The Spirit of Dartford: Greenwich honours decades of alumni achievement in education

An Olympic gold medallist and an England cricket legend were among hundreds of remarkable women (and one man) who received honorary degrees from the University of Greenwich in October.

The awards celebrate the outstanding legacy of the university’s predecessor, Dartford College of Education, and the considerable academic and professional achievements of its students.

Dartford College was a ground breaking pioneer in physical education, sport and the advancement of women’s rights. Founded by Madame Martina Bergman Ӧsterberg in 1885, it was the first women’s physical education college in the UK. Among many other firsts, Dartford students introduced netball to this country and created the gymslip.

Thousands of teachers gained Certificates in Education at Dartford. They went on to make huge contributions to society, influencing the development of Physical Education both nationally and internationally.

Alumni from as far afield as the USA, Hong Kong and South Africa attended the honorary degree ceremonies, which took place in the historic setting of the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich.

“Dartford alumni have always felt that their courses were worthy of degree status and we are delighted, extremely proud and grateful to the university for this award.”

Anne Stuart, Chair of the Bergman Ӧsterberg Union

Jennifer Hargreaves (left) Ann Brightwell (centre) and Anne Stuart (right)

The Spirit of Dartford lives on

Dartford College’s courses closed in 1986, but its tradition of teacher training and sport continues today at the University of Greenwich. The university offers programmes in Physical Education & Sport as well as Sports Science and is making a long-term investment in sports facilities for its students. Earlier this year it unveiled state-of-the-art sports pitches at its Avery Hill Campus.

Dartford College also lives on through its own alumni association, the Bergman Ӧsterberg Union (BOU).  The university enjoys a close relationship with the BOU, whose members are a much valued part of the university’s 150,000-strong alumni community.

Anne Stuart, Chair of the Bergman Ӧsterberg Union says:

“Dartford alumni have always felt that their courses were worthy of degree status and we are delighted, extremely proud and grateful to the university for this award. They are honouring Madame, her work, the staff and students who trained at Dartford and our careers since then. The Spirit of Dartford lives on!”

Dartford College of Education c.1912 (now North Kent College)
The oldest honorary graduand present – 98-year-old Dorothy Devitt with her daughter Jane Devitt

Glittering alumni

The oldest honorary graduand present was 98-year-old Dorothy Devitt, who gained her qualification in 1940.

Also attending was Olympic gold medallist Ann Brightwell (née Packer), who qualified in 1963 and went on to win the 800 metres in Tokyo the following year. Ann and sports sociologist, Professor Jennifer Hargreaves (1958), received honorary doctorates at the ceremonies.

Many other international sports stars are Dartford College alumnae, including the late Baroness Rachael Heyhoe Flint. Among those present at the ceremonies were tennis player Sue Mappin and England cricket legend Enid Bakewell.

There was one man among the graduands. Phillip Jones travelled from Canada for his ceremony, joined by his wife Stephanie, who he met while they were at Dartford. The College opened up its courses to men in its later years.

Swedish drill at Dartford – 1915
Greenwich Mermaids Cheerleaders – 2017
Martina Bergman Ӧsterberg

Martina Bergman Ӧsterberg and the Dartford legacy

  • Pioneer in physical education
  • Many international sports stars
  • Advancement of women’s rights
  • First women’s physical education college in the UK
  • Introduced netball to the UK
  • Created the gymslip (student, Mary Tait)

Martina Bergman Ӧsterberg was born in Sweden in 1849 and trained at the Royal Central Gymnastics Institute in Stockholm from 1879 to 1881. She was appointed Lady Superintendent of Physical Education to the London School Board in 1881, introduced Swedish drill into over 276 state schools and personally trained over 1,300 teachers in Lon-don by the time she resigned in 1887.

A firm believer in female emancipation and social, economic and spir-itual freedom for women, she founded her physical training college for women in Hampstead in 1885, transferring it to Kingsfield, Dartford, in 1895. In doing so she devised a new profession for women and forged a new subject for schools that fused the two systems of Swedish drill and English games. In the 20 years before she died in 1915, Madame herself trained 501 specialist teachers.

By | 2017-12-12T16:56:26+00:00 November 8th, 2017|Categories: Faculty of Education & Health, Sport|

About the Author:

Dan Stevens manages and maintains this website.


  1. Kim Lambden November 8, 2017 at 11:03 pm - Reply

    Loved to have been there, looked a great event!

  2. Jan Carrott nee Lowe November 9, 2017 at 11:10 am - Reply

    It was a fantastic day which had been a long time in the planning. Thank you to all those who made it possible. It was wonderful to meet friends and colleagues from years past and to be part of such a great legacy

    • Dan Stevens November 9, 2017 at 11:34 am - Reply

      Hello Jan

      Many thanks for you kind words. It was fantastic to meet you all on the day and share in the celebrations.

  3. Sue Beard aka woody November 9, 2017 at 3:41 pm - Reply

    It was an amazing day, to sit with my peers in alphabetical order and hear my maiden name once again. To the Madams girls who made it possible there can never be enough ways to say thank you.

    • Dan Stevens November 9, 2017 at 4:33 pm - Reply

      Hello Sue

      Thanks for your comment – we’re glad you enjoyed the day!

