Margaret Elwell was born in Malton, Yorkshire in 1852 to a clerk and a schoolmistress, she was the youngest of seven children. Like her older sister, Rebecca, Margaret was accepted as a residential student at Lincoln Training College for Schoolmistresses – the antecedent of Bishop Grosseteste University – and studied here from 1872-73.
Upon completion of her course, rather than accepting a post as a qualified schoolmistress in an elementary school, as the brightest and most gifted of the students in her cohort Margaret was offered a position to stay on at the College as a member of staff.
By 1878, Margaret was still at the College and had obtained a ‘First Class in the Cambridge Advance Education for Women with special credit for History’. Soon after she was asked to begin lecturing the students in History. In 1885 Margaret was promoted to Head Governess. She continued to lecture in History, Literature and Music and was instrumental in beginning the College Association for Old Lincoln Students, which edited and published a College Magazine and organised an annual reunion at Whitsuntide.
Owing to poor eyesight Margaret was forced to retire July 1913, having been at the College for forty years. To celebrate her retirement a gathering of past and present students presented Margaret with gifts and letters of gratitude at a party in the College Drill Hall. Margaret made a speech, which was published in the Magazine:
‘In some marvellous way everybody had divined the kind of woman she wanted to be. One thing she could say, however, she had loved the College, and everything connected with it with a whole heart, and to love things and people was surely the whole history of life and the spring of it’.
In retirement, Miss Elwell continued to be connected with the College, regularly writing pieces for the College Magazine, keeping in touch with past students and visiting for reunions.
Margaret Elwell passed away on 19 March 1937 at her home in Yorkshire. Her passing was felt deeply by all the staff and students who knew her:
‘Kindness, first, last and always was her greatest characteristic. It was never failing and universally felt; everyone was known to her and she had a friendly interest in all…she was essentially a peacemaker; pure in heart, merciful and meek, and if she were blessed in so being, hundreds of others have felt blessed for having passed under her care and influence’.
After Margaret’s passing there was a decision to begin a collection for a memorial to Miss Elwell. It was decided the memorial should be a lectern to be placed in the College Chapel, a place Miss Elwell adored. Eighty-four years after its unveiling the lectern can still be seen in use in the Chapel here.