The story

Margaret McMillan

Margaret McMillan

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Margaret McMillan, was born in Westchester County, New York, on the 20th July, 1860. Her parents, James and Jean McMillan, had originally come from Inverness but had emigrated to the United States in 1840. In 1865 James McMillan and his daughter Elizabeth died. Margaret also caught scarlet fever and although she survived it left her deaf (she recovered her hearing at fourteen).

Deeply upset by these events, Mrs. McMillan decided to take her two young daughters, Margaret and Rachel McMillan back to Scotland. Rachel and Margaret both attended the Inverness High School and were able to make good use of their grandparents well-stocked library. When Jean McMillan died in 1877 it was decided that Rachel would remain in Inverness to nurse her very sick grandmother, while Margaret was sent away to be trained as a governess.

In 1887 Rachel paid a visit to a cousin in Edinburgh. Her cousin took her to church where she heard an impressive sermon by John Glasse, a Christian Socialist. Rachel was also introduced to John Gilray, another recent convert to this religious group. Gilray gave Rachel copies of Justice, a socialist newspaper and Peter Kropotkin's Advice to the Young. Rachel was impressed by what she read. She particularly liked the articles by William Morris and William Stead.

During the following week Rachel McMillan went with Gilray to several socialist meetings in Edinburgh. When she arrived home in Inverness she wrote to a friend about her new beliefs: "I think that, very soon, when these teachings and ideas are better known, people generally will declare themselves Socialists."

Rachel's grandmother died in July 1888. Freed of her nursing responsibilities, Rachel McMillan joined Margaret in London and the two remained together for most of the rest of their lives. Margaret, who was employed as a junior superintendent in a home for young girls, found Rachel a similar job in Bloomsbury.

Rachel converted Margaret to socialism and together they attended political meetings where they met William Morris, H. M. Hyndman, Peter Kropotkin, William Stead and Ben Tillet. They also began contributing to the magazine Christian Socialist and gave free evening lessons to working class girls in London. Margaret later wrote: "I taught them singing, or rather I talked to them while they jeered at me." It was at this time that the two sisters became aware of the connection between the workers' physical environment and their intellectual development.

In October 1889, Rachel and Margaret helped the workers during the London Dock Strike. The continued to be involved in spreading the word of Christian Socialism to industrial workers and in 1892 it was suggested that their efforts would be appreciated in Bradford.

Although for the next few years they were based in Bradford, Rachel and Margaret toured the industrial regions speaking at meetings and visiting the homes of the poor. As well as attending Christian Socialist meetings, the sisters joined the Fabian Society, the Labour Church, the Social Democratic Federation and the newly formed Independent Labour Party (ILP).

Margaret and Rachel's work in Bradford convinced them that they should concentrate on trying to improve the physical and intellectual welfare of the slum child. James Kerr, Bradford's school medical officer, to carry out the first medical inspection of elementary school children in Britain. Kerr and McMillan published a report on the medical problems that they found and began a campaign to improve the health of children by arguing that local authorities should install bathrooms, improve ventilation and supply free school meals.

The sisters remained active in politics and Margaret McMillan became the Independent Labour Party candidate for the Bradford School Board. Elected in 1894 and working closely with Fred Jowett, leader of the ILP on the local council, Margaret now began to influence what went on in Bradford schools. She also wrote several books and pamphlets on the subject including Child Labour and the Half Time System (1896) and Early Childhood (1900).

In 1902 Margaret joined Rachel McMillan in London. The sisters joined the recently formed Labour Party and worked closely with leaders of the movement including James Keir Hardie and George Lansbury. Margaret continued to write books on health and education. In 1904 she published her most important book, Education Through the Imagination (1904) and followed this with The Economic Aspects of Child Labour and Education (1905).

The two sisters joined with their old friend, Katharine Glasier, to lead the campaign for school meals and eventually the House of Commons became convinced that hungry children cannot learn and passed the 1906 Provision of School Meals Act. The legislation accepted the argument put forward by the McMillan sisters that if the state insists on compulsory education it must take responsibility for the proper nourishment of school children.

In 1908 Margaret and Rachel McMillan opened the country's first school clinic in Bow. This was followed by the Deptford Clinic in 1910 that served a number of schools in the area. The clinic provided dental help, surgical aid and lessons in breathing and posture. The sisters also established a Night Camp where slum children could wash and wear clean nightclothes. In 1911 Margaret McMillan published The Child and the State where she criticised the tendency of schools in working class areas to concentrate on preparing children for unskilled and monotonous jobs. Margaret argued that instead schools should be offering a broad and humane education.

Rachel and Margaret both supported the campaign for universal suffrage. They were against the use of violence and tended to favour the approach of the NUWSS. However, they disagreed with the way WSPU members were treated in prison and at one meeting where they were protesting against the Cat and Mouse Act, the sisters were physically assaulted by a group of policemen.

In 1914 the sisters decided to start an Open-Air Nursery School & Training Centre in Deptford. Within a few weeks there were thirty children at the school ranging in age from eighteen months to seven years. Rachel, who was mainly responsible for the kindergarten, proudly pointed out that in the first six months there was only one case of illness and, because of precautions that she took, this case of measles did not spread to the other children.

Rachel McMillan died on 25th March, 1917. Although devastated by the loss of her sister, Margaret continued the run the Peckham Nursery. She also served on the London County Council and wrote a series of influential books that included The Nursery School (1919) and Nursery Schools: A Practical Handbook (1920).

In her later years Margaret McMillan became interested in the subject of nursing. With the financial help of Lloyds of London, she established a new college to train nurses and teachers. Named after her beloved sister, the Rachel McMillan College was opened in Deptford on 8th May, 1930.

Margaret McMillan died on 29 March, 1931. Afterwards her friend Walter Cresswell wrote a memoir of the McMillan sisters: "Such persons, single-minded, pure in heart, blazing with selfless love, are the jewels of our species. There is more essential Christianity in them than in a multitude of bishops."

Our mother was possessed by one aim - to give us children a proper education. She spared nothing in the pursuit of this end. The first experience of school was a little disconcerting and in some ways even alarming. The children sat in large room with a desk that looked like a pulpit. This desk contained, as we afterwards learned with horror, a tawse, or leathern strap, with four tongues, which the masters used with energy, not indeed for the punishment of girls, but only of boys. In spite of our immunity, we were filled with anxiety and distress, and had a deep sympathy with the unruly boys.

There were other things that were disturbing. The schools of that day, even for well-to-do children whose parents paid high fees (our mother paid them with difficulty), had a low standard in respect of hygiene. Dusty walls, greasy slates, no hot water and no care of the physical body.

At Whitechapel I held a class for factory girls. I taught them singing, or rather I talked to them while they jeered at me. We sat in a dim room with a sawdusty floor, which we reached by climbing up some rickety steps from a muddy court.

The girls led a dreadful life. All of them came to the class after a long day's work in the factory. They came, as I soon found, merely for a lark. They crowded in, some big and brawny, some small and pale and anemic. They took the penny books, did not tear them up at once, and even made a feint of paying attention, but this only to make sure of a better joke. They were terrible lessons. My hat was never on my own head, and my coat was often missing when I wanted it. Squirts of water reached me and worse things, everyone amused herself as she chose.

One evening there was a lull. The girls were sobered by some rumours of a new reduction in wages. Rose, a ringleader, a big stout rope girl, with a thick fringe and swinging brass ear-rings, sat on the platform, red arms akimbo, and red face grave.

"What do you come down here for anyway? she said. "What's your game? You're losing your chances, you know, coming down here. Ain't you got a chap? You ain't bad looking, you know. You're hair done comical and that! and no ear-rings, nor nothing, but you ain't bad-looking. I say chuck it," said Rose earnestly. "These lessons of yours ain't no good to us. What do you take us for? Kids? We ain't going to learn no more. Get a chap for yourself, my girl: that's what you got to do.

H. Hyndman, the great apostle of Karl Marx, was a rather corpulent, long-bearded man of fifty-five. He had an astonishing gift of oratory and was at once provocative and convincing. He spoke with the vehemence of a great soul and the simplicity of a child. Above all, he had vision. He saw the new society. His party, the Social Democratic Federation stood for Adult Suffrage. It worked for the Nationalization of Land and the instruments of production. These were to be administered for the good of all the people, not for the profiteering or benefit of a small class.

We were invited to meet William Morris at Kelmscott House. Mr. Morris received us with patient cordiality. Dressed in navy blue, and with his hair much ruffled, he looked like a sea captain receiving guests on a stormy day, but glad to see them. He wanted to hear about his Edinburgh friends, especially John Glasse, with whom he could discuss handloom weaving as well as literature or Socialism. He lighted his pipe and talked, sitting upright in a high chair. We listened to his copious, glittering talk. Morris belonged to a rich, radiant, present world. He created it. He was practical as well as impatient.

