The Ladies College at Cheltenham
c. October 5-10, 1865 — National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, Sheffield, England
I may take it for granted, at least in this Association, that the question has no longer to be argued, whether education, in the fullest sense of the word, is desirable for girls, but that the aim is simply to discuss what methods are best. One great object of such associations is, to bring into activity and render available for the good of the community, all resources hitherto comparatively unutilised, acting upon the conviction that nothing has been created in vain. Hence we believe, that if woman has been endowed with mental and moral capacities, it was intended that these should be cultivated “for the glory of the Creator and the relief of man’s “ and improved estate ;” that we are bound to render to Him both thanks and use.”
And here let me at once say that I desire to institute no comparison between the mental abilities of boys and girls, but simply to say what seems to be the right means of training girls, so that they may best perform that subordinate part in the world to which I believe they have been called.
First, then, I think that the education of girls has too often been made showy, rather than real and useful — that accomplishments have been made the main thing, because these would, it was thought, enable a girl to shine and attract, while those branches of study especially calculated to form the judgment, to cultivate the under standing, and to discipline the character (which would fit her to perform the duties of life), have been neglected; and thus, while temporary pleasure and profit have been sought, the great moral ends of education have too often been lost sight of.
To the poorer classes the daily toil and struggles of their early life do, to some extent, afford an education which gives earnestness, and strength, and reality ; and if we would not have the daughters of the higher classes idle and frivolous, they too must be taught to appreciate the value of work. We must endeavour to give them, while young, such habits, studies, and occupations, as will brace the mind, improve the taste, and develope the moral character. They must learn, not for the sake of display, but from motives of duty. They must not choose the easy and agreeable, and neglect what is dull and uninviting. They must not expect to speak languages without mastering the rudiments; not require to be finished in a year or two, but impatiently refuse to labour at a foundation.
The object of the following paper being to elicit not only a theoretical but a practical answer to the question proposed in this Department, I will speak as briefly as possible of the matériel principles and method pursued in our college.
I am sure it is but little suspected by many, how greatly the mere rudiments of education have been neglected, whilst a fair external show has been made. experience. I must premise that it is my practice, when a pupil enters, to ask her to write on some historical or geographical subject. I set an easy sum in the last rule which she professes to have learned, and give a few tenses oi‘ French verbs, &c., as the case may be. These papers, for the last few years, I have carefully preserved, and arranged them according to the age of the writers. I will not speak of those written by junior pupils, from whom of course we expect many faults, but take those written by pupils above 15 years of age; of these I have 47. I turn first to the arithmetic, a subject professedly taught in all schools, with what success you will judge by the following table:
We next take the French, a study which, in a girl’s education, occupies an important place, and may therefore fairly be considered a test. Three were not to learn the language, and we may charitably hope they were perfect, for only three out of the remaining 44, were able to write correctly the few tenses set. One of 17 years old, and another 15, failed to write a single word correctly; nine failed, even in “avoir” and “être.”
Lastly, as regards English spelling, I think there are only five of the 47 papers which contain no error, four are marked as very bad, five as bad in this respect. We must remember, too, that these errors appear, not in a dictation containing difficult selected words, but in a few lines written on a given subject.
Those who are unacquainted with our college will of course think that our pupils must come from a very low class. To show that this is far from being the case, I add a list which I drew up from our nomination book, a few months ago, for Her Majesty’s Commissioners.
I have a set of papers written by girls much younger in St. Paul’s district school here, which are greatly superior.
Certainly, if we looked for brilliant results, we should be discouraged, and the difiiculty of teaching pupils of 15 to 18, who are ignorant of the rudiments of an ordinary education, and yet could not be taught in a class with those many years their juniors, is very great; it obliges us to have a large stall‘ of teachers, so that they may be instructed in that which we must take it for granted is known to the class.
