Unexpected finds in the archive

‘Foreign and International’ – that’s the very broad title of two folders I catalogued recently.  This covers countries all over the world and the subjects are generally related to educational standards and the status and position of women teachers.  However it also includes correspondence on other issues including an interesting letter from the Ministry of Education, Royal Iraq Legation in 1945 asking if the NUWT would advertise a vacancy they need for a Chief Inspectress of Girls Education in Iraq. 

The letter that really appealed to me though was one from a women teacher, a member of the NUWT, Giovanna Guzzeloni, who was leaving England to work in Southern Italy under the auspices of the Save the Children Fund.  The letter is dated 22nd October 1947.  it jumped out at me for that usual reason – the attachment of a photograph.

I know it’s quite a small image below but you should be able to see that the photo shows a lady, maybe in her 60s/70s? with a young boy.  Therefore I was imagining a rather elderly women going out to Italy to live in very basic accommodation in a very poor part of the country, pretty brave! 

NUWT Collection, ref no UWT/D/229/2 ©Institute of Education Archive

However it turns out she was actually quite young when she first went out so maybe this photo is her mother as there are definite similarities between the women in the photo and images of Giovanna I found online.  Yes, images I found online! Obviously I don’t go googling the name of every letter-writer I come across, or even every letter that has a photo attached but something made me google Giovanna Guzzeloni.  I was so excited to discover that the first results related to the Giovanna Guzzeloni whose letter I had in my hand! 

The first result is a website called ‘Gianna’ with the explanation that this was the name the friends of Giovanna Guzzeloni, later Giovanna Thompson then Giovanna Mourton, knew her by.  The website is written by Keith Washington and he explains that he met Gianna as a schoolboy when he was 17 years old in 1962 on a summer work camp with a group of about 40 boys to paint and decorate nurseries for the Save the Children Fund.  I then went backwards on the website to the prologue to see if there was an explanation for the website – well, what I found just intrigued me even more!

“I first met Gianna Thompson in 1962 when she was the representative of the Save the Children Fund in Italy.  Like most people I fell under her spell. But she remained an enigma – there seemed to be another Gianna behind that cool, composed exterior. Who was she? Where did she come from? Was she Italian or was she English? And who was Mr Thompson? Years later [I]… learned about Gianna’s unusual upbringing, her work in the devastated regions of Italy in the aftermath of WW2, the identity of Mr Thompson, their love affair and its tragic end… 
As I researched I discovered another Gianna, a lonely woman full of doubts, fears and frailties, quite different from the woman with the saintly presence.”

 And, as I have a terrible habit of doing, I then went from the beginning straight to the end –

“Gianna never wrote the book about her experiences and, as far as I am aware, did not leave a personal archive… it is hoped that further research and the contributions of others with a different view might eventually lead to a more objective biography. Thus, any comments or contributions will be gratefully received and the site amended accordingly.”

This of course made me even more excited about the letter I had in my possession (well not exactly my possession, though it is easy to become possessive of the archives you’re cataloguing!).  In this letter from Giovanna Guzzeloni she writes to Muriel Pierotti (the General Secretary of the NUWT) telling her of the conditions she is experiencing in the Abruzzo region of Southern Italy where she had gone to help set up nursery school’s and provide nursery provision and welfare for children.  She talks about the poverty and the complete lack of facilities, both for education and for general healthcare and medical aid.  It’s a very enthusiastic positive letter without romanticising the poverty in any way and she sounds like a very focussed, determined women.  There is a reply from Muriel Pierotti thanking her for her news from Italy and wishing her well with her work.  

Imagine my surprise when, a few days later, cataloguing boxes of correspondence between the NUWT General Secretary and various branches, I came across another cache of letters from Giovanna, but more of that to follow in the next post…

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3 thoughts on “Unexpected finds in the archive

  1. I am so grateful to have this information. I am 99% certain that the woman in the photograph is Lillian Guzzeloni, Gianna’s mother. Lillian was born in 1879 so your guess at the age is spot on. But who is the boy? And why was this photograph attached to a ‘professional’ letter?
    Thanks, Keith

  2. Thanks for your confirmation – 99% certain is good enough for me to add it to the cataloguing description! I wonder who the boy was then? There is no mention in the letters, or in your website of her having a brother. Maybe it’s a nephew of her mother’s? Any yes, doesn’t it seem odd that it was attached to a professional letter, with no mention made of it? Maybe I’ll find more letters from her later in the collection as I’ve still got a way to go with the cataloguing.

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