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Eileen Younghusband and her diaries

Portrait of Eileen Younghusband, c.1918

Eileen Louise Younghusband was born in London on 1 January 1902, the second and only surviving child of Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942), soldier, diplomat, explorer and mystic, and his wife, Helen Augusta, daughter of Charles Magniac MP of Colworth, Bedfordshire.

Her early childhood was divided between India and England, including a period at Srinagar, Kashmir, between 1907-1909, where her father was British Resident. In later life, she remembered her time in India as "everything a child could wish" 1, a period of relative freedom, with her much loved father as a guide in surroundings that remained her standard for natural beauty. The return to England was marked by a "long, bitty, confused period of going from place to place, staying with friends and relations, and hating this country compared with all the beauties and excitement of Kashmir" 2. In 1912, the family finally settled in London (in a flat at 3 Buckingham Gate) and Eileen Younghusband went to school for the first time.

Eileen Younghusband's first experience of formal education, at the age of 10, was at Miss Wolff's private day school for girls in South Audley Street. The school catered for the children of the socially well-connected and wealthy - girls who were expected to be formally presented at Court as debutantes and circulate during the London 'Season'. Although Helen Wolff was regarded as intimidating by some pupils 3, Eileen Younghusband enjoyed a good relationship with her teacher and was a favourite student. As well as lessons at Miss Wolff's, Eileen Younghusband also had home tuition in what were termed the 'accomplishments' - music, art and modern languages - skills that were regarded as desirable for an intended future 'Society' hostess and wife. In November 1915, as wartime Zeppelin attacks on central London increased, the family moved to a rented house in Wimbledon, an area that Eileen disliked as being distant from the potential excitements of London (air raids, theatre and friends) and as being in suburban "sham country" 4.

In 1917, at the age of 15, Eileen Younghusband began to keep a diary. The initial inspiration came from the novel 'The Rosary' by Florence L. Barclay and its lead character Jane Champion ("I started to keep a diary because she kept one and one always wants to do the same thing as the person one is in love with" 5). She continued to write the diaries, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, until 1930.

The diaries record Eileen Younghusband's life during a period when she later described that she "was very full of life, very much interested in ideas, but I couldn't discover what I was, or where to put my energies" 6. After the end of the First World War, the family returned to central London and Eileen Younghusband's life appears to have initially revolved around dances, dinners, theatre and shopping, peaking in her "coming out" season as a debutante in 1919. Attendance at the London church of St Martin in the Fields and the sermons of the pacifist clergyman Rev. Dick Sheppard led Eileen Younghusband to become increasingly interested in political ideas and concepts of social justice. In 1920 she began to volunteer at a girls' luncheon club at St Martin in the Fields run by her cousin Margaret Magniac and in 1922 joined the committee of the Home Mission Union Helpers ("a thing for looking after factory girls" 7), both of which would have been regarded as socially acceptable forms of charity work for a young upper middle class woman. In 1922 the family moved to Westerham, Kent, and Eileen Younghusband began what she later described as "two or three very frustrating years, with practically nothing to do, and without quite the initiative to find anything" 8.

The drift ended in 1924, when Eileen Younghusband was recruited by Edith Ramsay to work for the London County Council Care Committee as a children's health visitor in Whitechapel. The following year, Younghusband moved with Ramsay to work and live at the Princess Club in Bermondsey, a residential settlement which also ran children's play groups, social events and educational groups for local girls. The contrast between the living conditions of Whitechapel and Bermondsey residents and Eileen Younghusband's family and friends was of course vast. Younghusband's diary entry for 28 February 1925, which described a visit to a friend of her mother's, gives some idea of how she regarded the comparison - "We finally arrived at Friday Hill, Miss Heathcote's house about 6 o'c. It was a large ugly comfortable, depressing mid-Victorian house and the whole atmosphere very much that of Bradfield, only half alive and everything having stopped 40 years ago. Miss Heathcote is very nice & a most pathetic figure. I felt very violently the evil of one quite unproductive person having all those riches and three big houses after coming from all the awful poverty and overcrowding of the East End."

Over this period, Eileen Younghusband began to, in the words of her biographer Kathleen Jones, "feel the need for formal education ... some kind of framework for her polarised experience - some concept of 'society' which went beyond the limited worlds of the West End and the East End, and included both" 9. Eileen Younghusband began the Social Science course at the London School of Economics in 1926, whilst recovering from the effects of polio. In 1929 she was appointed half-time tutor at the LSE, obtaining a full time post there four years later. Younghusband combined teaching at the LSE with work in Stepney, spending holidays volunteering at the Stepney Family Welfare Association and being appointed a Justice of Peace in 1933 (working in juvenile courts that she had previously visited as a Care Committee worker).

During the Second World War, Eileen Younghusband remained in London (the LSE evacuated to Cambridge) and in September 1939 set up one of the first branches of the Citizens Advice Bureau. In 1940 Younghusband left to administer the National Council of Girls' Clubs, at a time of great expansion due to the new facilities required for women war workers, and later became the Principal Officer for Training and Development of the retitled National Association of Girls' Clubs and Mixed Clubs. During this period Younghusband also worked as a temporary inspector of food and rest centres during the Blitz and with Jewish German refugees in London. In 1944 she had her first experience of helping to shape government policy, travelling the country to investigate the welfare functions of the Assistance Board (government provider of means tested benefits).