We arrived on a stormy night in November. Coming out from the entrance of the Midland station, we saw, in a swuther of rain, the shining statue of Richard Oastler standing in the Market Square, with two black and bowed little mill-workers standing at his knee.

Next morning we awoke in a new and quite unknown world. It was a Sunday, and the smoke cloud that usually enveloped the city had lifted. Tall dark chimneys reaching skywards like monstrous trees, made dark outlines against the faint grey of the sunny morning. On weekdays these big stone monsters belched forth smoke as black as pitch that fell in choking clouds.

The condition of the poorer children was worse than anything that was described or painted. It was a thing that this generation is glad to forget. The neglect of infants, the utter neglect almost of toddlers and older children, the blight of early labour, all combined to make of a once vigorous people a race of undergrown and spoiled adolescents; and just as people looked on at the torture two hundred years ago and less, without any great indignation, so in the 1890s people saw the misery of poor children without perturbation.

Margaret McMillan is a figure closely associated with Bradford's pioneering contribution to child welfare and education, with whom Fred Jowett worked closely and revered. Her coming to Bradford was characteristic. Accompanied by her sister Rachel, she travelled from London to lecture at the Labour Church in 1893, and they found themselves among men and women whom they recognised at once as their natural comrades.

Margaret McMillan remained in Bradford, devoting her whole time to the ILP, addressing meetings tirelessly in schoolrooms and at street corners, travelling all over the North to spread the socialist gospel. A year after coming to Bradford Margaret was elected to the School Board and began the educational work for which she is famed. Among other things, school baths and medical treatment were introduced, a physical care unknown in schools at that time, and for which, indeed no legal provision existed.

During my work in the district I met large numbers of the comrades who told me stories of the transformation in the borough council's attitude to the child health problem as a result of the work of Margaret Macmillan, who came to live in Bradford in 1893. From 1893 to 1902 Margaret had led the fight for the communal spirit in the town, where the Cinderella Club was started by the Socialist paper The Clarion, edited by Robert Blatchford. The Cinderella Club initiated the feeding of school-children in 1894, and in that year Margaret was elected to the Bradford School Board.

When the Cat and Mouse Bill came into operation we joined a committee formed by Sir Victor Horsley, and went with many other women in the House of Commons, with a protest signed by a great number of people. It was a beautiful day in August when we set off, all full of zeal, across the paved lawns about St. Margaret's, till we reached the House and mounted the steps leading to the foyer in front of the ante-room, whose swinging doors were closed to us. There we stood a long time. An old lady was on the step above us - she was dressed very daintily in amethyst silk, her hair swathed in lace, among whose fold gleamed a thin gold chain. I was looking admiringly at her when suddenly a force of policemen swung down on us like a Highland regiment. We were tossed like dust down the steps. A moment later I was on the floor, the crowd behind flung over me in their wild descent. There was a big meeting that night at which I was to speak, but, of course, I did not speak at that meeting, nor at any other - for weeks.

Looking out from my bedroom window, we saw something bright and sparkling in the sky.

"What can it be? I said to Rachel.

She looked at it steadily. "A Zeppelin"

Two or three of our friends ran upstairs to warn us. "It's a Zeppelin dropping bombs, or going to." We all gazed at it if fascinated.

A terrific blast struck the house as we went downstairs. I looked up and saw that Rachel had not followed us. In the same moment, an awful explosion shook the little house to its foundations. I called, and she appeared on the last landing carrying blankets. She had just time to join us when a third crash sent all our windows in, and the ironwork along the outer wall, which served as a ventilator for the lower room.


You could be forgiven for thinking that outdoor play is a relatively new phenomenon, driven by The National Trust (2016) and their ‘50 Things to do before you’re 11¾’ project. Children and being outside seems to be a recurrent theme in the media and with organisations, such as the National Trust, focused on reconnecting people with nature and the outside.

Outdoor play is not a new construct those of us who played outside throughout childhood have fond memories of being at one with nature. This however, is rather a romanticised view and we should probably consider that perhaps not everyone did play outside. Previously however, it was more possible to play outside than it seems to be in today’s society. Through research, Hillman et al. (1990) found that between 1971-1990 there was a 50% decrease in children being allowed outside on their own. More recently, Unilever (2016) surveyed more than 12,000 parents of 5­12 year olds in 10 countries around the world. They found that in the U.K. almost a third of children spend less than thirty minutes outside each day, and one in five children on an average day, do not go outside at all.

Possible reasons for children not going outside can be attributed to parents’ fears about safety. A MORI poll (McNeish and Roberts 1995) conducted by Barnardos found that although 91% of the adults questioned realised the importance of outdoor play, 60% of those polled expressed fears for their children’s safety outside. Through research Valentine and McKendrick (1997) conclude that parental fears and the changing nature of childhood appear to play a more critical role in limiting, or determining children’s play opportunities.

Richard Louv (2005, p.34) believes that we have created a society that is “teaching young people to avoid direct experience in nature.” He coined the term ‘Nature Deficit disorder’ and is working globally to highlight the need for children to reconnect with nature through his work with the Children and Nature Network (2016).

Not everyone agrees with the absence of outdoor play, particularly Joyce (2012) who questions its supposed disappearance. Joyce argues that actually outdoor play has just changed and evolved with societal influences and the political context of the time. Historically, outdoor play was a necessity and a way of life that embedded itself in the early education of children. Nursery schools were, and are still, created with an outdoor space. It is identified as a fundamental part of the Early Years curriculum and seen as an integral part of learning and development (Bilton 2010).

“The best classroom and the richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky” McMillan 1925.

Margaret McMillan realised the potential of outdoor learning over one hundred years ago. The above statement sums up the perspective of one of the pioneers of nursery education. In her book ‘The Nursery School’ (1919), McMillan describes the development and organisation of her setting in great detail, paying particular attention to the importance of children being outdoors for health and wellbeing. “To feel one’s life in every limb, that is the life of early childhood” (McMillan, 1919).

McMillan drew on the work of the educationalist, Froebel, who built his philosophies on the value of outside learning. Born in 1782 in Germany, Froebel enjoyed a childhood of education, learning mathematics and languages, but his greatest passion was for being outside in nature. He saw outdoor play as being intrinsic to children's learning and development. Froebel believed life, beauty and knowledge were interconnected (Pound, 2005).

Besides McMillan and Froebel, Pestalozzi (1746-­1827) and Isaacs (1885­-1948) have also significantly influenced approaches to outdoor education in the Early Years. Joyce (2012) suggests that identifying a historical context in outdoor learning is central to understanding modern day practices. It wasn’t until the late eighteenth century that children began to be seen as individuals in their own right previously they were regarded by society as miniature adults. These changes in thinking were influenced by political agenda and pedagogy have influenced how we view outdoor learning today. The work of McMillan and Froebel heavily influence today’s practice, with Forest Schools adopting much of their approach in its emphasis on outdoor learning (Knight, 2013).

The importance of outdoor learning and play was formally recognised by the introduction of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) guidance in September 2000. The Practice Guidance (DCSF 2008, 1.16) refers to play being the underpinning factor in Early Years education and that opportunities to play indoors and outdoors must be provided. The document refers to outdoor play as offering “challenge and enjoyment” and this is reiterated by the Principles into Practice card 3.3 (DCSF 2008) that acknowledges that a rich outdoor environment that is safe and secure, yet challenging, helps support children’s learning and development.

The most recent Statutory Framework for the EYFS (2014), although it steps back from in-depth discussion about the outdoor learning environment, does stipulate that

“Each area of learning and development must be implemented through planned, purposeful play and through a mix of adult ­led and child­ initiated activity” (DFE 2014, p.9).”

The outdoor learning environment according to Moyles (2005) offers opportunities to learn and develop knowledge and understanding of the world as it is a much richer context than the indoors. Tovey (2007) agrees that the outside is a “dynamic living space” that changes as children and adults interact with the environment. The outdoor space allows children to relive their experiences through movement, express their emotions through role play and make connections with the world around them (Ouvry 2000). To children, outside is a blank slate on which to create endless possibilities.

Professionals within the Early Years sector play an integral part in delivering quality outdoor provision and meeting the requirements of the Statutory Guidelines but ‘quality’, and what it looks like in practice, is highly contested. Moss and Pence (1994, p.5) consider quality to be a ‘constructed concept’ that is subjective and open to interpretation rather than a universal and unbiased ‘reality’.

High quality outdoor provision, according to White (2011), is achieved through having a unified vision with a clear set of beliefs and values. Bilton (2010) paints a picture of what is determined by ‘good outdoor provision’ by describing engaged children, using open ended play materials, joined by adults who facilitate and inspire play through discussion and considerate and informed interaction.

Froebel (cited in Lilley 1967, p 146) identified, over two hundred years ago the support that an adult can give to a child,

“The boy sees the significance but if he does not find the same awareness in adults the seed of knowledge just beginning to germinate is crushed.”

