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People :: Alumni :: Margaret 'Peggy' Gertrude Gordon (nee Condliffe)

Peggy Gordon

'Peggy' (Margaret) Gordon

Certificate in Social Study

Graduated: 1948

Peggy's daughter, Jean, has completed this profile on her mother as Peggy died in 2012.

Peggy was born in 1924 and was brought up in Gerrards Cross in the south of England. An only child, her father was a engineer and her mother a dispensing pharmacist until her marriage. Peggy’s father wanted his daughter to follow in his scientific footsteps, but when she left school, instead of going to university as anticipated, she joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRENS) as a Signals Officer.  Peggy served in Aden and Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), and returned to the UK in 1946 with a determination to work with people rather than numbers. She elected to pursue a career as a hospital almoner and applied to, and was accepted by, the University of Edinburgh soon after her return from Sri Lanka by boat, in 1946.

Peggy studied in Edinburgh for two years, completing the Certificate in Social Study in 1948. She then went to complete a hospital-based year of practice and study at St Thomas’s Hospital in London. She qualified as a hospital almoner in 1949. Whilst in Edinburgh, Peggy described studying social economics, law, public health and statistics (which she loathed, not being of a mathematical bent). Practice-based study included home visiting and work at the Edinburgh University Settlement. Most of Peggy’s stories from her time in Edinburgh were about her life as a student in various ‘digs’, some of them very Spartan, in the New Town. Washing clothes was a particular challenge, and Peggy used to recall how she and her fellow lodgers incurred one landlady’s wrath by hanging their stockings out of the window , which, they were told made the lodgings ‘look like a brothel’. Eventually Peggy started to send her laundry home to her mother to be washed. Rationing was still in full force, and Peggy’s mother, who kept chickens, used to tuck eggs into the clean washing, which, remarkably, always arrived in Scotland intact.

Peggy started her career in London, soon moving to the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford where she remained most of her working life. Her particular areas of interest were maternity and gynaecology. She was a tremendous advocate for the social worker’s role in the hospital hierarchy, and was always prepared to battle prejudices and institutional hierarchies when they got in the way of supporting the mothers and children that she worked with.

When Peggy married in 1953 she had, frustratingly, like many women at that time, to give up her job. In the 60s, however, in rather more enlightened times, and once her children were at school, she was able to return to work. As Peggy’s career progressed, so did social work profession, marked by periodic changes in her title – from Hospital Almoner to Medical Social Worker in 1964, and, during the 1970s, as the recommendations of the Seebohm Report were implemented, to Hospital Social Worker. Peggy later became a team manager, and, before she retired, was seconded into a senior management role in Oxfordshire. Although she took up this position with her characteristic verve and enthusiasm, Peggy missed the contact with patients, the buzz of the multidisciplinary team, and was often impatient of unnecessary bureaucracy that got in the way of meeting people’s needs.

Outside social work, Peggy was also a very knowledgeable amateur ornithologist, conducting surveys for the British Trust for Ornithology for most of her adult life, and making regular visits to Fair Isle in Shetland. She also published a paper in Bird Study, Reed Buntings on an Oxfordshire Farm. She retained a lifelong connection with Edinburgh, with her final landlords, a very kind and spirited Hungarian couple, and with friends that she made during her social work training. Peggy died in 2012.

As her daughter, I hesitate to speak for my mother – she was only too capable of doing that herself – but I know that, although she would probably used different words, she would have wanted to emphasise the importance of developing skills in empathetic, relationship-based practice, and of the ability to collaborate constructively and honestly with professionals from different backgrounds.

(Source: Jean Gordon 7.2.2018)