In 1944-5 Eileen Younghusband began work on a Carnegie UK Trust funded survey of social work. The Younghusband Report on the Employment and Training of Social Workers was published in 1947, and recommended more focused university training through a Carnegie School of Social Work. A revised version of the report was published in 1951 and the LSE began to run Carnegie courses headed by Eileen Younghusband in 1954. Disagreements at the LSE over the merger of specialised casework courses for almoners and psychiatric social workers with the new Carnegie courses led to Younghusband's resignation from the university in 1957.

Between 1955-9 Eileen Younghusband chaired the Ministry of Health Working Party on Social Workers in the Local Authority Health and Welfare Services. The Working Party's report (published in 1959) was greeted with wide-ranging approval and resulted in the passing of the 1962 Health Visiting and Social Work (Training) Act and the 1961 creation of the National Institute for Social Work. Younghusband worked as a consultant at NISW from its foundation until her retirement, aged 65, in 1967.

Eileen Younghusband was also tireless in her work overseas, working after the Second World War for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. She worked as a consultant in Geneva in 1948, and also in Greece and Hong Kong, she made study visits to India and Pakistan in 1952-1953, and was a frequent visitor to the USA. She served as external examiner to the universities of Hong Kong, Columbia, Khartoum, and at the University College of Makerere. She was president of the International Association of Schools of Social Work between 1961-1967 and later was later appointed an honorary life president. In 1976 she was given the René Sand award, the highest award in the field of international social work. She was appointed MBE (1946), CBE (1955) and DBE (1964).

The detailed diaries in Eileen Younghusband's archive cover the period before her great professional success, when she was developing her ideas and deciding what her focus in life would be. Generally speaking, the diaries are not accounts of the author's innermost thoughts but are descriptions of events, mixed in with some observations and opinions, often told with a self-deprecating wit. As well as her own activities, she comments on current affairs - from life on the First World War home front to the 1926 General Strike in Westerham and Bermondsey. Although they were predominantly private documents, the diaries were sometimes shared during joint diary reading and writing sessions with friends. Slightly disconcertingly, Eileen Younghusband also speculates on the diaries as historical sources and wonders what future readers will make of the contents 10.

The parties and dances that Eileen Younghusband attended in the immediate post-war period were, in her words, "a marriage market" 11 and one in which she was unwilling to participate. Younghusband was reticent about personal relationships and would have disliked speculation about her own long-term relationships with other women. Strong emotions tend to be referred to only occasionally in the diaries - whether about her sexuality, her difficult relationship with her mother or the effects of serious illness. She is open about her affection for other women (in her case, her teenage theatre pin up was Renee Kelly, rather than Owen Nares) but broader issues relating to sexuality and attendant social pressures are only occasionally mentioned.

During the 1970s, Eileen Younghusband recorded an extensive series of interviews with her colleague Kathleen Jones which formed the basis for a biography published after Younghusband's death in 1981. An interview with Alan Cohen, part of a project to record the experiences of social work pioneers, is available elsewhere on the Modern Records Centre website (both as an audio recording and transcript). These later autobiographical recollections can help to provide context to some of the material in the diaries.

1 Recollections recorded in Kathleen Jones, 'Eileen Younghusband: A biography' (Occasional Papers on Social Administration 76, National Council for Voluntary Organisations, 1984), p.6.

2 Ibid, p.8.

3 Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon recalled her as "terrifying", according to William Shawcross's biography (William Shawcross, 'Queen Elizabeth: The Queen Mother: the Official Biography', Macmillan, 2009, p.39)

4 Younghusband diaries, volume 3, 20 May 1918.

5 Younghusband diaries, volume 4, 23 June 1918.

6 Recollections recorded in Kathleen Jones, 'Eileen Younghusband: A biography' (Occasional Papers on Social Administration 76, National Council for Voluntary Organisations, 1984), p.17.

7 Younghusband diaries, volume 11, 25 May 1922.

8 Recollections recorded in Kathleen Jones, 'Eileen Younghusband: A biography' (Occasional Papers on Social Administration 76, National Council for Voluntary Organisations, 1984), p.17.

9 Kathleen Jones, 'Eileen Younghusband: A biography' (Occasional Papers on Social Administration 76, National Council for Voluntary Organisations, 1984), p.22.

10 For example:

19 October 1917: "I was thinking the other day what awful crackers I might tell about the war and things in general in this diary and then when I am old and in my dotage my grandchildren would rummage this diary gracefully falling to peices and with the writting yellow and faded out of some old and frousty and insecty trunk and marvel that anyone so prim and proper and dull as grandma should have had such exciting things happen to her"

28 April 1918, "There are also several volumes of my grannie's diary written in the most beautiful, neat handwriting and very prim because it was all corrected by a very strict French governess they had when they were children. It is a great pity she saw the diaries because they would probably have been much more interesting if she hadn't. I wonder if my grandchildren nearly 90 years hence will read and laugh over, as something terribly old fashioned, my diary? alas! they won't be able to admire the beauty and neatness of my handwriting or the exactness of my style 'cos I ain't got none! and how they will laugh at the dresses in the photographs I have stuck in my diaries!"

28 August 1921, "I read over some old 1917 diaries this evening, very comic in more ways than one. I must say I did write my diary very much better then but there was so much more time. I must have been a funny child! It is amusing to think how one's point of view has changed. All the war part might have been really interesting if only one had written for the future, luckily for me I hadn't started to think about things in those days & didn't the least realize the horror of it all."

11 Kathleen Jones, 'Eileen Younghusband: A biography' (Occasional Papers on Social Administration 76, National Council for Voluntary Organisations, 1984), p.16.

Portraits of Eileen Younghusband