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Saturday, 5 April 2014

Educating Girls in Jane Austen's time

Educating girls in Jane Austen’s time

Ackermann's repository 1810

Before I get started, it needs to be pointed out that the vast number of girls were not educated at all.  Those of the lower classes gained such education as was felt they required at the knees of their mothers, learning cookery, childcare, budgeting and shopping skills, cleaning and other housewifely skills by observation and helping from an early age.  Some might have attended charity schools where basic literacy, good plain sewing, the catechism and gratitude to whoever provided the lessons were pretty much the only subjects on the curriculum.

For wealthy girls, it was a different matter; and the gentry and wealthiest girls probably had a governess, who, like Jane Fairfax in ‘Emma’ was expected to teach them etiquette, embroidery, literacy skills, basic numeracy, history, French, music, and if she was a superior sort of governess, she may have taught painting, geography with globes and Italian. However, even so, many girls still learned only how to read, do household accounts, needlework, and how to bore visitors with their dutiful and mechanical piano exercises. 

Some such young ladies might be fortunate to be sent to school, to meet with others their own age, and to attain an education from more than one specialist preceptress in a wider range of subjects than might be expected to be attained from the lone governess.  This would usually, however, be more likely to be the recourse of the new middle classes, hoping to teach their daughters sufficient refinement to suit them to marry up, or the gentry, or, as in ‘Emma’ , in the case of the unfortunate Harriet, a means of respectably disposing of an illegitimate offspring who might then at least have the skills to suit her for genteel employment as a governess.
Jane Austen only details one such school; that of Mrs. Goddard, in the aforementioned ‘Emma’. 

Mrs. Goddard was the mistress of a School--not of a seminary, or an establishment, or any thing which professed, in long sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirements with elegant morality, upon new principles and new systems--and where young ladies for enormous pay might be screwed out of health and into vanity--but a real, honest, old-fashioned Boarding-school, where a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price, and where girls might be sent to be out of the way, and scramble themselves into a little education, without any danger of coming back prodigies. Mrs. Goddard's school was in high repute--and very deservedly; for Highbury was reckoned a particularly healthy spot: she had an ample house and garden, gave the children plenty of wholesome food, let them run about a great deal in the summer, and in winter dressed their chilblains with her own hands. It was no wonder that a train of twenty young couple now walked after her to church.

We may see from this that Jane Austen considered that there were two kinds of school; those which taught vanity, in effect, in emphasising only the skills required to catch a husband, and doubtless the ability to assume ‘attitudes’ would be on the curriculum as well as Accomplishments like playing various instruments and watercolours, to show off to would-be suitors. 
Mrs. Goddard’s school, on the other hand, seems to have taught good basic subjects to the sort of girls who might well need to make their own way in the world, or who were being educated under the principle of educating a girl to educate a family.  Mrs. Goddard seems to be a caring woman who placed the health and happiness of her girls above any other consideration.  We may, today, raise eyebrows at the expected incidence of chilblains, but in the last days of the mini ice age, when the only heating was by coal or wood fires, and insulation was essentially non-existent, and fashion did not permit girls to wear heavy boots, chilblains were a fact of life.  And very unpleasant they are too, both itching and sore at the same time.  Mrs. Goddard’s school also provided for those inconvenient daughters who were not wanted at home for one reason or another, like Harriet Smith.

Harriet Smith was the natural daughter of somebody. Somebody had placed her, several years back, at Mrs. Goddard's school, and somebody had lately raised her from the condition of scholar to that of parlour-boarder. This was all that was generally known of her history. She had no visible friends but what had been acquired at Highbury, and was now just returned from a long visit in the country to some young ladies who had been at school there with her.

A parlour-boarder was a superior sort of boarder who did not sleep in a dormitory with other girls, but in the Head Teacher’s own house or quarters, in her own room.  She was permitted, in many cases, her own maid, and other privileges.  I suspect that some parlour-boarders may have been heartily disliked by other boarders, jealous of their privileges, especially if they gave themselves airs.  Harriet’s natural modesty suggests that she managed to maintain friendships despite becoming a parlour-boarder, which led to other girls remaining friendly enough with her to invite her to their home in the country. 

Ackermann's repository, 1818, I like the pinnies! I suspect they were nothing new.

The advantages of school education were not solely those of companionship and a wider variety of lessons; it was also cheaper than hiring a governess.  A school teacher or a governess might command a wage of £100 per annum; typically a boarding school cost 30g.[thirty pounds and thirty shillings, or £31/10].  Some charged less as a basic fee, but then charged for extras, as at this seminary in Essex, taken as are the other excerpted adverts, from The Female Preceptor, Essays On The Duties Of The Female Sex, Conducted By A Lady, volumes 1813 and 1814 being available on Google books.
Witham, Essex
A Female Seminary is conducted at the above place; by Miss Woollaston, who pays particular attention to the health, comfort, and improvement of her young charge.—Terms, for general instruction, 24 Guineas per Annum.—Entrance One Guinea. French,  Italian, Latin, Music, Drawing, Dancing, each Four Guineas per Annum.—Geography, with the use of Globes, two Guineas per Annum. Writing and accounts, Ten Guineas per Annum.—Washing, 12 shillings per Quarter.—Terms, for Parlour Boarders, 24 Guineas per Quarter.
The curriculum might run from the extremely limited as in this school in Bromsgrove, despite its big build up…

