Margaret STANSFELD (1860-1951)

Administrative / Biographical History

Little is known of Margaret Stansfeld's early life other than that her father (a master baker) died young leaving a large family with limited means and that Margaret and an elder sister became pupil teachers in a board school in London.

Stansfeld first encountered Swedish gymnastics in 1881 when she enrolled in courses for female board school teachers offered by Martina Bergman-Österberg, who recruited her as an instructor for the new Hampstead Physical Training College in 1885. Swedish gymnastics originated in the pioneering ideas of Per Henrik Ling who based gymnastics on anatomy and physiology, thereby opening up the remedial and educational possibilities of gymnastic exercise. In 1888 Stansfeld left Hampstead to teach gymnastics and games at various girls' schools including the Bedford High School for Girls (where she taught part-time until 1918); she also gave instruction in physical education at the Froebel Institute, London, at the Cambridge Training College for Women Teachers, and to private clients.

In 1899 Stansfeld played a key role in founding the Ling Association designed to promote Swedish gymnastics and to define professional standards. She was influential in establishing a fee scale for gymnastics teaching, starting the association's library, and instituting holiday courses, and served as president of the association from 1910 to 1920.

In 1903, when it was still considered bold for girls to attend college, Stansfeld founded the Bedford Physical Training College in a house she purchased in Lansdowne Road, Bedford. Discipline, regimentation and exacting standards dominated college life. Although Stansfeld was remarkably responsive to developments in her profession, the ethos of the College remained relatively unchanged until her retirement as Principal in 1945. When her successor died suddenly in 1949 Stansfeld, now aged eighty-nine, returned briefly until Phyllis Spafford, a former student, agreed to become Principal for two years.

Stansfeld's pioneering contribution to physical education in England was recognized in 1939 by appointment as OBE and internationally by the Swedish Grand-titre honorifique de la Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique Ling .

Source: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography