbook Charivari that although it was more difficult than their original method of learning, and initially they felt behind in their studies, they were happy to embrace it.

1922 was a year of great leaps forward for both girls’ education and for Ascham itself. The official independent girls’ schools inter-school sporting body, now IGSA but then called the GSSSU (or Girls’ Secondary Schools Sports Union), was also formed that same year, with Ascham as a founding member. Ascham girls enjoyed their first official school competitions in Tennis and Netball, as well as their first formal inter-school Swimming and Athletics Carnivals.

As part of the establishment of the new association, a new ‘modern’ uniform was introduced: the ubiquitous ‘box pleat tunic’ worn by all schoolgirls from the 1920s to the 1960s (and in some cases, beyond). The new tunic was multi-functional, meaning girls no longer had to change for sport or physical culture (as PDHPE was called), and only needed to slip on some gym shoes (albeit, still with stockings!), ready for a quick game of Netball or Tennis. The new uniform suited the 1920’s Ascham girl who was as active outside the classroom as she was inside, many of whom played sport at every opportunity, finding it the perfect complement to their rigorous academic studies.

To the pride and joy of the entire school, Ascham won the Tildesley Shield Tennis Competition for the first time in 1922. Tennis captain Grace Paterson, daughter of the poet and solicitor ‘Banjo’ Paterson, became the first Ascham girl to win the Tildesley singles. Grace exemplified the all-round Ascham student, winning several academic awards the same year, including the French and English prizes, and the Amy Molineaux Memorial English Essay Prize on the topic ‘The Romance of Words’.

On reflection, 1922 was a momentous year for Ascham. Margaret Bailey’s innovation, foresight and courage enabled the School to commence an approach to learning that has now stood Ascham strong for 100 years.

Marguerite Gillezeau
Ascham Archivist

Miss Margaret Bailey, 1930s                              Ascham girls in the 1920s – Joan Marks with Sheila Watson, 1927

8 Feb 2022

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