An environment can be filled with all the resources imaginable but without imaginative and sensitive adults, the quality of the play experience is affected. Tovey (2007) argues that the most beautifully designed play spaces can give rise to the most ‘mundane play’ and that supportive, receptive adults that are the key to “transforming spaces and sustaining play.” Featherstone (2001) discusses in her ‘Little Book of Outdoor Play’ the role of supportive adults, who plan activities give children the time they need to discover and through sensitive discussion help to promote learning and development. A government review in 2012, led by Professor Cathy Nutbrown, paid particular attention to the role of practitioners, identifying that knowledgeable practitioners are more effective in developing children’s learning and development. Moyles (2005, p6) reiterates the importance of the ‘facilitative adult’ and draws on the work of Sylva et al. (2003) and the Effective Provision of Preschool Education (EPPE) project, a longitudinal study completed to identify the characteristics of more effective Pre school settings. Through research, Sylva et al. (2003) discovered that children demonstrate long term intellectual and social benefits when exposed to “high quality play based experiences” in settings with highly qualified practitioners (Moyles 2005, p269).

The EYFS (2008) Principles into Practice card 3.3 discusses linking the indoor and outdoor learning environment to allow children the freedom to move between but delivering a seamless curriculum between the indoor and outdoor learning environments can prove challenging at times. Bilton (2010) discusses a number of difficulties, raised by practitioners as to why indoor and outdoor activities prove difficult to organise, in the promotion of continuous provision. Most often it is challenges such as the weather, supervision, issues with space, and time to set up activities.

Time can often be thought of as a challenge, having no time to set activities up, or no time to go outside. Tovey (2007) discusses the importance of children having time to play and engage in rich learning opportunities, without practitioners imposing time slots or restrictions on access to the outdoors. Freely moving between the indoors and outdoors promotes a more relaxed approach to play. Tovey (2007) suggests again similarly to Bilton (2010) that organisation and flexibility of the practitioners is key to providing outstanding outdoor provision.

Ouvry (2000) refers to the assumptions she discovered practitioners make to avoid going outdoors. In particular, the weather was frequently cited by practitioners as a compelling reason for not taking children outside, out of concern for their health and wellbeing. In fact, exposing children to different weather provides opportunity for a rich learning experience. Mirrahimi et al. (2011, p.395) conclude in their study, The Impact of Nature on Learning, Social and Emotional Intelligence, that the outside learning environment offers “a chance to learn, not only by hearing and seeing but also by tasting, smelling, touching, and feeling,” providing a “considerable source of stimulation for the process of inspired learning.” A Department for Education study (DfE 2010) researching the feelings of practitioners towards the Foundation Stage found that overall, practitioners were accessing the outdoor in all weathers and that positive steps were being taken to encourage outdoor learning.

The research also identified a major barrier in accessing outdoors as being space and resources. Lack of space and access to the outdoors come into question when thinking about different types of childcare provision. The study found that ‘pack-away’ provisions that have to set up and pack away resources every day and are often based in halls without outside facilities, found it incredibly difficult to be outdoors. Bilton (2010) discusses such difficulties and refers to organisation, adapting and planning as being an integral consideration in these instances. Planning the areas so that there are enough child initiated activities, allows some flexibility with rotas and practitioners who plan the two environments as one, often find organisation less of a challenge (Bilton 2010).

It would appear that a combination of sensitive adults, organisation and planning allow for opportunity in the outdoor learning environment. It is clear that the pre-conceived ideas of practitioners play an integral part in how successful outdoor learning is achieved. Reasons for not going out and the challenges that practitioners face are mostly based on fear, according to Ouvry (2000). Anxieties concerned with weather, space and risk can outweigh the needs of the children and Ouvry (2000) feels that this maybe a lack of understanding on the part of the practitioner. It might be argued that training is significant here­ that having practitioners who are experienced in outdoor learning, who have continued professional development and have the knowledge and skills to organise and plan for children’s learning and development in the outdoor learning environment, might be key to promoting outstanding outdoor provision.

The renewed interest in outdoor learning and the emergence of approaches, such as Forest School can only be seen as a positive step in promoting the outdoor learning environment. As Joyce (2012) concludes, “new approaches to learning do not exist in a vacuum” they are shaped by previous experiences and history. The curriculum will change in the future to reflect the political and social context of the time. We can only hope that changes to the EYFS reflect the need and importance of outdoor learning once again and that the practitioners who work tirelessly for the children in their care have opportunities to experience further knowledge and skills in this area.


Bilton, H., 2010. Outdoor Learning in the Early Years. Management and Innovation. Oxon: Routledge.

Children and Nature Network, 2016. Learn Connect Act. Minneapolis:

Children and Nature Network. Available from: [Accessed 18 January 2016].

Department for Children, Schools and Families., 2008. The Early Years Foundation Stage: Principles into Practice Card No. 3.3. Nottingham: DCSF Publications.

Department for Education., 2010. Practitioners’ Experience of the Foundation Stage. London: DFE. Available from: [Accessed 18 January 2016].

Department for Education., 2014. Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage. Runcorn: Department for Education.

Early Education., 2012. Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). London: Early Education.

Featherstone, S., 2001. The Little Book of Outdoor Play. Ideas for outdoor activities for the Foundation Stage. Husbands Bosworth: Featherstone Education Ltd.

Hillman, M., Adams,J. and Whitelegg, J., 1990. One False Move… A Study of Children’s Independent Mobility. London: Policy Studies Institute.

Joyce, R., 2012. Outdoor Learning, Past and Present. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Knight, S., 2009. Forest Schools and Outdoor Learning in the Early Years. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Lilley, I., 1967. Friederich Frobel. A Selection from his Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Louv, R., 2008. Last Child in the Woods. New York: Algonquin Books.

Mirrahimi, S., Tawil, N., Abdullah, N.A.G., Surat, U. And Usman.I.M.S., 2011. Developing Conducive Sustainable Outdoor Learning: The Impact of Natural environment on Learning, Social and Emotional Intelligence. Procedia Engineering, 20, 380-388. Available from: [Accessed 18 April 2016].

McMillan, M., 1919. The Nursery School. London: J.M.Dent and Sons.

McNeish, D. and Roberts, H., 1995. Playing it Safe: Today’s Children at Play. Essex: Barnardos.

Moss, P. and Pence, A., 1994. Valuing Quality in Early Childhood Services. London: Paul Chapman.

Moyles, J., 2005. The Excellence of Play. 2nd ed. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Nutbrown, C., 2012. Foundations for Quality. The independent review of early education and childcare qualifications. Final Report . London: Crown Copyright. Available from: [Accessed 25 April 2016].

Ouvry, M., 2000. Exercising Muscles and Minds. Outdoor play and the Early Years Curriculum. London: The National Early Years Network.

Pound, L., 2005. How Children Learn. From Montessori to Vygotsky- Educational Theories and Approaches Made Easy. London: Step Forward Publishing.

Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I. and Taggart, B., 2004. Effective Pre-school Education: the Effective Provision of Pre-school Education (EPPE) Project. A longitudinal study funded by the DfES 1997-2004: final report. London: DfES.

The National Trust, 2016. 50 things to do before you're 11 ¾. Swindon: The National Trust. Available from: [Accessed 22 April 2016].

Tovey, H., 2007. Playing Outdoors. Spaces and Places Risk and Challenge. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Who Was Margaret McMillan?​​

​Margaret mcMillan worked in Bradford for several years. She campaigned for improved conditions for children and her work included research into the conditions faced by children. In Bradford she became a member of the schools board and was highly influential, leading to the cities education system being much improved as a result.

She was born in Westchester County, New York, on the 20th July, 1860. Her parents, James and Jean McMillan, had originally come from Inverness but had emigrated to the United States in 1840. After the death of her James in 1865, Mrs. McMillan decided to take her two young daughters, Margaret and Rachel McMillan back to Scotland.

In October 1889, Rachel and Margaret helped the workers during the London Dock Strike. The continued to be involved in spreading the word of Christian Socialism to industrial workers and in 1892 it was suggested that their efforts would be appreciated in Bradford.

Although for the next few years they were based in Bradford, Rachel and Margaret toured the industrial regions speaking at meetings and visiting the homes of the poor. As well as attending Christian Socialist meetings, the sisters joined the Fabian Society, the Labour Church, the Social Democratic Federation and the newly formed Independent Labour Party.

Margaret and Rachel’s work in Bradford convinced them that they should concentrate on trying to improve the physical and intellectual welfare of the slum child. In 1892 Margaret joined Dr. James Kerr, Bradford’s school medical officer, to carry out the first medical inspection of elementary school children in Britain. Kerr and McMillan published a report on the medical problems that they found and began a campaign to improve the health of children by arguing that local authorities should install bathrooms, improve ventilation and supply free school meals.

