Lalage Bown

Biography of Lalage Bown

Emeritus Professor Lalage Bown was an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Adult and Continuing Education, previously serving as head of the Department. An eminent women's literacy advocate, she dedicated her life to improving education for the disadvantaged, seeking to bring learning opportunities to the widest possible sections of society. A fierce defender of adult education as a catalyst for social change, her ideas were informed by her experiences in Africa following the Second World War. She saw the need to develop new, inclusive, post-colonial approaches to education, for which she is still remembered across the continent.

The daughter of Dorothy Ethel Watson and Arthur Mervyn Bown, Lalage Bown was born in Croydon on the 1st April 1927. Before her birth, her mother had agreed to marry her father on the condition that their daughters would be entitled to the same educational opportunities as their sons. Her name derives from Horace's Ode XXII, 'dulce ridentem Lalagen amabo dulce loquentum' which translates to 'I shall love Lalage, who laughs and talks so sweetly'.

She was educated at Wycombe High School for Girls, Cheltenham Ladies College and Somerville College, University of Oxford, studying History before gaining her Masters of Arts in 1949. At Oxford she was one of only 600 women to 6000 men. Her cohort included students from Denmark, Frances, Poland, Guyana and New Zealand. On leaving university, her outlook was broad.

In 1949 she was appointed as a resident tutor at the Department of Extra-Mural Studies of the University of the Gold Coast (subsequently Ghana). She travelled via Senegal and became involved in teaching African literature and arts. Over a period of 30 years in Africa she became the first field resident tutor in the Extra-Mural Department at Makerere College in Uganda, and later taught at the University of Ibadan and Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria, the University of Zambia and the University of Lagos. In Zambia, she established a national extra-mural programme, providing courses for trade unionists, politicians and the police, and using radio, television and theatre for public education. She served as the founding Secretary of the African Adult Education Association and helped to build the Nigerian National Council for Adult Education. In 1997, she was named in Adult Education in Nigeria as the 'Mother of Adult Education in Africa'.

She was instrumental in supporting 'Africanisation' or curriculum, removing outdated and inappropriate colonial teaching. On learning that students were required standard English texts such as Wordsworth's 'Daffodils', she developed a curriculum of African writing in English over a 200 year period.

Lalage was appointed as director and titular professor of the Department of Adult and Continuing Education at the University of Glasgow in 1981. Under her leadership in the 1980s, Glasgow had the widest subject range of all continuing education departments in the UK, and the 5th highest enrolment figures. Her reputation among African students encouraged many to pursue postgraduate work in the Department of Adult and Continuing Education.

On her retiral from the University of Glasgow in 1992 she was delighted that her successor was a woman, at a time when women accounted for around 6% of the professoriate. She maintained her links with the University for the rest of her life, lending her support to the Centre for Research and Development in Adult and Lifelong Education (CRADALL).

Among her many accolades were 26 books, 86 articles, six honorary doctorates, the William Pearson Tolley Award from Syracuse and an OBE. In 2002, she was awarded a D.Litt from the University of Glasgow, and was also invited to give the charge to the graduates. In her speech she stressed the importance of equality in learning, and that knowledge should include not only information, but analysis, interpretation and critical appraisal. She looked forward in her address to the time when the University would have a female principal.

A true trailblazer, Lalage had a gift for people and engaging those communities in which she found herself. She also believed strongly in dialogue and progress through argument and discourse.

While working in Nigeria, she looked after five-year-old twin girls. After six months, she asked if she could adopt them. Without formal adoption processes at the time, they simply became her daughters. Lalage Bown died in December 2021 at the age of 94. She is survived by her foster daughters Mrs Taiwo Ogundare and Mrs Kehinde Akinyede, and also by her brother Hugh Bown, her niece Rachel Dale and her nephew Jonathan Bown.


Lalage Bown

Born 1 April 1927.
Died 17 December 2021.
University Link: Honorary Graduate, Professor
GU Degree: DLitt, 2002;
Occupation categories: educationalists
Record last updated: 4th Feb 2022

University Connections

University Roles

  • Honorary Graduate
  • Professor

There is 1 comment available.

Posted by Ms Lesley Richmond at 16:51:45 on 15 September 2008

Some of Lalage Brown's archives are to be found at Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Library New York see