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.