Also known as: Emily Lord; Mrs Walter Ward
Sector: Retail – Specialized Services (Education)
The Norland Nanny might seem old-fashioned and traditional now but in 1892, when the Norland Institute was founded, the concept was a new and radical one: instead of handing over their young children to a junior housemaid, parents would employ a specially-trained nursery nurse to support their early-years development. The woman behind it, Emily Ward, invented a new profession and built a brand that still has cachet today, with Norland Nannies still chosen by royalty and pop mega stars alike.
Emily Lord was born on 13th August 1850 in Derbyshire but grew up in Clapham in a blended family with a step-sister, a half-sister and nine ‘full’ siblings. She didn’t speak until she was two but apparently more than made up for it after that.
Emily Lord was born on 13th August 1850 in Derbyshire but grew up in Clapham in a blended family with a step-sister, a half-sister and nine full siblings. Her father and uncle were both barristers and didn’t speak until she was two but said she more than made up for it after that. She was educated privately and her older sister, Frances, was one of the first women to study at the University of London. However, in 1870, bankruptcy proceedings began against her father and Emily needed to find a job. Like many middle-class women in her position, she took up teaching and was one of the first women to be employed by the Girls Day School Trust (GDST). The GDST was set up as a social enterprise by four women, Maria Grey, her sister, Emily Shirreff, Lady Stanley of Alderley and Mary Gurney. They launched in in xxxx at a public meeting in the Royal Albert Hall, where shares were sold to raise funds. She joined the staff at Notting Hill High School in 1872 where early pupils included xxxx.
Emily’s father was a barrister; she was educated privately and her older sister, Frances, was one of the first women to study at the University of London. However, in 1870, bankruptcy proceedings started against her father and Emily suddenly needed to find a job. Like many middle-class women in her position, she took up teaching and she was one of the first women to be employed by the Girls Day School Trust (GDST), a social enterprise promoting girls’ education established by four women. Emily joined the staff at its first school in Notting Hill in 1873.
In 1874 Emily was one of the founder members of the Froebel Society. Friedrich Froebel was a pioneer in children’s education who invented the word kindergarten (literally garden for children) to describe the ideal development environment for young children. Froebelian principles hold that each child is unique and so the learning approach should emphasise their strengths: they should learn in a holistic way and be encouraged to be creative, express themselves and develop a wide range of social relationships.
These ideas sound mainstream now, but when Froebel first put his theories into practice in Germany they were considered to be so radical that in 1850 the kindergarten movement was banned. Many of Froebel’s acolytes emigrated to Britain and the first kindergarten opened here in 1851.
Notting Hill School catered to girls from the age of 5 but Emily knew that the head, Harriette Jones, was more interested in teaching the older pupils. Seeing an opportunity, in late 1875 she made Harriette an offer: she would set up a kindergarten and preparatory school if Harriette would send her the school’s younger pupils. Harriette immediately accepted. Within a fortnight Emily had found a location further towards Holland Park. The Lord family home was long gone, so the new school gave Emily somewhere to live as well as to work. In September 1876 the Norland Place School opened for business and in 1879 it received a first-place commendation from the Froebel foundation.
Between 1876 and 1891, over 1,300 pupils passed through its classrooms. As the school expanded, Emily needed help with the books. Her sister, Frances, had moved into rented rooms around the corner and was friends with Henrietta Müller, a rich young woman who had studied at Girton and was now backing women-led businesses in London. Her assistant, Helen Cox (then Helen Clegg), had trained as an accountant and Emily gave her the job. It marked the start of a partnership that would endure for more than forty years.
Always keen to explore new educational concepts, in the summer of 1887 Emily braved a stomach-churning North Sea crossing to Sweden. Sweden was adopting the Slöjd system of technical education, which used carpentry as the vehicle for teaching quickness of hand and eye. Emily took three of her teachers with her and they spent six weeks experiencing the system for themselves. Between them they made around 25 articles including a spoon, a stool and a hat rail and the following year Emily started a trial of the Slöjd system at Norland, for both children and adults thinking of teaching it.
The birth of the Norland Institute
In 1891 Emily shocked everyone by marrying Walter Ward, a merchant six years older than her. They later adopted two children but now, with the gleaming sign of social respectability on her left hand, Emily took a break and went off on a caravan trip to make a rather different kind of honeymoon baby.
