The following information is taken from “Bear Ye One Another’s Burdens: The Girls’ Friendly Society (GFS) 1875-2005 by Vivienne Richmond (2006) and is available through the Girls’ Friendly Society.
The GFS was a pioneer youth organisation founded in England in 1875, and is still in operation today. It was established to befriend and protect young, isolated girls and the intention was, among other things, to prevent them from becoming involved in prostitution. The founder, Mrs Mary Townsend, was concerned about working-class girls from country villages who left home, aged about 14, to work in towns and cities. Cut off from friends and family they could fall prey to danger or temptation. The GFS offered guidance, support and befriending.
In due course, accommodation became available in some areas, providing temporary respite from the long hours of work in demanding jobs which took a toll on the health of many of the girls. Domestic work (being ‘in service’), could be particularly tedious and arduous.
Social pastimes were provided by GFS branches around England and ‘acting’ was a favourite activity: it encouraged teamwork and the plays taught the values that the Society hoped to instill. As part of the celebrations for the Society’s Golden Jubilee in 1925, there was a pageant called The Quest, which was performed in the Albert Hall by six hundred members of the GFS and was attended by patrons Queen Mary and Princess Mary.
Like many of the GFS plays, the theme of The Quest was the choice girls had to make between the gaudy, tinsel-filled ‘Low Way’ and the more difficult but rewarding ‘High Way’. Such pageants put to impressive use the acting and other creative skills that Members had learned in their Branches – they were, for example, expected to make their own costumes. And while the performers were amateurs, The Quest was a thoroughly profession production, written by Louis N Parker, a dramatist, film-maker and Pageant master.
This then, is the backdrop into which Irene Mawer slotted when she produced the mime sections of the 1939 pageant Thursday’s Child.
Please see previous and future blog posts for further information on Thursday’s Child.