A Tribute to Professor Berry Mayall

Posted on November 05, 2021 by Alison Fox

Today's guest post, which celebrates the life and legacy of the late Professor Berry Mayall, is written by Pat Gordon-Smith, Commissioning Editor, UCL Press.

UCL Press is saddened by the recent death of Professor Berry Mayall, following a long illness. One of the earliest sociologists of childhood she was, for more than 40 years, a fierce scholarly voice for children and their agential contribution to home, community and wider society.

Starting from an interest in health and care provision for children, her early work focused on the impact of inequalities in these services for mothers, with a doctoral study of London’s childminding service and later research into the division of labour in young children’s care. She was an insistent feminist, and the position of mothers remained always of key importance for her research, but it was not long before her academic gaze shifted more fully towards children. Groundbreaking research involved young children as equal research participants alongside their mothers and teachers in a study of their active negotiation of health at home and school, while later writing gave children’s accounts of risk, revealed how they managed emotions at school, and considered their complex relations with adults. She published wide-ranging surveys of the scholarship around childhood and society, and was involved in many research and writing partnerships with key sociologists of childhood, including Priscilla Alderson, Leena Alanen and Virginia Morrow.

Berry Mayall’s work involved a number of social histories analysing children’s relations and their contribution to their communities. In Visionary Women and Visible Children, England 1900­­-1920, she investigated how the women’s movement worked to improve the health and education of elementary school children and to enhance their social status. Extending this interest, she was a key organiser of the 2017 Feminism and the Politics of Childhood conference, and co-wrote the foreword for the resulting book edited by Rachel Rosen and Katherine Twamley, published by UCL Press. More recently we were delighted when Professor Mayall and co-researcher Virginia Morrow came to us to publish the revised edition of You Can Help Your Country, their study of children’s contribution to the British war effort during the Second World War. Like so much of Berry Mayall’s work it was innovative, the first to reveal the breadth of children’s war work: in the fields, as carers for younger siblings while their mothers worked, as collectors of valuable resources, protectors of their schools, posties and in the telephone exchange.

Berry Mayall brought acute scholarship to her determination that the vibrant world of children’s social action should be revealed. She was a funny, kind, sometimes stern and always clear-sighted academic guide for this graduate of the IOE’s MA in the Sociology of Childhood and Children’s Rights. Her advocacy for children will be sorely missed.

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