Posted: 17 September, 2018

Happy Birthday to Us!

Alumnae, Blog, News, Senior School, Suzie Longstaff

Birthdays come and go and there are always some that are more memorable than others. This year will certainly be one of those – a day that calls for more than just cake and candles, as we mark a very significant milestone – the school’s 125th birthday on Wednesday 19 September.

It was an auspicious date from the beginning, New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote on that day in 1893 and since then, pioneering women have not only founded the GDST of which we are a part, but achieved women’s suffrage and set the foundation stones of a movement which continues to gather momentum as new generations take up the baton for gender equality.

Then and Now

It is hard to comprehend just how much the world has changed since the school, then East Putney High, first opened its doors to 54 fearless young women on 19 September 1893.  Education for girls was of course, by no means the norm at the end of the nineteenth century, but you’d be mistaken to think it was all a question of demure study and preparation for marriage. Rope climbing was on the curriculum in the gym and astonishingly, cycling was actually a timetabled lesson at school, held on the tennis courts and by no means an easy feat in the long skirts that were worn at that time.

From Violets to Oak Trees

Purple has run through Putney’s veins from the very beginning. The school’s original emblem was a violet, but even at the beginning of the twentieth century, it was patently apparent that Putney girls were far from being “shrinking violets”, so in the 1920s, the delicate petals of the violet were replaced with the more robust oak tree logo which we know and love today.

From East to West and Beyond

From a leafy Victorian enclave in South West London, Putney’s outlook today truly has gone global. As modern, technological advancements make the world smaller and more accessible, there are new frontiers to be explored, packed with exciting opportunities.

The curious and ambitious pupils of the early 1900s would no doubt be intrigued to learn that lessons in Botany, Drill and Elocution have today been replaced with Psychology, Computer Science and recently added subjects: Arabic and Italian – the latest additions (this September) to a Modern Languages department where girls are already excelling at Chinese Mandarin (100% A* at A Level this year). The world is moving east, and our students will be ready for it.

On the other side of the world, five Putney students this autumn begin their further education in the USA and Canada. This year alone, after another astonishing year of A Level results, destinations include Bowdoin College, Louisiana State and Universities of Southern California and British Columbia.  Our US and World Class University specialists are supporting sixth formers in their applications to the finest universities that the world has to offer. Our pupils’ ambitions continue to know no bounds.

An Eye to the Future.

Looking back at old photographs, the Putney spirit has remained the same but both its cohort and also the school itself have expanded and changed almost beyond recognition. It seems only yesterday that (in 2016) our state-of-the-art Performing Arts Centre was opened by alumna and actress, Olivia Poulet. Today, proposals for the delivery of a new state-of-the-art science, music, debating and drama block, are beginning to take shape. The new development aims to support the school’s promise to invest in the future of its pupils and to offer the kind of forward-thinking education that is truly fit for the 21st century.

On Wednesday 19 September I hope you will join me in raising a glass to Putney High School, to the happy home of our thriving school community and to all of those who, through its history, have made it the very special place that is has become, and which I love. I am sure that you are all as excited as I am to see what the future holds.

Suzie Longstaff

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