Olive Anderson Obituary

Olive Anderson, my mother, passed away at the age of 89 after leaving behind an exceptional legacy in the field of history. During the 1960s, she played a significant role in revitalizing the way history was taught by introducing revolutionary methods that are still utilized to this day. Her innovative research methodologies challenged preconceived notions of what history entails and opened up new paths for others to explore.

Olive was born to Donald Gee, a Pentecostal minister, and his wife Ruth, in Edinburgh. She grew up in Louth, Lincolnshire, where her parents operated a missionary training school. After studying history at Oxford, she was the recipient of the university’s highest academic honor, a first-class degree. Despite military history being regarded as a male-dominated field, she decided to approach it in a unique way. Instead of studying military campaigns, Olive focused on the political significance of prisoners of war during the American War of Independence. Her research widened to encompass how military efforts abroad impacted government policies and the economy at home, leading her to study the Crimean War and publish her book A Liberal State at War: English Politics and Economics during the Crimean War.

Olive’s interests broadened to include the history of psychiatric medicine, culminating in her publication Suicide in Victorian and Edwardian England in 1987. She was proud to speak on the subject at the Royal Society of Medicine’s psychiatric section on "Prevention of Suicide and Para-suicide: What Can We Learn from History?" Olive’s research eventually led her to investigate the Victorian management of marriage breakdown and how earlier legislation affects modern family law, a subject she explored in her unpublished work Wives Alone.

Aside from her research contributions, Olive was a revered history educator. She spent several decades teaching at Westfield College, University of London, where she served as a professor of history and honorary research fellow. She played a crucial role in the renovation of the University of London’s history degree program and was responsible for many innovative courses. She also served as a fellow and vice-president of the Royal Historical Society. Olive married Matthew Anderson, a professor of international history at the London School of Economics, in 1954. Matthew passed away in 2006.

Olive is survived by her daughters Rachel and myself, as well as grandsons Matthew and Ben.


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