Nora and E R Brown
Brown was dismissed from Blackburn Grammar School, as he put it in `The New Leader’ of 23rd July 1926, “simply for being a Communist. A few months ago a parent discovered that I was a Communist and wrote to the head-master; the latter told me that…no schoolmaster had any right to have any political opinions… My headmaster also said that although the Governors would not refuse to confirm my appointment (the first year in a new post is probationary) on the grounds of my being a Communist, “other reasons could be discovered”. I took no part in public propaganda but that did not save me. `Other reasons’ were invented.”
The Association of Assistant Masters took up the matter, but failed to do anything; local Labour Councillors tried to get a motion at the Education Committee, but the Clerk told them that it would be ruled out of order.
Brown was incredulous: “There is no suggestion that I have introduced Communism into the school, and the headmaster told me he had no hope of obtaining anyone for the post with anything like my ability.” (Starr, 1929, pp.89-90)
It seems highly pertinent that Brown’s wife, Nora, had been fined £10 under Emergency Powers Act; her prosecutor was a Governor of the School, and her husband was dismissed from employment the day that the summons on his wife was served. Nora Brown had addressed a crowd of around five hundred people on the subject of the TUC’s betrayal of the miners and had been fined, under the aegis of the Emergency Powers Act (1920) Section 5 as likely to ‘cause disaffection amongst the civilian population’ (M Lawn, M. (1987) “Servants of the State: the contested control of teaching, 1900-1930” p.131).
Undoubtedly, Brown’s association with Nora weakened his position – especially since he would not disown her. But, on the other hand, much pressure from middle-class elements was evident locally. After Brown’s dismissal, a local parent, Mr Hargreaves, wrote to the Blackburn Times, enquiring whether a teacher had been found guilty of ‘teaching communism’ and suggesting that school governors should concern themselves with the ‘character’ as well as with the qualifications of their teaching staff. In the ensuing correspondence between Brown and Hargreaves, the latter was supported in a letter by the secretary of the Primrose League, a Conservative pressure group, who railed against Bolshevik infiltration of elementary schools and encouraged parents to discover actively Communist teachers and `out’ them. Particular hostility was expressed towards efforts of the YCL to organise school children.
Source: Cari Tuhey “The Politics of ‘Indirect Rule’: Conflict, Contradiction and Control in Education Policy, 1922-9” Institute of Education, University of London