LSE Women: making history celebrates some of the notable women at LSE through the years. Sue Donnelly looks back at Anne Bohm, who was secretary to the Graduate School and a roving ambassador for the School.
In the second half of the 20th century one woman was a constant presence at LSE – Anne Bohm.
Anne Bohm was born in Breslau (now Wroclaw in Poland) the capital of Silesia in 1910. She studied at Berlin and Tubingen Universities obtaining a PhD in history, The History of English Titles of Honour from the Twelfth Century, in 1910. After graduation she worked as a secretary, including a time as secretary to the President of the Olympic organising committee for the 1936 Berlin games – a role in which she mixed with a wide range of people.
Anne Bohm’s family were Jewish and in 1938 she joined her uncle and his family in London. Her father, Georg Bohm, a retired High Court judge, died in Theresienstadt after his deportation from Berlin.
In 1941 Anne Bohm moved with her uncle’s family to Cambridge and answered an advert in the Cambridge Times from the LSE historian LG Robinson who was looking for an administrative assistant with fluent German to support courses on European international relations for army officers. Despite having difficulties making her interview because of a snow storm Anne Bohm began work in February 1942. LG Robinson was also Dean of the Graduate School and after losing his secretary to the Director, Anne Bohm was appointed Secretary to the Graduate School in July 1942 on a salary of £156 plus a cost of living bonus of £13. She received an honorarium of £19 on passing her probation. Although English was her second language Anne Bohm soon gained a reputation for turning Robinson’s lengthy drafts into for economical and lucid prose.
Although life in Cambridge with its restricted space and war time restrictions could be difficult Anne Bohm remembered the Cambridge years fondly: “I always say we had a very happy war.” LSE was a small community and “everybody knew everyone else and everybody was very friendly.”
After the war Anne thought she would lose her job when her predecessor returned to work but through the intervention of Professor Harold Laski she was retained in post. Despite the privations of post war London she always said: “For everybody it was a serious but a very joyous time, these first five years after the war.”
In 1950 Robinson had a stroke and although he retained his title of Dean of the Graduate School Anne took on his role – work for which she received an honorarium in 1952. LG Robinson died in 1957 and the School Secretary, Harry Kidd, told Anne Bohm “we don’t really need a Dean do we: you are doing it” – so for 20 years Anne ran the Graduate School with a firm hand respected by colleagues inside and outside of LSE and making enduring friendships with many students.
However Anne Bohm was never given the title of Dean and initially was not a member of the Senior Common Room which excluded her from many of the contacts and information shared with the academic community. In the end she, along with four colleagues, was granted membership of SCR at the request of Ben Roberts and Ralph Miliband.
In 1964 Anne Bohm was invited on to the US Foreign Leader Programme and was granted three months leave of absence visiting US graduate schools and taking some leave. The Director in his reference noted that:
“Moreover she has carried a very heavy load of administrative work for some years and a period of two or three months completely away from her desk is likely to be refreshing and beneficial to her work.”
In 1966 she was the obvious choice of Sir Michael Young of the Social Science Research Council when setting up the first National Conference on Postgraduate Work. The Director was concerned that Anne Bohm might be overloaded so insisted her role was restricted to developing the programme, approaching speakers and writing the final report.
Anne Bohm directed the Graduate School through a period of great change with increases in numbers of applicants and admissions and the introduction of single year master’s degrees. She also working through the LSE Troubles and at once point was knocked to the ground by a student (she was very opposed to the demonstrations and continued to come into work) but then received a huge bunch of flowers from the students.
Ann Bohm finally retired in 1977 after several extensions beyond the School’s usual retirement age of 62. In his speech on her retirement Ralf Dahrendorf said “As everybody knows Anne has been the Dean and the Registrar of the Graduate School” – though Anne Bohm had never been given the title of Dean.
Her retirement was deemed worthy of an article in The Times by reporter Peter Hennessey who wrote:
“There is a certain kind of strong willed woman in public life who gets her way through a melange of charm, beauty and pure terror. The graduate school of the London School of Economics has been dominated by such a woman for the past 30 years in the person of Dr Anne Bohm.”
After retirement Anne Bohm was asked by the Director to become a roving ambassador for the School making good use of all the contacts she had made as Secretary of the Graduate School. The role included fundraising, building relationships with LSE’s alumni and recruiting new students for the Graduate School. She was made an Honorary Fellow in 1988 and received an OBE in 1991.
Anne Bohm’s 90th birthday was marked by a lecture by the American economist Paul Volcker attended by the Canadian politician Pierre Trudeau. In 1993 the artist June Mendoza donated her portrait of Anne Bohm to the School. It now hangs in the Shaw Library.
Anne Bohm died in 2006 at the age of 96.
Contributed by Sue Donnelly (LSE Archivist)
Interested in women’s history? See Women at LSE