Rachel and Margaret McMillan
"Educate each child as if he were your own." (R. McMillan)
S. Boychuk, G. Desnoyers, and N. Gilmour


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Rachel McMillan, pictured above, was the first of three daughters born to James and Jane McMillan on March 25, 1859 at Throggs Neck, Westchester Country, New York. Her parents had recently immigrated to America from Scotland. The McMillan family suffered many trials in America, and after the youngest daughter, Elizabeth, and their father, James McMillan, passed away, their mother took Rachel and her sister Margaret back to Scotland.

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Margaret McMillan (refer to image above), was born a year after Rachel, on July 19, 1860. While living in Americam she contracted Scarlet Fever and lost her hearing up until she was fourteen. She travelled back to Scotland with Rachel and her mother, where the two girls spent a great deal of time in their grandparents’ library.

Brief History:

In 1877, Jane McMillan, mother of Rachel and Margaret, passed away. In the time following, Rachel remained with her sickly grandmother while Margaret left to train to become a governess. On a visit to Edinburgh, a cousin took Rachel to a church which stirred her to become involved in socialism. She converted Margaret to become a socialist, and they began to attend meetings and contribute to a magazine called Christian Socialist. Both sisters became actively involved in the Independent Labour Party, especially Margaret, who was a speaker, propagandist, and journalist for the party.

Rachel and Margaret transformed primary schooling. Their ideas came about after Margaret moved to Bradford. As the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states, "in home visiting, school inspection, and contact with parents and children in a textile-producing city that made much use of child labour, lay the roots of McMillan's thinking on childhood and socialism. The need to communicate with working-class parents developed McMillan's techniques of personifying abstract ideas about child development, hygiene, and nutrition; journalism gave her a national audience for a kind of socio-fiction she refined in these years, in which vignettes of child life, labour, and ill health in Bradford served to illuminate broader questions of political principle and action." After this point, Rachel and Margaret set out to develop a proper, healthy school environment for young children.

Both of the sisters where very involved in politics as well. Rachel and Margaret would go to different industrial areas and speak to the workers about Christian Socialism. They would speak at meetings and even visit the poor at their homes. As well as attending Christian Socialist meetings, the sisters where part of many other groups including the Social Democratic Federation, and the Independent Labour Party. Margaret was elected in 1894 as the Independent Labour Party head for the Bradford School Board. With this Margaret went on to write many books on the subject of children and the labour market.


The first 5-6 years of life is vital for prevention of physical and emotional problems:
The sisters experienced first-hand how susceptable children are to illnesses. First, their youngest sister, Elizabeth, passed away at the age of three. Also, Margaret contracted Scarlet Fever at a young age. This forced Rachel and Margaret to stress the importance of hygiene. They also made sure to provide regular warm meals to children. In all areas possible, the two women strived to provide all necessities they believed children should have in their environment.

They held open-air camp schools to teach the importance of healthy living, along with parental education programs:
According to Teaching Young Children, they promoted an "open-air" plan, which included fresh air, daily bathing, fresh laundered smocks (uniforms), emphasis on hand-washing, and much outdoor play. Any environment for young children should be as hygienic and healthy as possible.

They founded the nursury school movement in England:
Margaret wanted their school to be distinguished from a "day nursery," which was more common and government sponsored. Teaching Young Children refers to these as providing no more than custodial care, and Margaret believed that they were poor-quality, drab places run by "unenlightened women." McMillan's dream was to create a nursery school, and she is now coined for that term.

The sisters proposed the idea of nurture in education to deal with a child's complete development:
Children, to these women, were more than empty vessels. They believed in nurturing the whole child. The motto in Teaching Young Children expresses this well: "The motto voiced by Rachel McMillan, founder, is 'Educate each child as if he were your own' (adapted from McMillan, 1921)."

The McMillan sisters also encouraged the students to use their imagination and express themselves in many ways. They stressed the importance of caring for one's self, as well as others. They used sensory perceptual-motor training in their schooling, and developed the ideas of more adaptable scheduling and varieties in classroom activities.

Interesting Point:

While looking into the McMillan sisters in depth, we came across some similarities between the lives of the McMillan sisters and the life of the heroine from Margaret Laurence's A Jest of God. First, Rachel McMillan was named for her grandmother, Rachel Cameron. Rachel Cameron was also the name of the heroine from Laurence's novel. The sisters were teachers of young children, and, in the novel, Rachel Cameron is also an elementary school teacher. Rachel McMillan's quote, "Educate each child as if he were your own," is very relevent to the character of Rachel Cameron's situation. In the novel, she treats many students as if they were actually her own children, which stressed her desire to have children. The paralells of their lives are quite obvious. Coincidence? We think not.
This just goes to show that being knowlegable in areas such as these theorists is important because they will be referenced in many areas, often going unnoticed, such as in literature.

Website Sourcing: Follow these links for more info.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - Rachel
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - Margaret
Spartacus Educational - Rachel
Spartacus Educational - Margaret
Teaching Young Children
Rachel & Margaret McMillan
Note: Both pictures were taken from the Spartacus Educational website.

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