The sisters remained active in politics and Margaret McMillan became the Independent Labour Party candidate for the Bradford School Board. Elected in 1894 and working closely with Fred Jowett, leader of the ILP on the local council, Margaret now began to influence what went on in Bradford schools. She also wrote several books and pamphlets on the subject including Child Labour and the Half Time System (1896) and Early Childhood (1900). In 1902 Margaret joined Rachel McMillan in London. The sisters joined the recently formed Labour Party and worked closely with leaders of the movement including James Keir Hardie and George Lansbury. Margaret continued to write books on health and education. In 1904 she published her most important book, Education Through the Imagination (1904) and followed this with The Economic Aspects of Child Labour and Education (1905).

The two sisters joined with their old friend, Katharine Glasier, to lead the campaign for school meals and eventually the House of Commons became convinced that hungry children cannot learn and passed the 1906 Provision of School Meals Act. The legislation accepted the argument put forward by the McMillan sisters that if the state insists on compulsory education it must take responsibility for the proper nourishment of school children.

“We’ve come to think that peace is normal, but that’s not the reality”: Margaret MacMillan on humanity’s compulsion to go to war

“Most westerners have not experienced conflict first hand. We’ve come to think that peace is normal, but history has repeatedly been marked by war”: Margaret MacMillan talks to BBC History Magazine section editor Ellie Cawthorne about humanity’s apparent compulsion to go to war

This competition is now closed

Published: October 12, 2020 at 2:30 pm

Ellie Cawthorne: In your Reith lecture series for BBC Radio 4, you argue that war has been an essential part of human history. Why is that the case?

Margaret MacMillan: War has always been an important dimension of how societies have developed. If you want to understand the past, you have to understand the part that war had to play in that past.

In fact, a lot of anthropologists are now arguing that the entire organisation of human society is tied up with our ability to order ourselves to fight wars. Once you embark on war, you need structures and soldiers. You need someone to give the orders and someone to take the orders. And that all requires societal organisation: the two things are intimately linked. War has shaped how societies have developed, but societies’ shape has also determined the nature of war. So it’s real chicken-and-egg stuff.

EC: War has taken many forms through history, so how have you gone about defining it?

MM: It’s very tricky, but the closest definition I’ve come to is that war is an organised act of violence against another organisation, with the end goal of forcing the other side to do what you want. Again, the organisation part is key. If I go and beat someone up in the street, that’s not a war, regardless of what we may call it. It’s one-on-one violence. Whether it’s a conflict between competing religious orders, a civil war, or one between two rival states, war involves organised bodies inflicting violence on one another.

Virtual lecture: Margaret MacMillan on war

The reasons for war may lie in human nature or human society or perhaps even in the availability of the means to fight. Join us on Tuesday 13 October at 7pm to find out more about why groups and individuals fight and why war became more deadly and total in the 20th century. The talk will also consider war today and what the future might hold.

EC: Why do you reject the assumptions that peace is the status quo and that war is simply a breakdown of that natural state?

MM: In recent history, most of us living in the west have been extremely lucky – we have not experienced war first hand, and we’ve lived through what some people call the ‘long peace’. As such, we’ve come to think that peace is normal, and that war is something that doesn’t really affect us – it happens on the other side of the world and involves other types of people.

But the reality is that war is rife elsewhere around the globe. If you take a good look at human history, it’s repeatedly been marked by war. I’m not saying that is a good or a bad thing, but it’s simply been the case. Whether it’s the Middle Ages, the Renaissance or the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, it’s very hard to think of a century in European history that hasn’t witnessed war.

So yes, I would argue that war isn’t just a disruption of normality, not just an absence of peace – it’s something we seem to keep returning to over and over again as a species. War is deeply woven into human history and I find that very interesting.

EC: Have people’s motivations for going to war changed over the centuries?

MM: We need to understand the motivations on two levels. Firstly, there are the motivations prompting a large organisation – whether a feudal state, a kingdom or an empire – to go to war. These can cover anything from conquest or defence to questions of honour.

Then there are the motivations inspiring individuals to go to war, which could be even more complicated. Culture has played an important – and often surprising – role here.

You can look through the past and see cultures that were definitely warrior cultures, in which young men (occasionally women, but mainly men) were brought up to see fighting as one of the most noble things you could do. So there’s a desire for glory: young men often say that they want to test themselves in the heat of war.

After the French Revolution there was a very new and important notion that everyone was a citizen rather than a subject. As a subject of the king you might owe the monarch a debt of duty, but you didn’t feel any kind of responsibility for the state. But as a citizen, the state belonged to you, so you were obliged to support and defend it. That’s one example of how culture has made a huge difference in how people fight, and whether they want to.

Social pressure has also played an important role in motivating people to go to war. In the Roman Republic, it was just assumed that all young men would volunteer to fight. It was seen as totally normal that you would leave your farm or your trade to go away to war, perhaps for as long as seven years. If you lived in a society in which you were expected to fight, it could be very difficult not to. We know that in the First World War, men were under tremendous pressure to sign up – women gave out white feathers to those they felt should have been enlisting, while conscientious objectors were shamed, vilified and imprisoned. On the front lines, many soldiers were forced by their own officers to fight – on pain of death.

Once in battle, what often seems to happen is that soldiers fight for those they are with. Countless memoirs recount that once you get into a war zone, you go ahead because you don’t want to let down the men you’re fighting alongside. Intense bonds of comradeship could develop, and again and again you see injured men desperate to get back to the front for fear of letting down their friends. So there’s definitely a mixture of motives.

EC: Has war ever benefited societies?

MM: One of war’s many paradoxes is that it has often led to progress. Things that seem impossible in peacetime suddenly become possible in wartime. In peacetime, governments will say that they simply can’t spend the money required for certain ambitious projects. But if you think your whole society is at stake, then suddenly you find the money. Governments find that they can tax a lot more during war, because the public appreciates the need to mobilise all national resources.

One example was the Manhattan Project to develop the first atom bomb. This was a hugely expensive enterprise, but during the Second World War people thought it simply had to be done. When it came to the crunch, the government was prepared to put up the money. As a result, we ended up with nuclear weapons but we also got nuclear power, which I think you can argue has been a positive thing. Another example is penicillin. It had already been discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928, but was very expensive to mass produce. But then the bloodshed of the Second World War came along, and somehow that expense became bearable.

Economic historians are producing some really interesting work that argues war can also lead to what they call a ‘compression of society’. This means that war can result in more people sharing in prosperity, with less of a gap between the very rich and the very poor. The poles are pushed together. During war, you tax the rich and also have to implement policies to keep the poorest parts of society onside – they need to be fed and looked after. Studies suggest that the average Briton was better fed during the Second World War than ever before. The period from 1914 to the 1960s probably saw the greatest equality in western societies, and I would argue that that was largely due to the impact of the world wars.

Another way that war has triggered societies to progress more recently has been through changing the position of women. The First World War provides a great example of this. A large part of why women in Britain were denied the vote – despite tireless campaigning – was because people thought they weren’t qualified to make important decisions, and didn’t have the capacity to do the same jobs as men. However, during the First World War, when men were away fighting, many traditionally male jobs fell to women. And it turned out that women could do all sorts of things that many people thought they would never be able to – such as driving tractors, working on factory assembly lines and running offices. After that, the opposition to women getting the vote simply melted away. In the heat of war, they had proven themselves worthy.

EC: Will war always be an inevitable part of change and development?

MM: It’s very difficult to tell. At the end of the Cold War, I think we hoped that humanity had somehow moved beyond war. And then the Iraq War broke out in 2003, and the war in Afghanistan, and now there’s conflict in Syria. I’m certainly not saying that war is inevitable – and I would hate to think that that was the case – but I just don’t see it disappearing any time soon.

In the future, it might well be that we don’t try to kill each other in battle, but instead move into areas such as cyberwar. With cyberwar there’s no need to send soldiers or ships off to tackle the enemy. Instead you can simply cripple the systems on which your opponents depend. If you think about how much societies now rely on computerised networks, you can see the potential.

Margaret MacMillan is a professor of history at the University of Toronto. She will be giving a virtual lecture on why humans go to war on Tuesday 13 October. Find out more here

Margaret MacMillan on the truths and consequences of history

It is always good timing to have a conversation with the well-known Canadian historian and author Margaret MacMillan when something momentous is happening.

The Brexit vote in the British House of Commons earlier this week that handed Theresa May one of the worst defeats in the UK’s long parliamentary history was a chance to reflect on the truths and the consequences of history.

For MacMillan, who will speak in Ottawa Thursday evening in a sold out event at the Canadian War Museum, the Brexit folly “is going to be such a mess. Britain’s laws and regulations since 1975 have been intertwined with the EU. Disentangling all that will be tough,” she said.

It is also proof that events have results and that leadership matters.

Her talk is about the period after the First World War when the great men of the day (and they were only men) settled the fate of the world.

This is something MacMillan knows well. The book that really made her name, Paris 1919, delved deeply into this pivotal six months. It is territory she will revisit in her talk.

“The title (of the talk) is a quip that (French prime minister Georges) Clemenceau made at the time: ‘Making peace is harder than waging war’.”

