Browne Joan Dillon

Joan Dillon Browne

Joan Dillon was born on 4th July 1912 in Stockport and attended the nearby Fylde Lodge school. Then came Somerville College, Oxford, where she graduated in history and trained as a secondary schoolteacher.

From here on, she was politically active throughout her adult life. Initially, she joined the Labour Party but, becoming critical of its addiction to slow change and the fact that she was “only asked to lick envelopes”, switched to the Communist Party. 

During the 1930s, she could not find a job but she had been awarded a small grant, and spent a term in Bordeaux carrying out historical research, which stimulated a life-long love of France and its culture. Returning to Britain, she found her first job at Howell’s school, Denby, and a couple of years later moved to the girls’ high school in Bradford. During the war she became vice-principal of Furzedown teacher training college in London, where she stayed until she moved to Coventry.

Joan Browne was an education pioneer as the founding principal of Coventry College of Education, established in 1948 as part of the post-war emergency training of teachers. She was not only relatively young, at the age of 36 at the time, but the level of seniority she attained was unusual for a woman in this period.

Sometime in the Cold War years, she let her Party membership lapse and rejoined Labour.  Though the Coventry Labour Party and Communist Party were close at this time. She continued to be dubbed, perhaps affectionately “Red Joan” and, in the early 1970s had difficulty entering the United States, where she had been invited to lecture because she had “now or ever been a member of the Communist Party”.

She saw her college through a rapid expansion in the 1960s to a merger with the University of Warwick in 1978. In retirement, she wrote a history of the Association of Teachers in Colleges and Departments of Education and published local history articles. Joan died aged 96 on 15 January 2009.

Source: Guardian 13 February 2009

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