Monday, April 26, 2010

The Lady Dorothy Mills Award (1965)

Sometimes I feel like a seagull picking over the remains of the same old beached flounder, time and again. I try to set aside some time every day to run at least one George Mills-related internet search, and most often I fail to come up with anything new. Sometimes, though, I rearrange the search terms or try instead of and I do find a morsel, and it's very exciting: Yesterday I discovered a fringe reference to "M. Kalab," who had been awarded the Lady Dorothy Mills Award in 1965 for a proposed Cambodian village project.

I e-mailed the Royal Geographical Society about it before retiring last evening, and returned from lunch to find this reply waiting for me:

RE: "Lady Dorothy Mills award"
Sent: Monday, April 26, 2010 11:51 AM

Dear Mr Williams

Thank you for your enquiry regarding the above award. According to our records, Lady Dorothy Mills was formally elected to the Fellowship of the Society on 3 November 1930.

I have found a couple of key references to the later award in the Society’s ‘Geographical Journal’ (GJ).

The first appeared in the ‘Society’s News’ column in the GJ 127(3), Sept. 1961, p.383, with the announcement of a bequest:

“LADY DOROTHY MILLS AWARD. As a result of a bequest of the late Lady Dorothy Mills, Fellow of the Society, an award has been established of £1000 to be made to a young woman traveller who is also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. The award will be made in the form of a grant covering one or more years and will be primarily for a project involving travel of an adventurous kind rather than projects purely for academic research”.

This bequest was awarded only once, to the Milada Kalab you mention. The award was made at the Society’s AGM of 14 June 1965 (reported in the GJ 131(3), Sept, 1965, p436), with the President Sir Dudley Stamp in the chair:

“The President: Now, finally we come to a unique award. It is the Lady Dorothy Mills Award, provided for under a bequest from the late Dorothy Mills. It can only be presented once and it goes, and carries with it £1000, to Miss Milada Kalab, at present Lecturer in Geography at Durham University. The award is to enable a young woman Fellow of the Society to travel and undertake geographical work, and Miss Kalab proposes to spend a year in research in field-work in Cambodia, where she will study village life and social organization in the hilly areas. The Lady Dorothy Mills Award is thus an award for work which will be done in the future, and not for past endeavour. In presenting this award to Miss Kalab, I give her also the Society’s best wishes for the success of her work.
Miss M. Kalab: Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen: I wish to thank the Council of the Royal Geographical Society for giving me this award and I should like also to express my gratefulness to the late Lady Dorothy Mills for having instituted this grant. I feel very humble here at being the only person who has yet to deserve the award she is getting, and I can only hope that I shall do some worthwhile piece of work in Cambodia. I hope too I shall be able to talk to you about it on some future occasion, and to tell you of some exciting adventures. Thank you very much”.

She in fact reported back to the Society in a paper entitled “Study of a Cambodian village”, which appeared in the GJ, 134(4), Dec. 1968, pp.521-537.

And although we hold four of Lady Dorothy Mills’ own works (monographs) from the 1920s, we do not have any biographical or obituary works on her, so I’m afraid that we cannot provide any further background information on this individual ourselves.

Hope this helps.

Yours sincerely,

Jan Turner
Deputy Librarian

Thank you for your prompt reply, Jan!

I guess it's really no earth-shattering bit of information: Upon her passing in 1959, Lady Dorothy left £1000 to fund some future project by "a young woman traveller who is also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society."

I'm never sure of past exchange rates, or rates of inflation, buying power, earning power, and the like, but I'll wager that £1000 in 1959 went a lot farther than it would today—and it's still nothing to thumb one's nose at these days. It was very thoughtful and foresighted of her to create the one-time award.

I suppose what really surprised me, though, was that she was not formally elected a fellow of the RGS until 3 November 1930, especially since they had been holding several monographs of hers in their collection since the 1920s.

From the point of view of today, it would seem a natural that she'd have been embraced by the Society. I do wonder, however, how her exploits were viewed at the time. Admittedly, they were probably less scientific and more "popular culture" in their overall nature than was perhaps seen as appropriate.
I'll admit I'm uncertain of what the climate of the Society might have been towards a woman who carefully researched, observed, and documented the ancestries, religions, languages, and social customs of the various peoples of coastal and West Saharan Africa for her books—as well as having freely discussed scratching her mosquito bites bloody, wrangling seamy hotel managers for semi-decent rooms, and being forced to wear an embarrassingly silly-looking sun hat around in public in those same texts.

Any thoughts?

[Many thanks to James Wallace Harris ( for the wonderfully dramatic image of Lady Dorothy you see at the top, left!]

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