Then she backed that up with a mention of Saint Augustine who said, in essence, that when we make peace we should think how to avoid war “and we don’t always do that.

“I don’t think things are ever inevitable. If we think that, then we don’t do anything. It seemed inevitable in 1940 that Britain would come to a deal with Nazi Germany. It came close but it didn’t happen. Churchill really made a difference.

“I’m looking at the end of the (First World) war and the making of the peace. I will say something about what the war meant for Canada but that is really the subject of the conference over the next two days.” The conference is a major two-day gathering of historians and thinkers at the war museum to mark the 100th anniversary of the Paris Peace Conference that hammered out the Treaty of Versailles.

But she says there is new thinking about the months and years after Nov. 11, 1918.

“There has been a lot more interest in the 1920s. The old view was that 1919 led in a direct line to 1939 and the Second World War.

“There has been a lot more research on the 1920s. For so long the decade was seen as a prelude to the 1930s and we all know what happened then.

“Historians looking at the 1920s are now concluding that it wasn’t so clear cut as that. There were some hopeful signs and the League of Nations was actually working in a way. Germany, too, was becoming part of the community of nations again.”

In fact it did in the end join the league.

Even the crushing burden of reparation payments imposed on Germany was being brought under control, she said.

“They were negotiated down. It looked as if the world was going to get back on an even keel. I think lot of historians, and I tend to agree with them, now feel there wasn’t enough time for the roots of constitutional and democratic government to be established before the Great Depression came along.”

That calamity turned the nations of the world inward and it crushed trust in governing elites. Germany had been previously battered by a hyper-inflation that, she said, was basically the fault of the German government which in fact had encouraged inflation because it diminished the reparations bill.

“It shook the German public and a lot of them never really accepted the Weimar Republic.”

Still these crises did not make Nazism, war and the Holocaust inevitable.

“If you had been trying to predict where the worst outbreak of anti-Semitism would have occurred in Europe before the Second World War, you might say Russia, or France or even in England where there was a lot of worry about Jews from Eastern Europe arriving in the east end of London in the 1920s.”

Germany, which was not immune to anti-Semitic sentiment, was probably more accepting than most European nations of the day before the rise of Hitler, she said.

“History gives you context and understanding and it gives you some warning signs. It’s not going to repeat but you can say ‘Be careful here’.”

She is reading a book on the appeasement of Hitler by the British government and notes that time as an example to us all today.

“You can see, step by step, the mistakes made. And you can see the idiocy of the German right wingers who thought they could use Hitler if they put him into power.” The lessons of history indeed are writ large in a place like Washington, D.C.

“The history of 20th century was very influenced by Marxist thinking and by interest in economic and social history but you can’t write the history of 20th century without writing about Hitler and Stalin and Mao.

“The present situation is making us realize that sometimes it matters who is power. Trump is not doing all this on his own. He has been embraced by Republicans who have betrayed what was a grand old party.”

These days MacMillan divides her time between Toronto and a flat in Oxford. Two of her siblings live in the UK and two in Canada so she is often crossing the Atlantic.

She is pondering the fate of her second home these days and wondering what may emerge.

“I think the vote shows that the British parties may realign themselves. It used to be Labour that split on ideological grounds. Now it’s Tories. They were always the pragmatic party. I think they might split and Labour might split.”

She’s not sure that that would allow the once powerful Liberals, once led by her ancestor David Lloyd George, to rise again.

“But God help Britain if they depend on Boris Johnson.” Her money is on the Environment minister Michael Gove “who is being very statesmanlike at the moment.”

Otherwise she’s been thinking about wars “because I’m writing a little book about it at the moment.”

The book will be based on the BBC Reith Lectures she gave last year called The Mark of Cain.

“I looked at things like war and human society war and warriors war and the civilians war and the arts and so on. I’m expanding that now and thinking more about it.

“I should be writing more than I am (so) I have great guilt feelings at the moment. I know I have got to get going. There are lots of other things to do when you don’t want to get down to it.”

Of Canada, she does see it as a bit of a beacon.

“God knows we have our troubles but compared to other countries we have successfully managed to bring people from many different cultures together and we are managing to get on with each other. We have a tolerance and a kindness towards each other I find admirable.

“When I travel people say I am so lucky to be Canadian, but the lesson is don’t take it for granted. You have to work to maintain societies and political structures. I worry about people like Doug Ford who doesn’t seem to understand how democracies work.

“There is contingency in history. Accidents happen. If Hitler had been killed in trenches, and he came close, would things have turned out differently. I think so.”

William Greene Avera Is Laid To Rest

William Green Avera (1855-1944) and Benjamin Gaskins (left) photographed at Irene Church, Lanier County, GA. Image courtesy of

William Green Avera was a local educator who received national attention for his innovative teaching methods.

Professor Avera died January 10, 1944. His obituary ran on the front page of the Clinch County News:

Obituary of William Green Avera, Clinch County News, Jan 14, 1944.

The Clinch County News
January 14, 1944 Pg 1

William Avera is Laid to Rest

Funeral services were held this morning at 11 o’clock (Wednesday) at the Irene Primitive Baptist church in Lanier county [see map] for William Greene Avera, pioneer educator of South Georgia who died at his rural home East of Nashville on Monday afternoon. He was 88 years of age.
As a mark of respect all the schools of Berrien county were closed for the funeral services. Mr. Avera served as superintendent of the Berrien county schools for twenty years and form more than half a century he taught in the schools of Berrien and other counties in south Georgia.
His second wife, Mrs. Margaret Avera. and one son, Bryant Avera, both of Berrien county and 13 grandchildren and a number of great grandchildren survive.
Mr. Avera’s first wife was Miss Eliza Jane Sirmans. There were 11 children from this union. Mrs. Avera died in 1905 and in 1911 he was married to Miss Margaret McMillan.
Pallbeareres at the funeral this morning were grandsons of Mr. Avera. They were: Waldo Avera and W. R. Roberts, of Jacksonville, Fla., Albert Griner, Phiniza Avera and Saron Parr, of Nashville.
The funeral services were conducted by Elder Orvill Knight.
Mr. Avera was the son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Steven Willis Avera of Clinch county. When he was a young child the family moved to Berrien county.
Mr. Avera died in the home in which he lived for 60 years.

Irene Church, 2011, Lanier County, GA

For additional views of Irene Church see Irene Primitive Baptist Church

Grave of William Green Avera, Avera Cemetery, near Ray City, Berrien County, GA

Review: Margaret MacMillan’s History’s People examines those who have made and unmade our world

In History’s People, celebrated historian Margaret MacMillan details the attributes of those who have made and unmade our world.

Lefteris Pitarakis/The Associated Press

This article was published more than 5 years ago. Some information in it may no longer be current.

As I read History's People, this year's Massey Lectures by celebrated historian Margaret MacMillan, I found myself thinking repeatedly of fiction. In particular, the work of Italian novelist Elena Ferrante, whose quartet of Neapolitan novels explore a friendship and also a city: Naples from the end of the Second World War to the present. Over the course of 1,200 pages, her characters ask themselves: Who owns the street and town, the money and the laws, the past and future? Who has the qualities and the power to "make and unmake" the world?

MacMillan asks a similar question, detailing the attributes of those who have made and unmade our world. The qualities she chooses – leadership, hubris, daring, curiosity and observation – shape History's People and its five attendant lectures.

Biographical sketches follow. Moving quickly, we glimpse Michel de Montaigne, Samuel Pepys, the Montgolfier brothers, Winston Churchill and dozens more, who contextualize the lives to be examined in detail: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Margaret Thatcher, Otto von Bismarck, Richard Nixon, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Samuel de Champlain, Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook), Babur, Elizabeth Simcoe, Ursula Graham Bower, Edith Durham. These and other individuals and more emerge, some more sharply evoked than others, before fading back into the house of history.

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MacMillan draws on an astonishing well of scholarship. Her magisterial work, Paris 1919, is a masterpiece of insight and erudition it is one of the cornerstone books of my life. Her knowledge is unassailable and yet, as I read these Massey Lectures, I was surprised that what I felt was sorrow.

Chapter by chapter, I waited for MacMillan to turn her brilliant gaze to the categories of people briefly mentioned and set aside – the Huron (Wyandot) and Iroquois, those in the Middle East and Africa, Serbia, China, India, Burma, Kosovo and elsewhere. Some years ago, in Esi Edugyan's Dreaming of Elsewhere, I first learned of Mathieu da Costa, a freeman and translator who arrived with Samuel de Champlain in 1607 and became the first person of African descent to set foot on what is now Canadian soil. How thrilling it would have been to meet da Costa in these pages, or Anahareo, the celebrated Mohawk writer whose curiosity and daring would have shone brilliantly in MacMillan's hands. In History's People, I felt the absence not only of them, but of their entire worlds.

