Olive Wheeler was born in Brecon on 4 May 1886, the younger daughter of Annie Wheeler (née Poole) and her husband, Henry Burford Wheeler, a printer and publisher. She received her early education at Brecon County School for Girls, before enrolling at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, in 1904, where she graduated with a BSc in Chemistry in 1907, a University of Wales Teaching Certificate in 1908, and an MSc in 1911. She completed a DSc in psychology at Bedford College, London, in 1916 and studied briefly at the University of Paris.
Wheeler taught at Chesterfield High School, before lecturing at St George's Training College, Edinburgh and in mental and moral science at Cheltenham Ladies' College. In 1918 she was appointed Lecturer in Education at the University of Manchester, serving as Dean of Education between 1923 and 1925. In 1925, Wheeler became the third woman to hold the chair Professor of Education (Women) at the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire (UCSWM) in Cardiff. When the training departments for men and women teachers merged in 1932, the Department for Education at Cardiff came under her headship. She also served as the Dean of the Faculty of Education between 1948 and 1951. From her retirement in 1951, she was professor emeritus of the University of Wales.
Throughout her adult life, Wheeler was actively involved in the intellectual, administrative and social life of the University of Wales. During her time as a student at Aberystwyth she served as president of the Women's Sectional Council (1907-08) and president of the Students' Representative Council. She gained attention for her leading role in what became known as the Alexandra Hall Revolt of 1907, when a group of women students submitted a list of complaints to the Senate about the food and service in the Hall and the conduct of the Warden. This led to an external inquiry and the resignation of the Warden the following year. Following her graduation, Wheeler acted as president and vice-president of the Aberystwyth Old Students' Association, and sat on the university's Court of Governors. She later served on the Welsh Joint Education Committee, and the Council of the Welsh National School of Medicine.
Wheeler was a pioneer of interdisciplinary research, applying psychology to issues of educational policy and practice. She highlighted the importance of early childhood in psychological development, and advocated training in child psychology for parents and teachers. During her tenure as Dean of the Faculty of Education she developed closer links between the teacher training colleges and universities, establishing the Cardiff and District Educational Society and a collegiate centre on Cathedral Road, Cardiff, where local teachers could develop skills for research in schools. Her research also focused on the educational effects of bilingualism in Welsh schools, and on the psychological impact of unemployment. She spoke at mental health conferences and argued that sex segregation in education was detrimental to the development of emotional health. In conjunction with her research interests, Wheeler was also a promoter of the nursery school movement: she served as chair of the Cardiff and District Nursery School Association, and later presided over the Welsh committee in a fundraising campaign for a memorial to Margaret McMillan (1860-1931), the pioneer of nursery schools.
Wheeler was a strong advocate of women's rights. In 1922, she stood as a parliamentary candidate for the University of Wales seat as one of 33 women candidates in that year's general election. Following in the footsteps of her academic predecessor at the UCSWM, Professor Millicent Mackenzie (1863-1942), Wheeler also stood unsuccessfully as a Labour candidate. Despite her defeat, Wheeler nearly doubled the Labour vote in the University of Wales, polling 309 votes against the victorious Liberal candidate, Thomas Arthur Lewis's 497 votes. Wheeler played a leading role in women's associational culture in Cardiff: she was an active member of the city's branches of the British Federation of University Women (vice-president) and the Women Citizens' Association. She was extensively connected to headmistresses of local girls' schools and regularly spoke at prize-giving ceremonies. Wheeler was also a member of the Welsh Branch of the Association of Science Teachers, an Executive Member of the South Wales Association of Girls' Clubs, and a regional adviser to the South Wales Women's Voluntary Service.
Wheeler's academic and social networks were impressive, and she regularly delivered public lectures and addressed local associations across south Wales. She served on the Central Advisory Council for Education (Wales), was elected chair of the Welsh Advisory Committee for Youth Unemployment in 1947 and was chair of the South Wales District of the Workers' Educational Association. She was also a Welsh representative on the General Advisory Council of the BBC, and a Fellow of the British Psychological Society.
She worked tirelessly throughout her life to promote causes particularly relating to education, children and women. Her services to education in Wales were formally recognised when she was made a DBE in 1949. In her retirement, she undertook a lecture tour of Canada and was a British Delegate to the International Congress of Psychology in Montreal in 1954.
Olive Wheeler died in the Kardomah Café in Cardiff on 26 September 1963. She bequeathed her books and £500 for an annual student education prize to the University College, Cardiff, and a further £250 each to the South Wales District of the Workers' Educational Association and Park End Presbyterian Church, Cardiff.
Published date: 2021-05-05
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Born in 1886, daughter of Henry Burford Wheeler, Brecon. She was educated at Brecon County School for Girls and the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, where she was president of the Students' Representative Council and graduated B.Sc. (1907); she received a M.Sc. degree (1911) and was elected a Fellow of the University of Wales. She went as a research student to Bedford College, London, and to the University of Paris, and obtained a D.Sc. degree in psychology (1916) at the University of London. Her appointment as lecturer in mental and moral science at Cheltenham Ladies College was followed by a lectureship in education at the University of Manchester, where she also served as dean of the Faculty of Education before moving to the University College at Cardiff. In 1925 she became Professor of Education there, and was for a period dean of the Faculty of Education at the college. She was particularly interested in the use of psychology in teaching methods. After working much with youth groups and student associations she became chairman of the Welsh Advisory Council on Youth Employment in 1947, and chairman of the South Wales District of the Workers Education Association. She served on many educational committees and councils and was created D.B.E. in 1950 for services to education. Three years after her retirement in 1951 she went to Canada on a lecture tour. Her contribution to theories of education was known in many parts of the world through her numerous publications which include: Anthropomorphism and Science (1916), Bergson and Education (1922), Youth (1929), Creative education and the future (1936), ' The mind of the child ' in Nursery School Education (G. Owen, editor, 1939), The adventure of youth (1945), part III of Mental Health and Education (1961); and papers in psychological and educational journals. She resided at Woodlands, Betws-y-coed Road, Cyncoed, Cardiff, and died suddenly, 26 September 1963.
Published date: 2001
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