We may well ask how is such a state of things possible? How is it that the daughters of the higher middle class are more ignorant and untrained than the children of the national schools? I think one cause is that parents have too often trusted, when they should have inquired ; they frequently spend from £100 to £200 a year on sending their daughters from home; during the holidays they hear the piano, they see the drawings (not always the pupils’ own) but how often do they institute any inquiry into the progress made in any other branches; or, if unable to undertake it themselves, how rarely do they care that there should be a system of examination to see whether the work is properly done. They are afraid of popular outcry, afraid of the excitement, afraid that their children should take a low place, forgetting that (if the examination be con ducted without any of the improper excitement of publicity) it is also a test and means of moral training, since those who work from the right motives simply do their best, and are not over anxious about results. I do not desire that there should he a system of competitive examination, but a general testing of the work done, and if this cannot be responded to in a quiet lady-like manner, it does not speak well for the moral training of the school.
Another cause is that girls are often placed in an inferior school, or under incompetent governesses, or allowed to work in a desultory way until they are 14 or 15. Plans and governesses and schools are changed for a passing fancy, and then they are sent to one with ahigh reputation, this it is thought will be enough for them, “as they are not required to be learned ladies.”
I ask whether a boy educated on this plan would be good for much; would he or would he not be likely to have acquired habits of lazy self-indulgence? And is a girl so trained likely to prove a diligent and wise and thoughtful woman?
Lastly, a girl, usually leaves school altogether, and too often throws aside serious occupations at an age at which her brother enters on his college life. When she is just beginning to see the use of she previously found: dull and monotonous, when, much had more than at any previous time, a taste for good reading and useful pursuits might be developed.
Before proceeding, I may perhaps presume upon my somewhat wide educational experience to say something upon the relative advantages of the home, school, and college system. For some years I was educated by governesses at home, I have been at school In London and Paris. For one year I was head teacher in a boarding school of 100 pupils; for seven years I was teacher at Queen’s College, London; for seven years I have been principal of the Ladies’ College, Cheltenham. Both in London and on the continent, especially in Germany (where it is most usual for the pupils to live at home and attend school) I have taken every opportunity of inquiring into different systems, and my verdict is decidedly in favour of the college system, that is to say, when, and only when, the internal arrangements of the college, and the moral training of the pupils are in the hands of a. lady. Of course I must expect to be regarded as a prejudiced person, but it does seem to me that a systemwhich combines home life with school discipline, which brings a girl into contact with many, without necessarily making her the intimate companion of any, which gives her opportunities of observing character before she is called upon to judge in the battle of life, whilst parents are able to correct what is wrong, and so confirm what is right in those judgments, must be one more generally suitable than either of the others.
Of course when children are educated at home, and an anxious mother daily sees and suffers from her children’s faults of temper and disposition, she will be tempted to think she had better give up the training into other hands, and send them away. Doubtless this is sometimes wise, often unavoidable; but how frequently, without necessity, is the burden of parental responsibility temporarily cast aside, only to press with tenfold weight in later years. How many parents have learned bitterly to regret that they removed a daughter from the divinely appointed influences of home, and severed by long separation those bonds of affection which might have checked the young in the hour of temptation, and been the support and comfort of their own declining years.
Should there be no college in the neighbourhood, still I consider that the college system offers greater advantages than a boarding school usually can, when the boarding-houses are such as we have endeavoured to make them. Too often in a school, the mistress, fatigued with the morning’s teaching, is glad to leave the children alone, or to the care of inexperienced teachers she is ignorant of what goes on during the greater part of the day. The lady appointed by the council to be the head of the boarding-house, has the morning hours free, but she is required to devote herself to the care of the pupils whenever they are not at the college.
Either she herself, or one of the college governesses, invariably accompanies them to and from college. She has to see that the hours of preparation are observed, and that exercises and lessons are properly prepared. I need hardly add that she must be a lady in manners and education, and willing to consult and co-operate with the principal in all things relating to the physical, intellectual, and moral good of the pupils. I by no means maintain however, that our system is suited for all without exception; when I find one for whom I consider it unsuited, I am the first to desire her removal.
And here I may perhaps notice a few points in which I consider the college system offers advantages, and some in which ours differs fundamentally from other ladies’ colleges. First, we take many precautions before admitting a pupil, and the council exercises a double veto.
First. A shareholder is liable to be balloted for; when he has a share he may nominate one pupil, but only subject to the approval of the council. A nomination paper must be sent in stating the name, address, and profession of the father, giving references, &c.; if the council are not perfectly satisfied, the child may be excluded.