Meanwhile, Nixon is credited with opening up China without his efforts, "we might not have seen a thaw for years, even right up to the present." Of Elizabeth Simcoe, MacMillan writes, "Like many Europeans, she was intrigued and impressed by the Indians and, like Champlain two centuries earlier, was prepared to see them not as alien beings but as fellow humans whose values and practices were as worthy of respect as her own." The journals of Fanny Parkes, "more than a superior travelogue," detail her romance with India: "Wherever Mrs. Parkes went, she sought out the local sights: mosques, temples, tombs, ruined forts, palaces." The daring of Aitkin, Champlain and Nixon are highlighted: "… the world moves on because of such men and women."

The house of history is vast, and as the Massey Lectures come to a close, two voices sound a very different, and more urgent, note: the observers Harry Kessler, born in 1868, the wealthy son of a German banker, and Viktor Klemperer, born in 1881, a German-Jewish professor in Dresden. Both men kept extensive diaries as Germany collapsed into xenophobia, war and devastation. Their lives move from despair to despair. Through their diaries, Kessler and Klemperer attempt to keep hold of their particular way of observing and thinking, which is to say, their souls. MacMillan powerfully recreates the era she brings to life not simply their personalities, but their personhood.

History told through the lives of individuals is a powerful endeavour. Hannah Arendt's Men in Dark Times, Pankaj Mishra's From the Ruins of Empire and Jonathan Spence's The Gate of Heavenly Peace are all works that narrate our shared past through writers, teachers, historians and philosophers. From Karl Jaspers, Rabindranath Tagore and Isak Dinesen, to Kang Youwei, Jawaharlal Nehru and Bertolt Brecht, the aspirations, accomplishments and failures of these individuals have been shaped not only by the tide of events but the history of ideas. Mishra writes with the explicit intention of foregrounding the intellectual thought that preceded better-known figures who "have come to monopolize, and limit, our sense of India, China and the Muslim world." To tell their stories, Spence writes, is to restore to their voices an "essential power … leaving their allotted space and marching to the centre of the stage."

History's people, MacMillan initially suggests, occupy the foreground. They are the faces "a movie camera fixes on when it passes over a crowd." But her lectures and stories left me thinking of a different image, that of history's objects, whom the camera passes without stopping. Those who, like Kessler and Klemperer, speak stubbornly to themselves because, in their most desperate moments, no one else is listening. In their daring, Nixon, Aitken and Champlain – history's people – may gaze out from a high vantage point as they unmake worlds. History's masses, meanwhile, occupy the sidewalks. They rise and fall with the homeland as it breathes and dies and lives.

Madeleine Thien's most recent novel, Dogs at the Perimeter, was recently awarded the Frankfurt Book Fair's 2015 Literaturpreis, celebrating literature of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.

Margaret MacMillan: 'Just don't ask me who started the first world war'

M argaret MacMillan, professor of international history at Oxford and a leading interpreter of the first world war, is everywhere right now. Her Radio 4 series, 1914: Day by Day, is in full swing – contemporary impressions that take the listener through that summer apocalypse a century ago her acclaimed book, The War That Ended Peace, is just out in paperback and she will be flying back from her hometown of Toronto next week to attend the service at Westminster Abbey on 4 August that marks Britain's entry into the war.

"Don't ask me who started the war or I'll burst into tears," she says when we meet on the eve of her departure for Canada. I put that question aside, and instead ask what she has made so far of the commemoration. "Some of it has been good," she says. "Historians have been debating it at quite a high level. When the politicians get involved they have their own agendas, and the debate becomes caught up with what they think of Britain today. The angst the Tories have about not wanting to have a whiney, Blackadder view of the war is because there's a lot of debate in Britain about who the British are, is it still a great power, what happens if Scotland breaks away? And Labour is probably saying: 'We see a different sort of Britain, and we must remember the working classes in the war.' As ever, present preoccupations shape perceptions of the past.

"As a Canadian, I find that all commemorations tend to be a bit parochial," she continues. "In Britain, there's been a bit done about the empire, but not that much. When you think of what the empire contributed to the war – a million Indian soldiers, 600,000 Canadians, 330,000 Australians, huge amounts of money and resources – I wish it was more linked up." Being Canadian affects her view in another way, too. "It gives you freedom. I don't have any axe to grind. If I were an English historian writing about the outbreak of the war, I might feel I had to take a strong stand on what Britain did or didn't do. If I were a German historian, in a sense I would be attacking my country or defending it. But being Canadian, I am expected by everyone to be bland anyway, so it doesn't matter." She laughs, safe in the knowledge that she subverts the national stereotype.

How, I ask her, do young people see the war? "It seems to be very much trenches and the war poets," she says. But seeing the war through the poetry of Wilfred Owen, who came to prominence decades after his death, is dangerous. Most of the poets who were widely read at the time – notably Rupert Brooke – were writing patriotic verse, and the "futility of war" line only emerged later. "Britain certainly thought it had legitimate reasons for going in, and I think it did," she says. "We now know that the war was going to last for four years and cause horrendous damage, but when they made the decision to go in, they couldn't foresee that. You can argue they should have done, but they didn't. Most of them were thinking in terms of a short and decisive war."

But why, when it was clear by the spring of 1915 that the war on the western front was hopelessly bogged down, didn't they stop? "When that many people have died and you've asked your publics to make these sacrifices, how can you say: 'Whoops, sorry, we made a bit of a mistake here.'"

The War That Ended Peace takes a long view of the origins of the war. The crisis came in 1914, but the groundwork had been laid over the previous two decades, and there were other moments when war could have broken out. One theme in the book is that social Darwinism helped to create an acceptance of the utility of war. "These ideas and assumptions permeated European society," she says. "You get people quite casually saying things like, 'Struggle is the law of life.'" The backdrop to war was complex, the contributory factors many. Which is why she shies away from questions about who was to blame.

"History does not produce definitive answers for all time. It is a process," writes MacMillan in her short and very sharp 2008 book, The Uses and Abuses of History. She tells me historians should not apologise for the fact that so much about the first world war remains contested. Argument is healthy and there really is no single solution.

Nevertheless, her view of the triggers of war in the summer of 1914 is succinctly put in her introduction to The War That Ended Peace. "The great war was nobody's fault or everybody's," she writes. But "some powers and their leaders are more culpable than others. Austria-Hungary's mad determination to destroy Serbia in 1914, Germany's decision to back it to the hilt, Russia's impatience to mobilise, these all seem to me to bear the greatest responsibility for the outbreak of the war."

This is an answer of sorts to the "who started it?" question, but not to the bigger "who caused it?" one. If war had broken out over some earlier potential crisis – say, one of the recurrent standoffs over Morocco – apportioning blame would, she explains, have meant putting different countries in the dock. "The general conditions for war had existed for quite a long period. What triggered the war was a series of particular steps, but you have to understand the general conditions. That's why I tried to get at what people were thinking, what they were assuming, what the military plans were."

MacMillan takes pride in writing for general readers, and mentions Barbara Tuchman – author of The Guns of August, a widely read book on the outbreak of the first world war, published in 1962 – as an early inspiration. MacMillan's breakthrough book, which was published in 2001 when she was in her late 50s, was Peacemakers, a colourful narrative of the Paris peace conference of 1919, which managed the trick of being both a bold, revisionist reading of the Versailles treaty and a book that reached a non-academic audience and won the Samuel Johnson prize for non‑fiction in 2002.

Roy Jenkins's book on Churchill had been considered a shoo-in, and MacMillan was the first woman to win the prize. The Guardian described her at the time as a "little-known Canadian academic". She had been teaching history and international relations at Ryerson University in Toronto for 25 years, and had published only one book of consequence, Women of the Raj. Peacemakers, which she had been working on intermittently for 20 years, changed everything.

"The Paris peace conference was a passion," she says. "I wanted to do the book, but nobody wanted to publish it. I have a file of rejection letters. My favourite one says: 'Nobody wants to read about a bunch of dead white men sitting around a table talking about peace treaties.'" She wrote a quarter of it without a contract, then publishers John Murray took it on (her advance was $10,000), and the rest is … history. Barbara Tuchman would have been proud of her.

MacMillan has in the past criticised historians for talking to each other rather than to the public, and fears charlatans and nationalist myth-makers stepping in to fill the vacuum. "Political and other leaders too often get away with misusing or abusing history for their own ends because the rest of us do not know enough to challenge them," she writes in The Uses and Abuses of History. "Professional historians ought not to surrender their territory so easily. We must do our best to raise the public awareness of the past in all its richness and complexity."

The War That Ended Peace is dedicated to her mother, Eluned, who at 93 still reads every word her daughter writes. "I was talking recently to two other writers," says MacMillan. "We all said we have a reader in mind when we write, and mine tends to be someone like my mother, who is very literate, very well-read, but not a historian. I want her to be able to follow what I'm talking about. I tend to think history is more a branch of literature than science."

