Reviewed by Christine Craik in British Journal of Occupational Therapy, July 2011
This biography of Octavia Hill, first published in 1990, has been revised for the centenary of her death in 2012. Occupational therapists have become interested in Octavia Hill due to her influence on Elizabeth Casson, and through her to the creation of Dorset House, the first school of occupational therapy in the United Kingdom. Although there is little direct reference to the profession, this account of Octavia’s life, and the principles that guided her, demonstrates how her beliefs and thinking contributed to the founding of occupational therapy and other professions.
Born in Wisbech in 1838 to James Hill and his second wife Caroline Southwood Smith, she was named Octavia as she was her father’s eighth daughter. Although never wealthy, her family experienced financial problems, resulting in a move to London. At 14 years of age, and supported by her mother, she started her first job through the Ladies Guild, a craft workshop, teaching toymaking to a group of girls from a Ragged School. She instilled in the children a sense of achievement in their work and supplemented this with education, organising outings and encouraging saving some of their wages to cook nourishing food which they ate together.
Later she began her most significant work in housing management, finding and improving housing stock for the poor, and collecting rent on her weekly visits to the tenants, thus helping them manage their meagre income. Over the years her influence spread and the number of houses she managed increased. Her interest in her tenants extended beyond housing to encourage them to participate in activities to improve their quality of life. Her involvement in the Open Spaces movement led to her role as a founder of the National Trust. She was a woman of many talents, and some flaws, with an undoubted ability to influence a wide variety of people to work for the causes she championed. Her connection to occupational therapy can be seen at a location very close to the British Association of Occupational Therapists building in London. Red Cross Garden, one of her projects, was restored, and opened by our Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, in 2006. It was here in Red Cross Hall and Cottages that Elizabeth Casson worked for 5 years before leaving to train as a doctor.
Those interested in the history of the profession may find that the biography contains useful insights, and university libraries may wish to purchase a copy. However, perhaps borrowing it from your local Public Library would support a tradition with ideals that Octavia herself would have supported.
Chairman, Editorial Board,
British Journal of Occupational Therapy
British Journal of Occupational Therapy July 2011 74(7) 363