Secondly. The college, although governed by a committee of gentlemen, as regards internal administration, strictly under female management. When this not the case, the manners of the pupils must suffer; besides, there are innumerable apparently trifling details, which are yet important in girl’s education; many lessons of daily life that only a woman can teach.
Thirdly. An institution of this kind can offer guarantees for the character of the education given, which private institutions cannot and can secure the services of gentlemen who would not spend their time in private teaching.
Fourthly. The members of the council having no pecuniary interest, are simply anxious for the good of the institution; they have no views of profit, and are therefore always ready to make grants to the full extent of the income for any object likely to improve the education or the efficiency of the college. They endeavour to secure the services of the best teachers they give them by capitation fees an interest in the success of the institution, and they select annually examiners of the highest character to examine and report upon the instruction given.
Fifthly. In large institution girls are enabled to measure their own powers in a way impossible in home tuition, and thus much conceit is rooted out; and when the moral tone in school is high, an influence for good exercised, and the character strengthened.
Sixthly. Where the constitution fairly good there can be no question that the regular walks are beneficial to health, and the objection as to going backwards and forwards, at first considered so serious, now much loss frequently heard.
I must now add a few words on the special constitution of our college, and some warnings suggested by experience. First, the machinery of proprietary colleges somewhat complicated, and liable to get out of order. Thus for example, if the shareholders agitate, when measure does not at once commend itself to their judgment, they may interfere with the efficiency, and endanger the existence of the institution. Secondly, none must attempt to carry out reforms in education, unless they have faith enough in their own system to work on quietly for a time, in the face of popular opposition, and unless they have capital to fall back upon.
The capital of the college at its opening, January, 1854, was about £2,000; in December, 1858, the estimated assets, as shown by the balance-sheet, were £901, giving a loss of £1,100 during the first five years, or an average deficit of £220 per annum.
During the first two years after my appointment the average deficit was about £91, and the assets were reduced by December, 1860, to £719. The council then decided to raise the terms, and this, together with the gradual and steady increase in the number of pupils, has placed the finances in a satisfactory condition. The average number of regular students has been as follows:
The assets last December were £1,646, showing an average sur plus on the last four years of £232 per annum.
There are altogether 150 shares held by 107 shareholders, who have the right of nominating one pupil upon each share, and attending the annual meeting. The executive council is appointed by the general meeting, and consists of a president, vice-president, and seven members. Any vacancies occurring in the course of the year are filled up by the council, and the appointment must be confirmed at the general meeting. The council has the entire control of the finances, the reception or rejection of nominations, the appointment or dismissal of teachers, and all that relates to the external government, and to the admission of pupils.
The principal is responsible for the internal government, with which the council never interfere, and although the council appoints teachers, the principal recommends ; in other words, the council merely reserve to themselves a veto.
The pupils are arranged in three divisions, and on their entrance it is determined by examination to which they shall be assigned.
There are nine regular English teachers, one French governess, and one German. Lessons are also given by professors in natural science, astronomy, English literature, physical geography, English language, French, drawing, music, and dancing.
To avoid the vexatious extra charges which often form so large an item in school bills, the council have made the terms inclusive of all subjects which belong to the course of study and are suitable for class teaching. The only extras are, therefore, music, singing, and dancing lessons. The terms for Division I. are 22 guineas; for Division II., 17; and for Division IlI., 12.
Division I. includes four classes. The average age of the pupils is from 15 to 18 or 19; it usually contains nearly 40 pupils; last year an average of 39. The majority of these take the ordinary course of study, but others, for whom regular school routine is no longer necessary, are allowed to select special subjects. The upper and lower first are under the immediate care of the principal ; the upper and lower second, of her sister. Division II. contains six classes, the pupils varying in age from about ll to 16. Division III. contains two classes of little children from about 6 to 12.
Each governess has the sole management of the one or two classes assigned to her, not only to carry out the general discipline of the college, but to make herself acquainted with the character and abilities of each of her pupils, and to meet any special difficulties as far as may be. Thus, one may be backward in French; in that case she is not allowed to join the German class, but extra French work is giveninstead. Another may not wish to learn drawing; the vacant hours will then be filled up by some other study. Another, being backward in English, ‘but forward in French, it is arranged, if possible, for her to attend a higher class. Another, not being in good health, or being less quick than others“, is unable to accomplish as much as her companions, and some one study is dropped.
