Women and Education

If you’ve read Uncle Tungsten, Dr. Sacks’s memoir of his boyhood, you may remember that his grandparents Marcus and Chaya Landau, who raised eighteen children at the turn of the twentieth century, were firm advocates for the equality of men and women, especially when it came to education. While many of their nine sons went into chemistry, physics, or metallurgy, the sisters were drawn to teaching and medicine. Muriel Elsie Landau, Dr. Sacks’s mother, was one of the first women surgeons in England, and four of her sisters founded or ran schools.

The Landau family: Annie is standing second from the right; Elsie second from the left.

One of these remarkable women, Annie Landau, left the comforts of London for Palestine in 1899. She knew no one in this new country, but was determined to help provide a wide-ranging education for the Anglo-Jewish girls in Jerusalem, at a time when most of them were impoverished and illiterate, denied education and pushed into teenage marriage or prostitution. They could not have found a better champion than Annie Landau, whose passion for women’s education overcame all sorts of cultural and political obstacles. Her parties for the city’s elite were legendary, and the school which she directed for forty-five years left a lasting legacy on the development of Jerusalem as a thriving modern culture.

Historian Laura S. Schor has just published The Best School in Jerusalem: Annie Landau’s School for Girls, 1900-1960. It paints a vivid picture of life in Jerusalem in these formative years, and brings to life a forgotten chapter of the history of education and of women.

Dr. Sacks has so enjoyed the book that he has sent out dozens of copies to his cousins (eighteen children lead to a lot of cousins!). We hope you enjoy it, too.

In quite a different vein, Dr. Sacks has just completed an article about the origins of mind in invertebrates (like earthworms, jellyfish, and his favorite cephalopods). Bones, it seems, are not a prerequisite for mental life. Look for his essay in an upcoming issue of the New York Review of Books. (For updates, check our Twitter or Facebook pages.)