The McMillan Sisters;The Pioneers;Millennium Edition

31st December 1999 at 00:00
England's nursery school movement was born in a south London wasteland in 1914. It had two mothers, Margaret and Rachel McMillan (right). The sisters, born in New York but Scottish-educated, were by then in their fifties. Christian Socialists since 1888, they had spent years campaigning to improve the lot of slum children.

In 1892 Margaret took part in the first school medical inspection in Bradford and, working with Keir Hardie and the new Labour party, the sisters had secured the introduction of school meals in 1906. They also ran "night camps" for poor children to reduce sickness and improve hygiene.

But it is for their inspirational nursery school that they are chiefly remembered. Rachel was mainly interested in the health of children, Margaret in educating them. She published "Education and the Imagination" in 1904 and, influenced by Froebel, believed in the importance of spontaneous play.

Rachel died in 1917 and Margaret in 1931. Their Deptford nursery isstill flourishing.

'The Children Can't Wait,' the history of the Rachel McMillan nursery by Frances Marriott and local historians was published last month

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