William Fraser Mitchell (1900-1988)

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William Fraser Mitchell (1900-1988) was a personal assistant to Sir Godfrey Hilton Thomson (1881-1955), Bell Professor of Education at Edinburgh University, and a great benefactor to Edinburgh University Library.

Early Years and Edinburgh

Mitchell was born in Dundee in 1900. He was educated at Dundee High School, then at Edinburgh University, where he graduated in English in 1922. He went on to Exeter College, Oxford, to research English rhetorical preaching in the seventeenth century. He was awarded the degree of B.Litt., and subsequently published English Pulpit Oratory from Andrewes to Tillotson: A Study of its Literary Aspects (1932). After Oxford, Mitchell studied Education at Edinburgh University and Edinburgh Provincial Training Centre (later Moray House College of Education). Here he became personal assistant to Professor Sir Godfrey Thomson (1925-1951).

Later Career

After a temporary post as Lecturer in English at Armstrong College, Newcastle, he was appointed Lecturer in Education at the University of Reading in 1928 where he remained until 1944. A secondment to Farnborough Grammar School as an English master was followed by his appointment as Professor of Education in the Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham, where he instructed teachers of religious knowledge, missionary teachers, overseas student teachers, Froebel students, and youth leaders. With the closure of the Department of Education at Selly Oak in 1951, Mitchell took a post as Assistant Lecturer in English at Huddersfield Technical College, but in 1955 he returned to the Midlands to take part in the establishment of the Malayan Teachers' College in Wolverhampton. There, three hundred students flown over from Malaya were trained for secondary school teaching. He then returned to Huddersfield Technical College for a time, was a Lecturer at the University of Sheffield, 1957-1958, and until his retirement in 1965 was an Assistant English Master at Colne Valley High School.

Research Interests

In addition to his study of comparative education, religious education and comparative religion, Mitchell developed a research interest in the life of the polymath James Burnett, Lord Monboddo (1714-1799). When he retired to Dundee, he took up his research again, generously sharing his findings with fellow scholars, and involved himself in church work.


Mitchell was a gifted minor poet, publishing the collections Off Parade and Other Verses (1919), Cobweb and Mustard Seed (1928), and A Slim Volume (1960). There are many poetic manuscripts in Edinburgh University's Papers of Professor William Fraser Mitchell (see below).


Mitchell gifted many of his collections to Edinburgh University Library during his lifetime, and at his death bequeathed his research papers and a large sum of money for further purchases of books and MSS.


All or some of the text on this page originally appeared in the Gallery of Benefactors