  4. Jane Devitt November 10, 2017 at 8:17 am - Reply

    This was an amazing event for the Devitt family! Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to make it a great success.
    Mum said it made her “feel young again”!

    It really was a wonderful day to be cherished by subsequent generations. I have been brought up with the Dartford College values and in turn passed them to my two daughters. A fantastic legacy.

    • Dan Stevens November 10, 2017 at 10:26 am - Reply

      Hello Jane – It really was an honour to host this wonderful event. It’s great to see the joy that permeates from many of the photos including your own! You all clearly value each other and cherish your time and Dartford and it’s legacy. We are very fortunate to have you as part of our alumni community!

  5. Noelle Flaherty aka Nolly November 10, 2017 at 2:21 pm - Reply

    Can only reiterate the comments already made! It was a fantastic day, many of us can’t believe it has really happened! Thank you so much for all the hard work by the University and the BOU for making it happen. So many more memories to add to those we already hold dearly! Thanks again.

    • Martyn Stephenson November 10, 2017 at 3:16 pm - Reply

      Thanks Noelle. We are glad you enjoyed your day. These awards were much deserved and it was clear to see that the “Spirit of Dartford” remains very strong after all these years, embodied in the BOU.

  6. Mandy Gunn November 10, 2017 at 8:39 pm - Reply

    After all these years what an amazing event! I didn’t get there as have lived in Australia since 1966. I taught Phys Ed for quite a few years when I got here and I can tell you it was light years behind what was happening in the Uk and the experiences I had at Dartford. Congratulations to everyone involved!

    • Martyn Stephenson November 13, 2017 at 4:18 pm - Reply

      Thank you for your comment, Mandy. I am sorry you were unable to travel over to join us. However, if you gained a Cert Ed at Dartford you are still eligible for an honorary award in absentia, which we can post to you. If this would be of interest please email us at with your full name and years of study.

  7. Vera Gjerdrum (Sudds) November 10, 2017 at 9:54 pm - Reply

    I am so glad that I was able to take part in this wonderful event. My husband and I travelled from Canada just for the occasion and every minute was worthwhile. The spirit of Dartford lives on – I am proud to be part of it. D.C.P.E. has had a profound influence on my almost 40 year teaching career.
    Thanks to all who made this possible.

    • Martyn Stephenson November 13, 2017 at 4:22 pm - Reply

      Hello Vera – and thank you for your kind words. It was great that you were able to join us. We were amazed how far people travelled – from North America, like yourself, from South Africa and from Hong Kong, among others. The Dartford spirit knows no borders! We are glad you enjoyed your day and hope you had a good trip back.

  8. Pauline Lewis Nee Howe November 11, 2017 at 8:44 am - Reply

    We had a fantastic day. The “girls in my cohort graduated in 1974; i went off the radar moving to Cornwall in 1976. In 2015,at the Centenary celebrations of The BOU, I met up with anout 25 past friends for the first time in 41 years. Since that day , I have reconnected with some very close friends from my college days and we have just had our third “ mini reunion” in Saltash, Cornwall; the firstbeing Liverpool, 5 of us; the second in Newcastle , 9 of us; this year 10. Next year we will re onvene in Northern Ireland with hopefully another swelled number. Not a word was spoken.(hahaha) , but the days were filled with memories, fun and laughter.

    • Martyn Stephenson November 13, 2017 at 4:36 pm - Reply

      Hi Pauline, thanks for sharing this. We have heard quite a few stories about old friends reconnecting at the ceremonies, often for the first time in many years.

  9. Kathleen O'Donnell November 11, 2017 at 9:00 pm - Reply

    An absolutely wonderful day. A tribute to the efforts of Dartford College students in the progress of the standing of women’s place in the physical education world and an opportunity to share the most wonderful memories with friends. Congratulations to all recipients and also those who for one reason or another were unable to attend on th day.

    • Martyn Stephenson November 13, 2017 at 4:35 pm - Reply

      Thank you Kathleen. Dartford College and its alumni certainly have an enduring place in the history books. Congratulations to you all.

  10. Jacqueline Selcoe nee Elliott November 12, 2017 at 3:05 pm - Reply

    I am looking forward to the next ceremony in the new year. I was there in Margaret Chamberlain’s time.

    • Martyn Stephenson November 13, 2017 at 4:50 pm - Reply

      Thank you Jacqueline. As you may know, the university awarded Margaret Chamberlain an honorary doctorate (HonDEd) in 2009

  11. Jenn Stewart-Jones December 12, 2017 at 7:43 pm - Reply

    Thank you to all who organised the event for past Dartford College students.
    It was such a great day and wonderful to see fellow students after all these years.
    Dartford graduate

  12. Karen Lobb nee Holmes December 13, 2017 at 9:23 am - Reply

    What a great few days. Greenwich college made us feel very special from the moment we entered, dressing us,organising us – not easy when so many people are catching up on the last 40 years! The day was another great Dartford memory to add to so many, thank you Greenwich and the alumni team.
    Meeting up with so many from my year 1976 ( top photo ) made the whole experience totally fantastic.

  13. Moira Thomas ( nee Lambie ) December 13, 2017 at 5:54 pm - Reply

    Thank you for such a great day and a great experience. Really enjoyed seeing everyone again. So proud to have my degree !

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