Her mother, a granddaughter of Lloyd George, had just left school and was on holiday in Canada when the second world war broke out. She stayed, went to study at the University of Toronto, met a young Canadian medical student and married him at 20. MacMillan likes to play down the Lloyd George connection. "For me, being the great-granddaughter of Lloyd George wasn't that important. I grew up in Canada, and not that many people knew about him. In Britain it might have made a difference, because people are quite interested in who your ancestors are. I didn't tell John Murray. They found out when the book came out, and said, 'You might have mentioned it.' I said: 'I really would like to be seen as myself.'"

As MacMillan's public profile rose thanks to Peacemakers, so her academic jobs became more prominent (though the link may not be as reductive as it looks). She became provost at her alma mater, the University of Toronto's Trinity College, in 2002, and warden of St Antony's College, Oxford, five years later. Does she see this as a late flowering? "Yes," she says. "One of my brothers said, 'We're all on the racetrack, and you're the horse that is ambling along and not doing much. Then suddenly you get a burst of energy as you come round the clubhouse turn, and go whoosh.'" She makes a gesture that suggests a horse surging through the field to win the race, which is just what she's done.

Why the earlier relative dawdle? "I was doing other things with my life," she says. "I was married at the time, and had a job." But why stick in that job at Ryerson, a vocationally orientated institution, for so long? Why not go off to some top-notch university in the US? "I didn't want to," she says. "In many ways it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I started out teaching history to nurses, engineers, journalists, public health inspectors. A lot of them thought history was a waste of time and they didn't want to be there, but I learned how to teach and there was a great deal of satisfaction if you got through to them."

But if she'd quit Ryerson, success, fame, publishing glory might have come earlier. Doesn't she regret that? "Look, you take it when you get it, don't you think? I like writing books and I've written most of what I've written since 1994" – Peacemakers was followed in 2006 by Nixon in China, a groundbreaking analysis of the US president's historic meeting with Mao Zedong in 1972. "Perhaps if I'd started earlier I might have done more …" Then she launches into a paean to her eclectic bunch of students at Ryerson, to whom she says she will one day dedicate a book. As she taught them, they were teaching her – to communicate and inspire. Good, compelling history for everyone. Not a bad lesson as we make our way across the most contested historical battlefield of them all.

The War That Ended Peace is published in paperback by Profile (£9.99).

History’s People by Margaret MacMillan review – can the past be understood through its personalities?

“B ut we mustn’t gossip,” Margaret MacMillan remembers the grownups saying during her postwar Canadian childhood whenever a conversation about the neighbours threatened to get too personal. But now grown up herself and a leading historian of 20th-century diplomacy, MacMillan is happy to admit that gossiping is one of her basic stocks in trade. The personalities of history – the goodies, the baddies, the hot ones and the plain wicked – aren’t confined to middle-brow biographies and scanty TV documentaries. They are actually what keep the conversation rattling along at academic conferences and high table. And to pretend otherwise is to miss out on what MacMillan calls with contagious glee, the sheer “fun” of rummaging around in the past.

MacMillan isn’t, of course, advocating a Cleopatra’s nose approach to history, one in which complex events are ascribed tiny, accidental causes. Here is how that goes: if the Egyptian Queen had been an inch less beautiful, Antony wouldn’t have got distracted at Actium, thus his rival Augustus would never have been declared emperor and we would never have had Christianity … and so on. On the contrary, throughout her career MacMillan has insisted on giving full measure to the great faceless forces that drive history. She is as attentive to crop failure as she is to ancient nostrils, cares as much about the rise of Balkan nationalism in the early 20th century as about whether or not one particular Montenegrin warlord liked to carry around a sack stuffed with 60 severed enemy noses.

It’s this ability to blend the macro and the micro, the big abstractions with the telling personal detail, that she brought to perfection in her book Peacemakers, which won the Samuel Johnson prize in 2002. This tells the story of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 through the rich cast of statesmen, scoundrels, ideologues and canny pragmatists, who descended on the city in the hope of influencing the blueprint for a new Europe. Now, in History’s People, which is a transcript of five public lectures delivered in Canada last year, MacMillan expands and further illustrates her belief that you can’t understand the past simply be tracing out its blind drivers – economics, ideology, religion. You’ve got to pay attention to the people on the ground, too, to the flesh-and-blood individuals who scurried around trying to make sense of it all.

She organises the book around personality traits: hubris, persuasion, daring, curiosity and, in a slightly awkward linguistic shift, observers. Under these headings are nestled short case histories that allow the reader to hop from potted accounts of FD Roosevelt and Bismarck (persuasion) to Thatcher and Stalin (hubris) to Nixon and Samuel de Champlain (daring). Everywhere MacMillan is on the alert for those places where the specifics of an individual life usefully complicate a more public history. For example, Nixon may indeed have shown flair and even courage in extending a hand to China in 1972, taking the first steps in a rapprochement that is still playing out today. But that doesn’t cancel the shaming fact that the American president was so instinctively unlikable that even his dog – bought for PR purposes – had to be bribed with biscuits to go anywhere near him.

MacMillan is careful to do more than simply retell stories about powerful white men with armies at their disposal. There is a doughty Junker woman living on the family estate in Pomerania who stands up to bullying Russian occupation during the last months of the second world war. And also Victor Klemperer, the Dresden professor whose posthumously published diary provides a forensic account of how it felt to live as a Jew under the Third Reich. By attending to these stories, with their idiosyncratic shapes and odd, pebbly details, MacMillan shows how it becomes possible to get a purchase on such apparently monolithic narratives as the collapse of the German army or the Holocaust.

In the chapter on curiosity, we meet Edith Durham, one of those genteel Edwardian spinsters who fell in love with a “primitive” society, Albania in this case, and devoted herself to it like a bad-tempered mother hen. For all Durham’s cultural fantasies – she preferred her Albanians to live as if it were the middle ages and became positively skittish around handsome warlords – she published one of the first serious historical and ethnographic studies of this part of the Balkans. She also worked tirelessly to extract Albania from the tottering Ottoman empire and, when that didn’t work, still managed to bustle it into the League of Nations. But any trace of Durham in her adopted homeland pretty much disappeared during Albania’s long agony under the nastiest kind of communism. Recently, though, there have been signs of Durham’s return: streets and schools in Tirana now bear her name, testimony to the way that stories of remarkable individuals survive in whispers even during years of savage state-sponsored amnesia.

Sceptics may argue that by concentrating on personalities from the past we get lured into imagining that they were just like us, except dressed in funny clothes. But throughout this hugely enjoyable study, MacMillan shows herself mindful of the limitations, dangers even, of taking a biographical approach. Witness the case of Babur, a minor Central Asian prince who, by 1526, had managed to become the first Mughal emperor of India. Babur wrote a diary-cum-memoir, an extraordinary document that appears to give us immediate access to a man whom most people in the west would otherwise regard only as unfathomably exotic, a two-dimensional figure in a jewelled turban with a hawk on his wrist.

McMillan History, Family Crest & Coats of Arms

Scotland's western coastal mountains and the desolate Hebrides spawned the line of the McMillan family. The name McMillan was originally a nickname for a bald person the name may refer to a member of a religious order. The Gaelic forms of the name are Mac Mhaolain or Mac Ghille Mhaoil, both of which mean son of the bald or tonsured one.

However, the origins of the Clan have been shrouded in uncertainty, largely as a result of historians of the Clan Buchanan, and their insistence that both Clans have a common ancestry. Buchanan of Auchmar says that the MacMillans are descended from Methlan, second son of Anselan, a Buchanan Chief of the thirteenth century. His theory supports the Buchanan claim that the MacMillans are but a sept (sub-Clan) of the Buchanan rather than a Clan in their own right. This theory is supported by the contention that both Clans have an ecclesiastical origin: MacMillan being Anglicized from Maolanach, meaning a 'priest.' However, tradition may more properly ascribe the origin from a particular tribe in Moray that has descended from the ancient Pictish tribe of Kanteai, thought to have existed in the first half of the second century AD.

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Early Origins of the McMillan family

The surname McMillan was first found in at Tayside, where in 1263 Cilleonan MacMolan appears on documents. [1] They arrived in Strathtay from the lands in Loch Arkaig after King Malcolm IV transplanted many Clans, including the MacMillans, from that region about 1160 AD. Later, about 1350, the Camerons, who had changed their name to Chalmers, drove them from their Strathtay territories.

In vacating the Strathtay, the Clan branched to many other areas, including Lochaber, Argyll and Galloway. The senior branch, however, were the MacMillans of Knapdale, and they held a grant from the Lord of the Isles inscribed in Latin on a rock at Knap: 'MacMillan's right to Knap shall be, as long as this rock withstands the sea.'

Malcolm Mor MacMillan had received this rock by the 14th century. His grandson Lachlan MacMillan died at the Battle of Harlaw in 1411. Lachlan's son, Alan MacMillan of Knap, married the McNeill heiress and took over the Castle Sween. He erected a cross, which still stands to this day in Kilmory churchyard. The cross stands better than twelve feet high and is elaborately engraved, showing a Highland Chief hunting a deer on one side, and a claymore surmounted by certain Clan members on the other.

