Obituary: Miss Anne M Mathams, FEIS

Dedicated teacher of disabled children and founding member of Capability Scotland

Anne Muirhead Mathams, FEIS.

Born: 6 May, 1913, in Manchester.

Died: 21 February, 2011, in Edinburgh, aged 97.

Anne Mathams was a pioneer of education for children physically disabled with cerebral palsy. She started her training as a teacher in 1932 at Jersey Ladies College and achieved the Frobel Higher Certificate Part 1. Later that year, she continued her training at Moray House. While there she taught at several Edinburgh nursery schools, developing an ambition to specialise in the teaching of physically handicapped children.

Qualifying as an infant mistress in 1935, she worked in Edinburgh primaries, becoming headmistress of Stanwell Nursery in 1936, of St Leonard's Nursery in 1939, and Moray House Nursery in 1941, and lectured in nursery school methods.

She was invited to become the first headteacher of Westerlea School in Edinburgh in 1948. It was being established by the Scottish Council for the Care of Spastics, now Capability Scotland, offering places to children who at that time had no place in the mainstream system.

During her time at Westerlea - with very little money and precious few resources - she pioneered this area of education, devising ways for physically disabled children to become part of the system by designing special equipment to enable them to read and to communicate, with the support of parents, dedicated teachers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and house staff.

She also devised and delivered a postal course, using original material, to homebound children. Many of her pupils went on to develop careers, some in the professions. In addition, she lectured and Westerlea was visited by educationalists from around the world.

For several years she was chair of the Edinburgh branch of the Nursery School Association and gave specialist assistance in the assessment for adoption of babies, and worked among parents with social problems. She was a founder member of the Scottish Council for the Care of Spastics having been invited to its inaugural meeting in 1946.

She was a member of Capability Scotland for many years and, although she retired from teaching in 1978, she maintained an active interest. She also kept a close link to Moray House and, in 2002, was elected an Honoured Member of the College's Former Staff Association.

In 1936, she joined the Educational Institute of Scotland and in 1972 was awarded a Fellowship, "… in recognition of the signal service you have rendered to education in Scotland", augmented in 1979 by Life Membership. In 2000, she achieved the first Elsie Inglis Award for a lifetime of achievement, in her life, work and action, as a woman.

Anne Muirhead Mathams was born in 1913, the first child of Robert and Annie Mathams.Her father died in 1924, aged 38, as a result of injuries sustained in the First World War, leaving her mother to bring up both her and her younger brother, John. Her grandfather was Walter John Mathams, a Church of Scotland minister who wrote the popular children's hymn, Jesus Friend Of Little Children.

She attended St George's School, Edinburgh, where she started to develop her interests in child psychology and making teaching aids.

As part of her social studies, she undertook work experience with her mother who was a rent collector for the Edinburgh Social Union, a philanthropic society that (Sir) Patrick Geddes was instrumental in forming. Geddes also established the Outlook Tower Museum and designed the apartment buildings in Ramsay Gardens. In later years, her greatest pastime was genealogy and she established her family as being descendants of James Watt's mother, Agnes Muirhead. In recognition of this and the donation by the family to Heriot-Watt University of an original portrait of the great engineer, she was made an honorary member of its Watt Club.

She was a member of the congregation of Mayfield Parish Church, Edinburgh, where, being an artist of some merit, she ran an art school. She also wrote and composed an Easter hymn, Peace Cometh Near, Through Days Of Deepest Sorrow.

She is survived by her nephew and niece. Her brother, John, predeceased her.

Back to the top of the page