Pioneers of Social Reform
Nurtured no doubt by the strong Quaker ethos, the school embraced liberal and egalitarian ideas in social and political affairs, many of which anticipated later sociological advances in twentieth-century society.
Bootham helps to promote wider awareness of social problems
The school had already established a tradition of taking disadvantaged boys from the old Lawrence Street area on a Lads' Camp, usually at Robin Hood's Bay, a tradition which persisted for many decades into the twentieth century.
During his time as headmaster John Ford conducted experiments on the scholars to predict their life expectancy. Other examples of scholars who made important contributions to the political and social understanding of their times include Lewis Fry Richardson, a pupil in the 1890s, who made far-reaching statistical analyses to investigate man's propensity for war; and Robert Spence Watson (Bootham 1848-52), a Newcastle solicitor, who was a liberal and an arbitrator in industrial disputes.
Investigating living conditions in York
Perhaps the most well-known of these pioneers is Seebohm Rowntree (Bootham 1882-87 and the subject of a BBC2 documentary series). By the late nineteenth century much change had taken place in York since the school had been founded. The population had tripled to 78,000 with the Railway, the Carriage Works and two confectionery enterprises being the main employers. Although suburbs had been built for the more affluent, areas such as Walmgate, Hungate and Bedern were still overcrowded slums where periodic outbreaks of typhoid fever were feared.
Rowntree used new statistical methods to uncover the disturbing reality that in York at the turn of the century almost one third of the population lived at or below 'sustenance level'. Though most were in work, wages were too low to provide families with what was needed to keep them in basic physical health. Rowntree was keen to lead Bootham students toward the social sciences, devising methodologies for them and awarding prizes for projects of social research.
Science as a guiding principle
Although the majority of the girls and boys at Bootham today are not from Quaker backgrounds, the school is proud of its Quaker heritage, and still observes many of the precepts on which the school was founded. The pursuit of learning through science, progressive and reforming principles, a respect for the individual, and creativity and social conscience are all strongly reflected in the Archive, which is a lasting embodiment of the school's founding principles.
Pioneers of Social Reform
Read more about the early reformers who influenced Government thinking.
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