Every variation from the rule is entered in the time-table given to each pupil by her governess, and thus there is as much care and thought given to each as there would be in a small school. Of the evening time-tables I will speak presently, but I may perhaps add here that every parent is specially requested to inform the principal should the work given appear to be too much. Whenever this is found to be the case, the amount is diminished. When pupils were required to attend twice a day, and prepare their lessons in the evenings,complaints of this kind often occurred; now they are scarcely ever heard.
I have only to a small extent assigned special subjects to special teachers, but rather kept to the public school plan of committing to the care of one teacher, say, on an average, 12 to 20 pupils (in Division I. sometimes more, in Division III. always less). The class governess has of course assistance in drawing, French, and German. She invariably gives the Scripture lessons, and is responsible for the intellectual and moral condition of her class; in all cases of difficulty she consults with and appeals to the principal. Her pupils are immediately under her eye. A general supervision is however exercised by the principal; she rarely leaves the school room, where nearly all the classes are assembled, and her attention would be attracted by any irregularity, or want of submission and attention.
The pupils below Division I. are brought into immediate contact with the principal by receiving from her, besides occasional lessons and examinations, a Scripture lesson once a fortnight, and she is kept informed of the character and work of each pupil by a frequent inspection of the exercise-books (which are brought to her by the class governesses once a fortnight) and by reading each week, in the presence of the pupils and the class teachers, the marks obtained.
And here I may say, that we regard the education of these children as worthy the best efforts of our minds, and not as mere routine work.
This I would impress not only on my coadjutors here, but upon all our profession. The physician, the barrister, labours at his work, and thinks no effort too great to promote the benefit of those who consult him; but our office has been despised, and the training of children has consequently suffered. To sit so many hours in the schoolroom has too often been considered sufficient, whilst the labour of thought has been evaded, and reading neglected.
We have no punishments, in the ordinary sense of the term. Too often, when arbitrary punishments are attached to certain offences, a child learns to regard the punishment or fine as in some sense a compensation — to think she may disobey, provided she is willing to pay the price. Our punishments are, as far as may be, the necessary consequence of a fault of omission or commission. Thus for example, if a lesson is imperfectly learned, we do not add to but there necessarily follows the trouble and inconvenience of preparing at another time, as the teacher has no leisure to hear again during the morning hours; the delinquent must go to the principal, and write her name in a book kept for the purpose; she must return in the after noon, take her place in a certain set of desks, and remain there until Or again, confidence forfeited by an place assigned, not in any way prominent, but still more immediately under the teacher’s eye. This is felt, and rightly, to be a serious matter, for it expresses that the child not trusted. She knows that we cannot trust one who has given us cause for distrust, until indeed, time has shown repentance and she knows we cannot pretend to trust when we do not. The special treatment of moral offences, such as falsehood and willful disobedience, is a subject on which cannot enter here. Of course, in every case, we lay the matter before the child, show the wrong and its consequences, and believe, when the teacher really in earnest and cares for the child, that such a conversation rarely fails to have the right effect. We generally find we can, without punishment, bring the pupil to acknowledge and repent the wrong; but child, after repeated attempts, still found not to be trustworthy, it is better she should leave.
Except the prizes assigned by the examiners once a year, we have no tangible rewards. The weekly marks are simply read. They have no influence upon prizes, nor even on place in class, which given once for all at the beginning of quarter on the marks gained at the written examination.
Once a year however, prizes are given to the pupils in each class who obtain from the examiners the highest number of marks. was opposed to this custom, did not think necessary to make pupils work, they seemed as earnest and painstaking before prizes were given as since. felt was better they should work from the love of knowledge. or simple sense of duty; but the council took another view, and as there much to be said on their side of the question I yielded. In life, prizes must be to a great extent the reward of thoughtful industry, and it seems to me that on the one hand we may thereby teach the children to put success at its true value, and point out to them that it is at the bar of our own conscience alone that we must stand approved or condemned; that on the other hand they may learn to bear disappointment patiently. I do not find that prizes create any feelings of jealousy or ill-will, nor can I blame a child who looks forward with pleasure to carrying home to her parents this proof that she has tried to do as they would have her. It appears to me a matter of less importance than is usually supposed, and in any case can affect only a few pupils at the head of a class. Stimulants to exertion however, are rarely needed. There are very few who are not interested and earnest in their work, and our difficulty is more frequently to check too great zeal, and to insist upon the observation of those limits we place to the time devoted to study than to demand more.