Bromsgrove, Lickey, Worcester
This Seminary, conducted by Misses Allbutts,  possesses peculiar advantages. The Parents of the Misses A. have, for many years, with unsullied reputation, conducted a Boarding School, on a very considerable scale, for Young Gentlemen. Solicitous for the advancement of their daughters’ Education, they have, for a considerable time, availed themselves of the assistance of a Governess of great talent, and qualified masters for the various branches of polite literature.  Having passed through the regular routine of education, at the request of friends, they have established a Female Boarding School for the reception of ten young Ladies. Terms—Twenty Guineas per annum—comprising Board; English; Geography; plain and ornamental Needle-work. Entrance One Guinea. Parlour Boarders—Thirty Guineas per annum.
…To the more lavish, albeit with something of an agenda [though a diligent education of what is due to God is also advocated by  The Female Preceptor, Essays On The Duties Of The Female Sex, Conducted By A Lady.]
Hungerford, Berks
The above Seminary is conducted by Mrs. and Miss Pocock, and MissPrice. Mrs. Pocock’s exemplary piety has been very prominent in the religious world for many years. Anxious to inculcate the principles of Christianity into the tender minds of the rising generation, early piety is affectionately recommended, while no accomplishment is overlooked which can render the young persons amiable and happy. The system of instruction comprehends English grammatically, the varieties of Needle Work, Writing and Arithmetic, Geography, and the Use of the Globes, History and Botany.
Terms: Thirty Guineas per Annum, (Board included) for those Young Ladies above Ten Years of age;  for those under Ten, Twenty-five Guineas.  One Guinea Entrance. Washing Two Guineas per Annum; French, Drawing, and Music on the usual Terms. The House is commodious, with extensive Gardens and Walks.

I rather like the sound of this one:
Ponder’s End, Middlesex
At the above place, Mrs. Tyler had established a Boarding School for Young Ladies. The situation is healthy; and being so contiguous to the Metropolis, to those Parents who reside in London, and prefer having their children near them, this Seminary is likely to prove a considerable acquisition. The Terms—-30 Guineas per annum— has comprise the English and French Languages, History, Chronology, Mythology, and every kind of Needle Work. Music, Dancing, Writing, Arithmetic, and Geography, with the Use of the Globes, are taught by the most approved masters, on the usual terms. No entrance money.
Mythology implies a look at the Classics!  I am not entirely sure what ‘Chronology’ might entail, however, unless it is considering History as a contiguous whole, rather than merely learning History as an episodic pudding of knowledge as is traditional in English education. 
The usual terms, by the way, appears to have been 4g [£4/4/-] per annum for extras.  Which classes are the extras appear to be those mentioned after Needle Work. Interesting that Arithmatic was an extra!
Some schools were able to offer extras as a result of their location, such as this one:

More Seminaries, Schools, Academies and so on may be found at Susanna Ives excellent blog at 
or at this or this link, the 1813 and 1814 volumes respectively of The Female Preceptor, Essays On The Duties Of The Female Sex, Conducted By A Lady.

A young lady would also be instructed in such essentials in life as how to behave in public, or as here, from , how to acquire and keep a husband, from the 1813 volume:

On Promoting Matrimonial Happiness
The most likely way to obtain a good husband or to keep one so is to be good yourself. Never use your lover ill, whom you design to make your husband, lest he should either upbraid you with it, or return it afterwards; and if you find at any time the inclination to play the tyrant, remember these two lines of peace and justice:
“Gently shall those be rul’d, who gently sway’d
Abject, shall those obey, who, haughty, were obey’d”

Avoid, both before and after marriage, all thoughts of managing your husband. Never endeavour to deceive or impose (as some do, very foolishly) to try his temper; but treat him always beforehand with sincerity, and afterwards with affection and respect.
Be not over-sanguine before marriage, nor promise yourself felicity withoug alloy: for that is impossible to be obtained in this present state of things.  Consider, beforehand, that the person with whom you are going to spend your days is a man, and not an angel; and if, when you come together, you discover any thing in his humour or behaviour that is not altogether so agreeable as you expect, pass it over as a human frailty; smooth your brow, compose your temper, and try to amend it by cheerfulness and good behaviour.
It goes on a bit, but in general the advice is fairly good, and if taken by men as much as women might make for happier marriages nowadays too; bearing in mind we have free choice today to make our mistakes, but that many of the misses in Regency schools might have marriages arranged for them, or have a limited choice offered out of those suitors considered eligible. 