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Early History of the McMillan family

This web page shows only a small excerpt of our McMillan research. Another 267 words (19 lines of text) covering the years 1775, 1790, 1452, 1454, 1540, 1555, 1670, 1753, 1670, 1745 and 1745 are included under the topic Early McMillan History in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

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McMillan Spelling Variations

Spelling and translation were not standardized practices until the last few centuries. Spelling variations are extremely common among early Scottish names. McMillan has been spelled MacMillan, MacMullan, MacMullen, McMullen, McMullin, McMullan, McMillan, MacMullin and many more.

Early Notables of the McMillan family (pre 1700)

Notable amongst the Clan from early times was Sir Duncan Macmolane, a Pope's knight, chaplain of the collegiate church of Kilmone, 1452 John Macmulan (Makmilane, or Makmylan), bailie (baillie) of Glasgow in 1454 Sir Fingon Makmulane, who was presented in 1540 to the chaplainry of Tibbermore in the diocese of.
Another 49 words (4 lines of text) are included under the topic Early McMillan Notables in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Migration of the McMillan family to Ireland

Some of the McMillan family moved to Ireland, but this topic is not covered in this excerpt.
Another 89 words (6 lines of text) about their life in Ireland is included in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

McMillan migration +

Some of the first settlers of this family name were:

McMillan Settlers in United States in the 17th Century
  • John McMillan was banished from the west country of England and arrived in New England in 1685
  • Duncan McMillan, who landed in New Jersey in 1685 [2]
McMillan Settlers in United States in the 18th Century
  • Henry McMillan, who arrived in Maryland in 1714 [2]
  • Malcolm McMillan, who arrived in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1774 [2]
  • Margaret McMillan, aged 25, who arrived in New York in 1774 [2]
  • Iver McMillan, aged 26, who landed in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1774 [2]
  • Archibald McMillan, who landed in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1774 [2]
  • . (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)
McMillan Settlers in United States in the 19th Century
  • Samuel McMillan, who arrived in Washington County, Pennsylvania in 1805 [2]
  • Sarah McMillan, who landed in America in 1805 [2]
  • David McMillan, who landed in America in 1808 [2]
  • Hector McMillan, who landed in America in 1810 [2]
  • Malcom McMillan, aged 60, who landed in North Carolina in 1812 [2]
  • . (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

McMillan migration to Canada +

Some of the first settlers of this family name were:

McMillan Settlers in Canada in the 18th Century
  • Lieut. McMillan U.E. who settled in Saint John, New Brunswick c. 1784 he served in DeLancey's 1st Battalion [3]
  • Private. Donald McMillan U.E., (McMullin) (b. 1752) born in Inverness, Scotland from New York, USA who settled in Eastern District [Cornwall], Ontario c. 1784 married to Catherine having 9 children, he died in 1816 [3]
  • Mr. Dougald McMillan U.E. who settled in Canada c. 1784 [3]
  • Mrs. Isabella McMillan U.E. who settled in Marlborough [Ottawa], Ontario c. 1784 [3]
  • Mr. James McMillan U.E. who settled in St. Stephen, Charlotte County, New Brunswick c. 1784 [3]
  • . (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)
McMillan Settlers in Canada in the 19th Century
  • Angus McMillan, who arrived in Nova Scotia in 1801
  • Donald McMillan, who arrived in Nova Scotia in 1801
  • Isobel McMillan, who arrived in Nova Scotia in 1801
  • Jean McMillan, who arrived in Nova Scotia in 1801
  • Marian McMillan, who landed in Nova Scotia in 1801
  • . (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

McMillan migration to Australia +

Emigration to Australia followed the First Fleets of convicts, tradespeople and early settlers. Early immigrants include:

McMillan Settlers in Australia in the 19th Century
  • Mr. James McMillan, Scottish convict who was convicted in Edinburgh, Scotland for 14 years, transported aboard the "Asiatic" on 5th June 1819, arriving in New South Wales, Australia[4]
  • Michael McMillan, Scottish convict from Edinburgh, who was transported aboard the "Agamemnon" on April 22, 1820, settling in New South Wales, Australia[5]
  • John McMillan, Scottish convict from Glasgow, who was transported aboard the "Asia" on September 3rd, 1820, settling in New South Wales, Australia[6]
  • Agnes McMillan, Scottish convict from Ayr, who was transported aboard the "Amphitrite" on August 21, 1833, settling in New South Wales, Australia[7]
  • Margaret McMillan, who arrived in Adelaide, Australia aboard the ship "Lady Bute" in 1839 [8]
  • . (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

McMillan migration to New Zealand +

Emigration to New Zealand followed in the footsteps of the European explorers, such as Captain Cook (1769-70): first came sealers, whalers, missionaries, and traders. By 1838, the British New Zealand Company had begun buying land from the Maori tribes, and selling it to settlers, and, after the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, many British families set out on the arduous six month journey from Britain to Aotearoa to start a new life. Early immigrants include:

McMillan Settlers in New Zealand in the 19th Century
  • Finlay McMillan, aged 21, who arrived in Auckland, New Zealand aboard the ship "Jane Gifford" in 1842
  • Ann McMillan, aged 19, who arrived in Auckland, New Zealand aboard the ship "Jane Gifford" in 1842
  • Elizabeth McMillan, who arrived in Wellington, New Zealand aboard the ship "New Era" in 1855
  • Mr. Donald McMillan, Canadian settler travelling from Nova Scotia with 4 family members aboard the ship "Gertrude" arriving in Auckland, New Zealand on 22nd December 1856 [9]
  • Mr. Ebenezer McMillan, Canadian settler travelling from St. Ann's, Nova Scotia, Canada aboard the ship "Gertrude" arriving in Auckland, New Zealand on 22nd December 1856 [9]
  • . (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

Contemporary Notables of the name McMillan (post 1700) +

  • Hammy McMillan (b. 1963), Scottish six-time gold medalist curler and World Champion (1999)
  • Thomas "Tommy" McMillan (b. 1944), former Scottish professional football defender
  • John Stuart "Johnny" McMillan (1871-1941), Scottish football player and manager
  • John Livingstone "Ian" McMillan (b. 1931), nicknamed "The Wee Prime Minister", a former Scottish footballer
  • Mr. Colin McMillan B.E.M. (b. 1966), British former world boxing champion, was appointed Medallist of the British Empire Medal 29th December 2018 for services to Children with Disabilities in London and Essex[10]
  • William George "Will" McMillan (1944-2015), American actor, producer, and director, known for his work on The Crazies (1973), Salvador (1986) and The Enforcer (1976)
  • William L. McMillan (1936-1984), American physicist
  • William Hector McMillan (1892-1974), Canadian politician, Member of Parliament for Welland, Ontario (1950-1965)
  • Sir William McMillan KCMG (1850-1926), Australian politician and businessman, Member of the Australian Parliament for Wentworth (1901-1903)
  • William Willard McMillan (1929-2000), American seven-time gold and eight-time silver medalist sports shooter
  • . (Another 22 notables are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

Historic Events for the McMillan family +

Air New Zealand Flight 901
  • Mrs. Melba Pearl Mcmillan (1916-1979), New Zealander passenger, from Gisborne, North Island, New Zealand aboard the Air New Zealand Flight 901 for an Antarctic sightseeing flight when it flew into Mount Erebus she died in the crash [11]
  • Mr. John Bruce Mcmillan (1915-1979), New Zealander passenger, from Gisborne, North Island, New Zealand aboard the Air New Zealand Flight 901 for an Antarctic sightseeing flight when it flew into Mount Erebus he died in the crash [11]
Halifax Explosion
  • Mr. Ira Clark  McMillan (1909-1917), Canadian resident from New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Canada who died in the explosion [12]
  • Mrs. Eva  McMillan, Canadian resident from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada who died in the explosion [12]
  • Mrs. Mary E.  McMillan (1877-1917), Canadian resident from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada who died in the explosion [12]
  • Mr. Charles E.  McMillan (1890-1917), Canadian resident from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada who died in the explosion [12]
  • Master James  McMillan (1915-1917), Canadian resident from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada who died in the explosion [12]
  • . (Another 1 entries are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)
HMS Royal Oak
  • George Alexander McMillan (1923-1939), British Boy 1st Class with the Royal Navy aboard the HMS Royal Oak when she was torpedoed by U-47 and sunk he died in the sinking [13]

Related Stories +

The McMillan Motto +

The motto was originally a war cry or slogan. Mottoes first began to be shown with arms in the 14th and 15th centuries, but were not in general use until the 17th century. Thus the oldest coats of arms generally do not include a motto. Mottoes seldom form part of the grant of arms: Under most heraldic authorities, a motto is an optional component of the coat of arms, and can be added to or changed at will many families have chosen not to display a motto.

Motto: Miseris succurrere disco
Motto Translation: I learn to succour the distressed.