Even in the smartest families it was normal for children to be looked after by housemaids-turned-nursemaids. Emily’s goal was to create a new role, a trained nursery nurse, closer in status to a governess, who would care for pre-school children along Froebelian lines.
Emily was confident that there was latent demand, she just needed to tap into it. She held a series of meetings with influential women to test her ideas and in parallel put together a loyal team of Norland alumnae. Isabel Sharman would be Principal, overseeing day to day activities and Mildred Hastings would be Secretary. In the summer of 1892 the Norland Institute was born and Emily started drumming up publicity, speaking to a host of journalists including Margaret Bateson. Even before the Institute opened, thirty applications had been received from employers.
There were just five probationers in the first intake in September 1892 and they followed a nine-month training course broken into three stages. The first three months were spent learning the Froebelian system of teaching alongside relevant practical skills (making children’s clothes; cookery; hygiene). Next came three months at a children’s hospital to learn basic nursing skills. Finally, there was a three-month work experience placement with a family. If all three stages were successfully completed, the probationer was officially certified as a Norland Nurse. The training cost £36 and a graduate could expect a salary of £20-25 a year to start with which, since she would be living in with rent and meals covered, was worth nearer to £65. She could also expect to see her salary rise quickly as she gained more experience. (Today, Norland graduates with 10 years plus experience can earn around £100,000 p.a.)
Within the household hierarchy, the nursery nurse was not treated as a member of the family but was also not seen as a servant: she ate with the children and spent her evenings alone. Uniform was an important part of the Norland identity, a visible marker of status and professionalism. Now Norland is associated with shades of brown but the first uniform was a cornflower blue dress with a summer cloak of grey and a winter one of black. At first these were made by Debenham and Freebody but after a few years Emily brought the production in-house, employing seamstresses and setting up a workroom so that it was easier to make changes to the design and materials.
There were seven probationers in the second intake and twelve in the third. Soon larger premises were needed and the school moved to 19 Holland Park Villas.
‘A helpful friend to her own sex’
Emily needed to keep demand ahead of supply if she wanted to be able to guarantee applicants employment with a good minimum salary level.
As well as welcoming guests to quarterly ‘at homes’ where she showcased the Institute, she went out to speak at conferences and events. This had a dual benefit: she was speaking to an audience who might be future employers and future trainees (or their mothers). She was adamant that this was a totally acceptable career for ‘refined gentlewomen’ and so took all the opportunities offered by progressive women’s groups to make the case for nursery nursing.
In 1893 she spoke at the Conference of Women Workers in Leeds where her paper on ’The training of teachers for technical classes’ was one of those highlighted for its ‘crystal clearness and crispness of method and construction’. In 1895 she spoke at the inaugural conference of the National Union of Women Workers in Nottingham. In 1897, she was a guest of the National Council of Women.
She was recognised for her entrepreneurship and industry in 1897 when she was one of 100 ‘distinguished women’ invited to a high-profile Jubilee Dinner. Fellow guests included Louise Jopling, Margaret Bateson and Agnes Garrett. Each woman brought with her a male guest and Emily took Joseph Frith, educationalist and headmaster of Wellington College.
Frances had been involved in the campaign for women’s suffrage since 1872. Emily, too, supported the though she did not have as much time to devote to it. However, she took available opportunities. In 1899, hundreds of women descended on London for the 2nd International Women’s Suffrage Conference. It was a two-week marathon of speeches and socialising with attendees coming from around the world. Several stayed at the Norland Institute. Emily was again very visible, presenting a paper in the Education section alongside Margaret McMillan, the renowned campaigner for better conditions for schoolchildren.
In the space of eight years, Emily had risen from relative obscurity to become a prominent voice in the world of early years childcare and move to the fore of the women’s employment movement and continued to speak at conferences and events through the early 1900s.
In 1900 the Norland Institute once again ran out of space and had to move, this time to 10 Pembridge Square. Its 10th anniversary celebrations coincided with the coronation of King Edward VII. Always commercially astute, Emily drummed up some extra funds by leasing out the rooms at the Norland Institute for out-of-town visitors and thanks to a non-refundable deposit benefited twice over when the ceremony was postponed at the last minute due to the King’s appendicitis.