The reason I am considering deeply the concept of schools is because of that Charity School series I mentioned a couple of posts back,  to be found HERE
This opens in 1809, a few years before the information in the above volumes, but I have also seen an advert for a seminary with very similar terms in 1797 at an annual rate of 25g [£26/5/-], so I think it unlikely that much would have changed in the meantime. 

And here’s the opening of it:
Chapter 1

            “In short, Miss Fairbrother, you are, a, er, very wealthy young woman indeed,” declared Mr Embery, the solicitor, regarding his client over his spectacles.
            He saw a wan young woman, lying on a chaise longue. Elinor Fairbrother gave every appearance of elegant ethereal lethargy, with pale face, pale, almost silvery blonde hair, and a pale grey silken shawl around her shoulders over the customary white muslin dress. The shawl was a hasty concession to mourning, since Elinor’s father had succumbed to an inflammation of the chest caught whilst hunting, and ignored by that erratic gentleman.
            “I had never expected to outlive father,” Elinor’s soft voice contains the stunned surprise she still felt. “Mr Embery, as it is likely that I will not survive him long, I must make provision.”
            “Come, come, my dear young lady,” said Mr Embery, without conviction.
            “Mr Embery, my mother, my aunt, and my three sisters have all died of heart disease before they were thirty years old. I am now twenty-two and I cannot but begin to contemplate my mortality. I have no living kin; so do you not feel that it would be eminently wise to contemplate making a will?”
            “Well, since you put it that way, Miss Fairbrother, I quite concur,” said Mr Embery, “but to whom might you leave such a large sum? An income of eight thousand pounds a year…”
            “I know, I am not devoid of intellect, it means two hundred thousand pounds in the funds at the current interest of four percent,” said Elinor, knowing that it was rude to interrupt, but resented the slightly patronising tone that had crept into Embery’s voice.
            “Ah … Quite,” said Mr Embery. “A considerable fortune. Your late father….” He tailed off.
            “My late father terrified you by speculating on the Exchange, but only ever taking reasonable odds,” said Elinor. “I know, for in more recent years I helped him make his choices.”
            “Good God!” said Mr Embery, shocked out of his mind that a pretty young lady should be capable of such a thing.
            “I’m not sure that the Almighty had anything to do with it,” said Elinor. “I’d have said that a bold spirit and good choices were more to the case, but let it go. Some luck was involved.”
            “Er… Indeed,” said Mr Embery. “Well, I shall leave you to consider what you, er, went to do in terms of, er, future dispositions of your fortune.”
            “Oh, I know that,” said Elinor. “It is something I had been considering asking Papa to do. I want to set up a school.”
            “I – I beg your pardon?” Mr Embery was shocked once again. “My dear Miss Fairbrother, why?”
            “Because I value the education that has enabled my weary days mind down to be whiled away by the joys of reading and learning,” said Elinor, calmly. “And I should like to see the same joys bestowed on other girls. But I wish to help those girls who are, through no fault of their own, left orphaned and indigent with no relatives able, willing, to care for them. Those girls who have never expected to be left in such straits, who are forced to become superior nursemaids if they have not the education to become governesses, who are even forced to enter service. And I suspect that there are worse things that might happen,” she added. “Papa was not mealymouthed.”
            “No, indeed,” said Mr Embery, dryly. “You wish to squander your hard-won fortune on a bunch of orphans?”
            “Oh, hardly squander, I think,” a hint of steel was in Elinor’s voice. “I have been fortunate in my very erudite governess, Miss Freemantle, and I should like to see other girls educated to offer the same excellent services as she has done for me. And as head preceptoress, she will then be assured a job when I die, as well as an annuity which I should wish to arrange.”
            “Dear me!” said Mr Embery. “You, er, appeared to have thought it out very, er, clearly.”
            “Yes, I have,” said Elinor. “I intend to remove my living quarters to a small portion of this great pile of a house, and fit the rest out as an orphanage, which will mean I have no need to go searching for other premises. The rooms are large, so when there are large classes they will be quite sufficient. The ballroom will be available to teach dancing, as any governess should be able to pass on the steps to her charges, and the air here past Richmond is clear and healthful.”
            “Good God!” said Mr Embery again.
            “What is more,” said Elinor, with a martial light in her eye, “I plan to begin on a small scale so that I may enjoy some of the fruits of my endowment before I pass on. I shall be able to do so quite readily on my anticipated income, and will proceed to advertise for half a dozen orphans. I am aware that I shall require more staff, and I also intend to make the effort to visit Dame Hannah Rogers’ model school set up on her endowment. She did not see how well it has flourished: I intend to live long enough to see my school blossom.”
            Mr Embery took refuge in cleaning his spectacles vigourously.


  1. Interesting start; I look forward to reading the remainder of Elinor's Endowment. As for the fascinating adverts......I suspect many, if not most of them advertised more than they were capable of providing efficiently and effectively

  2. Haha, Helen, you are probably correct... and that's different to free schools of today as promulgated by Mr Gove in what respect? or a lot of private schools I suspect, too... I had to grin at the number of ads which showed a huge list of subjects and a note thrown in almost as a by-the-by that most of them cost an extra 4g...