Shena Simon (1883–1972) and the ‘Religion of Humanity’
Shena Simon made a considerable contribution to educational thought and practice in twentieth-century Britain. The significance of her work was acknowledged when the Honorary Freedom of the City of Manchester was conferred upon her in 1964 — 40 years after she entered the City Council as a Liberal member of the Chorlton ward. In thinking about her life, this chapter attempts to explore certain central themes that informed her political practice (aims, visions and actions), moving on to assess her effectiveness and influence in achieving her goals. The opening largely concentrates on the thought and sensibility that contributed to her personal development and on the choices she was able to make as a result of her privileged education and assured social position. Notably, she was freed by affluence from having to support herself economically but so were other leisured individuals for whom activism was not a social practice. In her case, the injunction to promote the common good was not just an intellectual matter, but also a moral priority. Inspiration came from a concern with the social responsibilities of privilege; and by the 1920s, Simon publicly acknowledged the impulse to what she called the ‘religion of humanity’ (J. Simon, 1986, II, p. 36).
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