Minnie Louise Haskins (18751957), by Keystone, 1939
Haskins, Minnie Louise (18751957), author and industrial welfare promoter, was born at 2 Kingswood Hill, Oldland, near Bristol, on 12 May 1875, the second child and eldest daughter of Joseph Haskins (18421891), a grocer who acquired a pottery works at Warmley where he manufactured clay drainpipes, and his wife, Louisa, née Bridges (18481914), who became proprietor of the business after her husband's death. Minnie Haskins had four brothers and four sisters, and was educated in Bristol at a school run by Mrs Esther Maynard, sometimes known as the Clarendon Collegiate School, at 153 Whiteladies Road, Clifton. Subsequently she studied informally at University College, Bristol. She and her three surviving sisters were beneficiaries of the opening of careers and opportunities to travel among middle-class women in the early twentieth century: Margaret became a teacher in Canada, Bessie taught in Syria before becoming headmistress of the Kensington High School for Girls, and Edith served in the WAAC during the First World War and was subsequently a secretary in the diplomatic service. Minnie eventually made her career in the professionalized philanthropy of industrial welfare.
Minnie Haskins's career in welfare began with voluntary work for the Congregational church in the local community around Warmley House, Oldland, where the family lived from 1889. By 1903 she was working from the Springfield Hall Wesleyan Methodist mission in the Lambeth slums, London. In 1907 she went to Madras, India, where she worked in the Methodist Missionary Society's zenana movement until her health broke down in 1915. To raise funds in aid of this work she published privately, in 1912, a small volume of poetry, The Desert. It included the poem God knows, which she had written in 1908, and to which she added an introductory passage beginning And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown!.
Back in England during the First World War, Haskins first ran a munitions workers' hostel in Woolwich, and then spent three years supervising the labour management department of a controlled factory in Silvertown, West Ham, gaining practical experience of industrial welfare work. She also published a second volume of poetry, The Potter (1918) in the Little Books of Georgian Verse series. After the war ended, at the age of forty-three, Haskins went to the London School of Economics (LSE) where she studied under Agatha Harrison, the country's first specialist in industrial welfare. She passed the social science certificate in 1919 and the diploma in sociology the following year, both with distinction.
Haskins joined the staff at the LSE as an assistant in the social science department, and was involved in the development of what eventually became the Institute of Personnel Management, editing the monthly bulletin that preceded its first journal. Her academic interests were in industrial welfare, the precursor of personnel management: with Eleanor T. Kelly she published Foundations of Industrial Welfare in Economica in 1921, promoting a spirit of co-operation between worker and employer. She became a tutor in the department in 1934 and retired in 1939, but was reappointed in 1940 and served until her final retirement in 1944. An inspirational and devoted teacher, she could none-the-less be an intimidating figure, asking one student And how is your personal philosophy getting along, Miss Emy? (Daily Telegraph, 17 April 2002).
In addition to her work at the LSE, from 1927 Haskins assisted her two sisters, Bessie and Edith, in running a pre-preparatory school at Brooklands, Crowborough, east Sussex. In 1928 she published her first novel, Through Beds of Stone, which is at least semi-autobiographical, and followed it with a sequel, A Few People (1932), reviewed as a sympathetic story … which would have been even better without an improbable small boy, too much dialect, and too much hazy sentiment (The Spectator, 149, 1932, 768). It was, however, through her earlier literary efforts that Minnie Haskins came to unexpected public notice. In December 1939, at the end of his Christmas radio broadcast, George VI quoted lines by a then-unknown author, beginning I said to the man at the gate of the year. The quotation had earlier appeared in a letter to The Times (9 Sept 1939), sent in by a Mrs Allen of Bristol who had in turn received it printed in a greetings card, and it was brought to the attention of the king. The lines, somewhat derivative of Bunyan, struck a chord with both king and country facing the uncertainties of war, and immediate efforts were made to identify their author.
Minnie Haskins had not heard the broadcast itself, but thought the words sounded familiar when listening to a summary. When she came forward as the author, her unsought fame was assured. Her words reached an even wider audience when they were used in a voiceover at the end of Frank Borzage's anti-Nazi Hollywood film, The Mortal Storm (1940). They also formed the core message of the British film, The Man at the Gate (1941). The lines were reprinted with Haskins's other poems in The Gate of the Year (1940), and a further volume of verse, Smoking Flax, appeared in 1942; it is fair to say that her poetry is deservedly obscure.
Minnie Haskins died from cancer in the Kent and Sussex Hospital, Tunbridge Wells, on 3 February 1957. She never married. The gate of the year is widely anthologized in collections of inspirational verse, and has been set to music as an anthem by Sir William Henry Harris and by Robert Ashfield. It is inscribed on a panel by the gates of the George VI memorial chapel in St George's Chapel, Windsor, and in a window at the Queen's Chapel of the Savoy. The association with the royal family was continued when it concluded the order of service at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth, the queen mother, in 2002, and was read at the unveiling of her statue near Buckingham Palace in 2009.
K. D. Reynolds
The Times (9 Sept 1939); (27 Dec 1939); (28 Dec 1939); (3 Jan 1940); (9 Jan 1940); (13 April 1953); (6 Feb 1957) · Daily Express (28 Dec 1939) · Daily Telegraph (16 April 2002); (17 April 2002) · C. Howse, At the gate of the year, Daily Telegraph (16 Aug 2008) · M. M. Niven, Personnel management, 19131963 (1967) · J. W. Wheeler-Bennett, King George VI: his life and reign (1958) · J. Hackworth, Minnie Louise Haskins, www.theweald.org/N10.asp?NId=3685, accessed on 16 Jan 2012 · Minnie Louise Haskins, London School of Economics news archive, 8 April 2002, www2.lse.ac.uk/newsAndMedia/news/archives/2002/Minnie_Louise_Haskins.aspx, accessed on 1 March 2012 · census returns, 1881, 1891, 1901 · private information (2012) [J. Hackworth, P. Aykroyd] · b. cert. · d. cert.
Keystone, photographs, 1939, Getty Images, London [see illus.] · photograph, repro. in Life Magazine (27 Dec 1939) · photograph, repro. in Daily Express (28 Dec 1939), · photograph, repro. in Times (28 Dec 1939), · photograph, SOAS, Methodist Missionary Society Archives, MMS/09/20/01
Wealth at death
£4966 1s. 7d.: probate, 8 March 1957, CGPLA Eng. & Wales