Dorothy Violet Hill was born on 18 September 1894 in Bristol, England, the third daughter of parents George and Florence Hill. George made a modest income as a shopkeeper and newsagent, but home life was not happy. Early in the 1900s, Florence found herself the single parent of three daughters, the youngest of whom was blind. She worked as a florist and times were tough.
I don't know how my great grandmother came to hear of the College, or how she afforded the tuition, but in 1902, Florence travelled from Bristol to London and enrolled my great aunt as a boarding student. Dorothy would remain there for the next 13 years, only returning to Bristol for the summer holidays in the early years.
Leaving her eight year old daughter must have been a difficult decision, but my great grandmother was a pragmatic woman with a head for business. She herself would emigrate to Canada in 1911 and establish her own florist shop in Montreal. No doubt she found wisdom in the 'object' of the College as stated in its 1902 prospectus:
'Our work is to educate and train the blind as to render them independent, useful members of the community on which they will otherwise become a permanent burden'.
The College's annual reports from 1902 to 1915 gave a detailed picture of the academic and recreational life of pupils at the College and allowed me to glimpse into my great aunt's childhood experiences.
Dorothy was in the Preparatory Department when she first arrived and lived with other children in one of the separate houses with playgrounds that were adapted to the special requirements of the blind. In this cottage system, she would go with others to the main building during the day to attend classes such as piano, singing and harmony and other special lectures.
Dorothy can be seen in this 1902 picture of her Natural History class (fourth to the left of the teacher):
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