Reports of attendance, progress, and conduct, are sent home quarterly, and upon these are also entered from the “late and return books” the number of times a pupil has failed in punctuality or brought a lesson imperfectly prepared. The little children of Division III. take home a book of their marks every week. As regards the details of instruction, I may perhaps mention some special points; first, as already said, nearly all the classes are held in one large schoolroom, it is 69 by 30 by 18; it opens at one end into the dressing-room, through which the pupils enter, and at the other into the dressing-room, through which the pupils enter, and at the other int a supplementary room (20 by 30), where drawing and calisthenic lessons are given. This large room is lighted by 16 windows, it is heated by hot air, but there are also two open fire-places which help to change the air, and several ventilators. The rooms look upon the garden and south-west, thus the aspect is warm, but in summer we are not troubled with the morning sun. Besides these rooms there is one in which the first class often assembles, one specially devoted to the little ones, and four used occasionally.
The hours are from 9:10 till 12:55 for all, except during November and December, when the classes meet later. A few minutes’ interval is allowed about ll o’clock; the junior classes take a turn in the garden if the weather permits; in all cases the lessons arc so arranged as to afford sufficient rest and variety, e.g., all have a calisthenic lesson twice a week ; part of another morning is devoted to drawing; music lessons make a change from the class teaching, and the younger pupils have also some needlework. The afternoon hours for preparation of lessons (except on half holidays) are from 2:45 till 4:15. Two governesses are always in attendance, and all whose parents prefer it may, without extra charge, prepare their lessons at college. Many who live near do so, others are glad to be spared the fatigue of returning. Those who are backward in any particular subject, those who require “finishing,” and have no good foundation laid, those who require teaching how to learn, are glad to come. All who have returned lessons are necessarily present, but occupy different seats.
We take advantage also of the afternoon hours to pursue special studies not included in the regular course, e.g., Latin and Greek. There are also music lessons and extra drawing lessons, sketching classes out of doors, or concerted music classes.
To return to the morning hours. Every pupil has one particular desk assigned to her, in which she is always to be found, except when in class; her seat is always near her class teacher; great quietness of manner and voice is insisted on, and as there are some times nine classes going on at once, this is strictly necessary for the community, as well as desirable in itself; having her pupils around her the teacher has ample opportunity of observing their conduct, of checking faults of manner, &c. During school hours, and in the dressing-rooms, no speaking is allowed without permission. To those unacquainted with our college this rule will probably appear absurdly strict. I had at first many doubts about its expediency, but I have found it valuable.
First. It is a great means of teaching self-restraint; and surely one thing that women should learn is “to keep silence” when they feel inclined to speak. Second. It helps to form a habit of strict obedience, of conscientious regard for little things. The rule would be dangerous, if permission were not granted within ‘reasonable bounds, but it prevents gossiping, and enables girls to attend a large school without being exposed to the temptations often incident thereto.
Those who prepare their lessons at home are provided with a card, on which the evening work for each day is entered. It is arranged by each class governess at the beginning of the quarter, and the approximate time required is entered — it is then sent home to the parents, who supply the hours at which the preparation is to begin and finish. The hours fixed may of course be departed from at the option of the parents if necessary, but the card forms a guide, and we desire to be informed should the time spent in preparation muchexceed or fall short of that assigned such alterations are then made as may be considered necessary. A dawdling child is perhaps invited to come in the afternoons, that she may learn how to work — something may be taken off the work of one who is naturally slow, and greater excellence or more work is required from those who are too rapid. As regards the lessons given in school, they are not strictly lectures in geography, history, &c., some book is taken as a guide, the pupils are thoroughly examined on the passage set, and the teacher then proceeds with the lessons, giving as far as possible the results of recent travels, the most important points from voluminous histories, &c. In the higher classes notes are some times taken, and the lecture written from them ; sometimes the pupils are not allowed to write during the lesson, but a few heads are given, and the subject worked out from these. The notes of every lecture, as well as all exercises, are thoroughly corrected, and signed by the teacher responsible for the correction. For Euclid and the theory of arithmetic no book is allowed, lest the proposition should be learned by heart-the pupils, are as far as possible, led to find out the demonstration for themselves — should they be unable, it is given viva voce, and written in the teacher’s presence; it is understood, butonly new pupils are found to yield to the temptation of saying “Yes when they do not understand, as this method is sure to bring ignorance to light. German is made with us to occupy in some degree the place which Latin takes in a boy’s education. Great attention is paid to the declensions and grammar, interlinear translations are written, and a pupil who betrays a tendency to inexactness, is required even in the higher classes to construe.
