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2005-2006 Visiting Fellows

David Stoker
University of Wales, Aberystwyth, UK

My project was "A Bibliographical Investigation into Works Attributed to Lady Ellenor Fenn," and continues my previous work using the collections of early children's books at UCLA and at the Bodleian Library Oxford. Lady Fenn was an innovator in several fields of education between the mid 1780s and her death in 1813. She was responsible for large numbers of publications aimed at the education of young children and for providing their mothers with the confidence and resources to teach their own children the rudiments of grammar, mathematics, natural history. She also appears to have maintained a close working relationship with her publishers, from whom she received no royalties, and took a close interest in the design, illustration and production of her works. Following the death of her husband she also devoted many of her energies and financial resources into founding and operating a Sunday school and a day school for poor children. Her works were published anonymously or else under pseudonyms "Mrs. Teachw ell" and "Mrs. Lovechild". They were extremely popular during her lifetime, and for several decades after her death, and she had many imitators, but by the end of the nineteenth century her role was largely forgotten or dismissed as unimportant. Furthermore, many errors have crept into her bibliographical record since she was neither the first nor the last to use the name "Mrs. Lovechild" and several works by her imitators have been wrongly attributed to her.

My research is concerned with identifying exactly what Lady Fenn wrote, what has been wrongly attributed to her, and the order in which her works appeared. I am also looking for clues as to her relationship with her publishers and the extent to which she was concerned in the innovative publishing practices that appear in some of her works. Finally I am seeking to find the reason why she dropped her initial publisher, John Marshall, and re-invented herself with a new pseudonym and a new publisher soon afterwards.

The Cotsen Library has a substantial and truly representative collection of her works including many first editions, and others from subsequent decades. Likewise, there are several works written by her imitators, some of which have been wrongly attributed to her elsewhere. These are in process of being catalogued but the detailed records are not yet publicly available. Thus during my three-week visit in June 2005 I was able to examine and describe in detail nearly fifty works associated with her. Furthermore, the Curator of the Cotsen Collection, Dr Andrea Immel was also one of the first scholars to point out that Lady Fenn's contribution to the history of education has been largely overlooked during the twentieth century, and it was most useful for me to be able to discuss my findings with her.

In addition to her books, Ellenor Fenn was also responsible for the design and authorship of a number of teaching schemes most of which have been lost. One of the treasures of the collection is the near complete copy of her "Set of Toys", which accompanied her book The Art of Teaching in Sport. This was designed for mothers to help their children with reading, grammar, and basic mathematics. It consists of nearly 1,000 printed cards arranged in a series of wooden boxes. The Cotsen copy is the only known set that still contains all of the three main elements and is approaching completeness. The ability to spend two days examining this work in detail was one of the highlights of my visit, and brought home to me the trouble she took in the design of her teaching schemes

I am most grateful to the Cotsen Children's Library for funding my fellowship, to Dr Immel and her staff for their help and advice, and to the staff of the Dulles Library Reading Room for overseeing my use of the materials.

4 July 2005


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