The McMillan Sisters, The Roots of the Open-Nursery, and Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

Betty Liebovich


This article explores the impetus and motivation for the McMillan sisters, Christian Socialists committed to creating change for the working class in England, to create an innovative and enduring ideal of nursery education through the open-air nursery. Influenced by their membership in the Fabian Society and the Independent Labour Party, they created health and dental clinics for people living in deprivation in Yorkshire and East and South East London, England, campaigned for the 1906 Provision of School Meals Act, and created night camps for deprived children in Deptford in 1908.The night camps were the inspiration for educating young children and in March 1914, the open-air nursery opened for the youngest children living in the tenements of Deptford.

Using archival methods, the conclusion is reached that the McMillan sisters, and Margaret specifically, worked tirelessly to create social change through the open-air nursery serving the deprived surrounding community. By modelling good practice, both educationally and hygienically, they hoped to make a difference in the lives of families stuck in a cycle of poverty. The enduring work and ideas formulated in this nursery has informed many initiatives focused upon reducing social disadvantage, to include the UK framework ‘Every Child Matters’.


open-air nursery, young children, deprivation, social reform

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