In 1904, launched a residential nursery at 7 Pembridge Square with capacity for up to 18 children up to nine years old. This ‘babies’ hotel’ was aimed at parents who were potentially going to be separated from their children for significant stretches of time: women who spent a significant percentage of the year travelling – actresses, musicians – or parents taking long trips abroad. Visitors to London on a shorter-term basis could also take advantage of it. However, Emily was not just interested in the concerns of wealthy parents: Norland also started to support the founding of creche, in poorer parts of London to enable cash-strapped mothers to go back to work.
1911 brought another coronation and another opportunity to expand when 11 Pembridge Square came up for sale. By 1914, the Norland Institute had sent 1,400 nurses into employment and was riding high.
The steady upwards trajectory was brought to a sudden halt by the war. With so many other jobs suddenly on offer, applications dropped off and income fell. Some of Norland’s alumnae found themselves in hairy, distressing and, for one, fatal situations. Two were working for members of the Russian aristocracy at the time of the revolution. One managed to escape on the last train out but another who stayed in her post endured three years of terror and starvation before dying of influenza in 1920. Closer to home, Isabel Sharman fell ill in 1916, forcing Emily into a more hands-on role, and her death a year later left Emily grief-stricken.
The end of the war brought rising prices and unexpected debts. With belts tightening all over the country, people started cutting the size of their domestic households. Emily became depressed and at one stage even considered giving up but when she hinted at this received an outpouring of support from the Norland alumnae. So instead, she did some re-positioning and changed the training curriculum. In 1923, in recognition of Emily’s age, the assets held in her name were moved into a limited company with Emily as Chair and Helen Cox one of the board members.
Last years in Bognor
In the 1880s a bout of ill-health had sent Emily down to Bognor for a holiday. It marked the start of a connection with the town that lasted for the rest of her life. After she got married she built a small house there and later on some adjoining land developed four self-contained flat as holiday accommodation for Norlanders and others. She added three more in 1910 and another three in 1925.
By then Emily was living in Bognor herself, in a grand 17-room Regency mansion, Sudley Lodge. As she entered her 70s, Emily was still involved in the Institute and kept making the case for nursery nursing. In May 1925, she was one of the oldest contributors Good Housekeeping’s ongoing series on careers. The competitive environment continued to evolve and she knew that, of the eight or nine colleges offering early years training courses, Norland was the most expensive. So here, in detailing the profession she stressed the more challenging parts of the job, referring to monotonous tasks, loneliness and the need for great self-sacrifice. Shen went on to say that, if this was something you were going to do for a good part of your life, you’d be well advised to train somewhere that equipped you to deal with these challenges, help you secure better pay and offer you support for the whole of your career (i.e. Norland).
When she died on 15th June 1930 Emily was recognised as ‘a very vivid and energetic worker for women’s education’. In the Institute, the Norland Place School and the residential nursery she created three totally new ventures, all with demand, all commercially viable. Her success was not a matter of luck: she was willing to embrace radical philosophies, not just about how children should be cared for but about who should do the caring; she built support by using all the routes open to her; she created strong and supportive teams, with women who trained under her happy to come back and work for her; and she adapted to changing times. We all have something to learn from this purposeful pioneer.
The Norland Institute published a series of blogs to celebrate its 130th anniversary in 2022. The last one featured Emily’s diary from 1892 onwards, which undoubtedly means there is more to come on Emily and her relationships with other key women of the period.
The Echo (London) 5/3/1888; The Queen 17/12/1892; The Gentlewoman 18/11/1893; Myra’s Journal of Dress and Fashion 1/7/1894; The Queen 29/9/1894; Wimbledon News 7/9/1895; The Queen 24/7/1897; The Gentlewoman 4/6/1898; The Queen 17/6/1899; Dundee Advertiser 28/6/1899; The Queen 10/12/1904; The Times 27/1/1906; West Sussex Gazette 19/6/1930
‘Nursery Nursing as a Career for Girls’ in Good Housekeeping, May 1925
Norland: The Story of the First One Hundred Years by Penelope Stokes (1992)