Every one must have a word-book, and enter those not known; in the higher classes this is divided into three columns, one for the word —the second for the derivation or root — the third for the English; before the translation lesson is begun, the teacher ascertains whether these words have been learned. For pronunciation certain small portions, usually of poetry, are selected, and repeated by the teacher until the pupil has caught the accent; a few lines treated in this careful way are more useful than many pages read in the ordinary manner. Exercises are written as usual, and corrected by the teacher, who marks a number against each fault. Before writing a fresh exercise, the paper is folded in two — in one column the sentence in which a mistake has occurred is copied correctly, the words that were wrong are underlined, and the number of the fault written against it — in the other the rule that was broken is written out.
A portion of a lesson is devoted once a week to the explanation of those faults which are not the result of carelessness. The difficulty of taking a study by no means universal, as a principal subject, has been to a great extent obviated by fixing what are called simultaneous hours, so that pupils from various English classes can attend the same German. The regular class teachers assist, both with French and German.
Spelling and arithmetic are the two subjects which perhaps cause us most trouble, owing to the almost incredible deficiencies of pupils who come to be finished. The plan we pursue is the following. We give dictation scarcely at all, and then only after preparation, since writing a word incorrectly for the first time is very likely to fix it in the memory. \We let young children copy a good deal from books; the middle classes learn poetry by heart, and write it from memory once or twice a week; this teaches them, besides spelling, habits of greataccuracy, attention, and neatness. Throughout the college, to the very highest class, every pupil who makes a mistake in note-books, examination papers, &c., is required to write out one column of the word misspelt. In difficult cases, special private lessons are given in the afternoons, or at spare times, on derivations.
In order to make sure that the lessons are understood, it is our practice, in all except the lowest division, to give every week a written examination in some one subject. This we find most useful, but it involves a great deal of labour to the teacher. It gives the pupils facility in composition, and since they are required to write on subjects in which they are interested, it teaches them the value of exact knowledge, for vague sentences are valued at less than nothing; also it shows the teacher how far she has been understood. An hour is always devoted to the giving out and thorough criticism of these examination papers in the presence of the class, and errors of matter, style, and spelling are dwelt upon. Every quarter, throughout the college, there is a general examination, which lasts a few days. Every year external examiners are appointed, as before mentioned.
Music is taught in the usual way, by private lessons; but there are also classes for the practice of concerted music, to which only advanced pupils are admitted. There may be from 4 to 12 performers, two to each piano; thus the pupils are enabled to obtain an intimate acquaintance with those works of the great masters (as Cherubini, Bach, Haydn, &c.) which are usually performed by an orchestra, and this promotes also, decision, accuracy, and facility in reading. Twice a year we have a musical examination, i.e., each pupil is required to play some one piece in the presence of her companions and as many parents as wish to attend; no strangers are admitted.
Drawing is taught from copies and models. Frequently in the course of the summer sketching parties are formed, and lessons given by the master out of doors. Once a year drawings are submitted to an examiner, and prizes awarded; but no drawings are sent in which have been touched in the slightest degree by a master.
We have a room specially fitted up for calisthenic exercises, and an experienced teacher attends two mornings in the week. This we consider very important for the health of growing girls.
