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FAQ 6: What Do We Know About the EJO's Real Life?

This answer to a frequently asked question has been prepared by Ruth Allen, with the permission of Monica Godfrey, the Chronicle's Founding Editor, whose 'A Little Information about Elsie Jeanette Oxenham: Her Life and Some of Her Books' was the first item in The Abbey Compendium, and whose The World Of Elsie J Oxenham and her Books was published in July 2003.
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Elsie Jeanette Dunkerley was born in Southport, Lancashire, England on 25 November 1880 but before she was 2 years old she was taken to Ealing, West London, where she and her sisters went to private schools and attended Ealing Congregational Church. The six Dunkerley children were: Elsie, Marjory (Maida), Roderic, Theodora (Theo), Erica and Hugo. The family lived in five different houses during their time in Ealing and moved to Worthing, Sussex, in 1922.

During the London years, EJO became involved in the American Camp Fire movement and qualifed as a Guardian - the leader of a group of Camp Fire Girls. She ran this Camp Fire Group for some 6 years, until the move to Sussex.
          The Dunkerley Family - EJO is back left
One of the Camp Fire members was Margaret Bayne Todd - later Margaret Simey - who appears in Abbey Girls in Town and to whom that title was dedicated. It is thought that she was the 'original' on whom both Jenny-Wren and Littlejan were based. 
At some point during her time in London EJO joined the English Folk Dance Society (EFDS - it didn't become the EFDSS until much later). She then discovered how 'badly' she had been doing the dances - and teaching them! - as related in Abbey Girls Go Back to School (published 1922). Everything that the 'Writing Person' (see FAQ 2) told Maidlin, Jen and Joy, in New Abbey Girls, about dancing, Grey Edward, and the Camp Fire had happened as described.
After the family had moved to Worthing, EJO taught dancing in nearby villages and schools. She tried to start another Camp Fire but that wasn't a success as most of the girls of the right age were already Girl Guides.
At first, the family all lived at Farncombe Road, Worthing, but after their mother died the four sisters moved out, living in pairs, Elsie with Maida, and Erica with Theo. None of the sisters married, but both brothers did. Elsie died in a nursing Home in January 1960, a few days after Erica.
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