So, how did it all begin? Interestingly the WEA was founded by a man who left school at the age of 14-years-old and started life as an office boy.
In 1903 the 27-year-old Albert Mansbridge zealously believed that through self-help and collective endeavour, working class people could transform themselves spiritually and intellectually and aquire knowledge which would help them to decide for themselves what to think about the society in which they lived and worked.
It was this vision that persuaded Albert’s wife, Frances Mansbridge, to part with 2s. 6d from her housekeeping money as the first member’s fee to help launch the WEA. Originally known as the ‘Association to Promote the Higher Education of Working Men’, it became the ‘Workers’ Educational Association’ two years later.
The abiding legacy of their visionary partnership was their belief in the provision of educational opportunities for working class adults, and in 1920 Mansbridge wrote:
“It may well be that the right use of sufficient leisure will enable men and women to realise once again their personalities by the exercise of their inborn gifts….in the hours not spent in the mine or in the factory the workman will follow his own bent, read his books or even write them, exercise himself in music and song, and discover the secrets of life.”
If you’re interested in finding out more about Albert and Frances Mansbridge and the history of the WEA, there are some publications available via the WEA national website, which can be reached via the link below. Please note that not all WEA publications are currently available via this link, as the national website has just been re-launched (as of 1 July 2011). It is hoped that the full list of publications will be uploaded on to the new website very soon.