In conclusion, I sincerely hope that the inquiry into the important subject of girls’ education, which has been instituted by the Royal Commissioners, and the discussions of this Association, may be productive of much good. I believe that all who have any real acquaintance with the subject see the necessity for some sort of inspection, and differ only about the mode. I do not think the plan for admitting girls to the same examination with boys in the University local examination a wise one; the subjects seem to me in many respects unsuited for girls, and such an examination as the one proposed is likely to further a spirit of rivalry most undesirable. I should much regret that the desire of distinction should be made in any degree a prime motive, for we should ever remember that moral training is the end, education the means; the habits of obedience to duty, of self-restraint, which the process of acquiring knowledge induces, the humility which a. thoughtful and comprehensive study of the great works in literature and science tends to produce, these we wouldspecially ‘cultivate in a woman, that she may wear the true woman’s ornament of a meek and quiet spirit. As for the pretentiousness and conceit which are associated with the name of blue stocking,” and which some people fancy to be the result of education, they are only an evidence of shallowness and vulgarity; we meet with the same thing in the dogmatic conceit of the so-called “self educated man,” who has picked up learning, but has not had the benefit of a systematic training and a liberal education.
I am sure that a great reform is needed, I believe that the faults of manner and character which some imagine to be the evidence of over-education, are the results of ignorance, and that in well educated women, as in men, we shall find the results -of a right education to be gentleness of manner, unselfishness, humility, and a more cheerful and entire obedience to rightful authority; not pride of intellect, but a subduing sense of the great responsibility which all God’s gifts involve.
I fear we have but small cause for self-gratulation when we look at the kind of literature most in demand at our lending libraries, and remember that girls are the greatest readers of sensation novels; but little cause for saying we need no reform when we look at the revelations of domestic life in the newspapers. As a mere question of bodily health too, I am sure the subject demands consideration; for one girl in the higher middle classes that suffers from over work, there are, I believe, hundreds whose health suffers from the feverish love of excitement, from the irritability produced by idleness, frivolity, and discontent.
This subject —I mean the influence of a right education upon bodily health — merits more consideration than it has hitherto received, and it is now attracting much attention in Germany. It is argued that since mental emotion in some cases is able to produce death, in others disease, and in all of us temporary functional disturbance, then we are acting unwisely in attacking the symptoms only; we must “minister to the mind diseased.” I will not add more on the subject now, but commend it to the consideration of the section.
It has been well said that every teacher ought to be a physiologist, for while on the one hand a system of overtasking the powers cannot be too strongly deprecated, on the other serious evils (especially in the case of girls) have resulted from a hasty recommendation to throw aside for a long period all study, when a temperate and wisely regulated mental diet was really required. I am persuaded, and my opinion has been confirmed by experienced doctors, that the want of wholesome occupation lies at the root of much of the languid debility of which we hear so much after girls have left school. The two are closely connected: mens sana in corpore sano.
I have wishes, in conclusion, to say something on the subject of female education in relation to its historical aspects, but I will only quote the words of one who has thought far more deeply and laboured much longer in the field than I have done.
“There are a few endowed schools where girls are fed and clothed, and taught to read and write indifferently; and a few schools have been lately established and maintained by public subscription where orphan girls can obtain superior instruction; but the numerous foundations of ancient endowment for the religious and intellectual education of young females, scattered over the country in the middle ages, were all swept away at the dissolution of religious houses in the sixteenth century. The great ecclesiastical foundations for men were reformed and re-established on an improved system, but the rich endowments for the benefit of women were either seized by court favourites or transferred to schools and colleges for men, and our sex to this day have not recovered from the fatal blow. For a few years the women educated he women educated in these ancient schools added lustre to the England of Elizabeth. “ Their French might be the French of ‘Stratteforde atte Bow,’ rather than that of Paris (and perhaps they were none the worse for that), but their acquirements kept pace with those of their brothers. The next century witnessed an eclipse, and the ignorance of the following ages led, by an easy descent, to the profligacy of many succeeding generations. It is only since the accession of Queen Victoria that there has been any encouraging prospect of revival. I most heartily wish success to all who are willing to befriend the good cause of superior female education, which was an object of my heart’s desire in the last century, and was the dream of my early childhood.“
Source: Transactions of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, Sheffield Meeting, ed. George W. Hastings (London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green) 1866, pp. 274-287.