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THE EDUCATION OF GIRLS,
DEVELOPMENT OF GIRLS' HIGH SCHOOLS
MISS F. GADESDEN.
In the paper which I have the honour to read to you this afternoon I propose to deal with the education of girls, and its development through public day schools during the last 50 years.
The questions of elementary education, technical education, home education, class education do not come within my scope. As regards the last point, most happily for us, all our High Schools receive, and rejoice to receive, girls of all classes. The whole matter of admission is settled broadly on the grounds of the ability to profit by the curriculum, and of good behaviour.
In a High School all the girls are on the same footing; all enjoy the same privileges, and all are expected to share in the common responsibilities. This is the basis of a Public School education.
To begin with the History of the movement for the better education of girls:-Miss Zimmern, in the "Renaissance of
Girls' Education"-a book which I commend to all who desire information on the subject-gives an interesting and in some respects a pathetic account of the condition of things in the first half of the century. She tells how Miss Frances Power Cobbe, in her autobiography, compares the education of her own time unfavourably with that of the end of the 18th century. "Then," Miss Cobbe writes, "there was no packing the brains of girls with facts." Besides "Grammar and geography and a very fair share of history" (Rollin and Mrs Trimmer), they learned to speak and read French with a very good accent, and to play the Harpsicord with taste." On the other hand, at her own school, in 1836, the girls were expected to learn pages of prose by heart and to practise showy and tasteless music, to copy pencil drawings, and to dance. "Not that which was good in itself or useful to the community, or even that which would be delightful to ourselves, but that which would make us admired in society was the raison d'être of each requirement. Everything was taught in the inverse ratio of its true importance. At the bottom of the scale were Morals and Religion, and at the top were music and dancing."
Miss Zimmern quotes also from Miss Catherine Sinclair's "Modern Accomplishments."
"Lady Howard's utmost ingenuity was exercised in devising plans of study for her daughter, each of which required to be tried under the dynasty of a different governess, so that by the time Matilda Howard attained the age of 16, she had been successively taught by eight, all of whom were instructed in the last method that had been invented for making young ladies accomplished on the newest pattern."
At the end of the 18th century there may have been no system; but if Lady Howard is at all a type of the mothers of the first half of the 19th, there was among them no lack of desire to benefit their daughters, and no hesitation in trying new methods. But the desire and experiments were rooted in ignorance and prejudice, and no real advance was made.
On the actual condition of the teaching and discipline in a school of this period, much light is thrown at first hand in the very entertaining diary of a school girl published in the current number of the "Modern Language Quarterly."
The girl was Miss Elizabeth Firth, the great friend of Mr Patrick Bronté and his wife, and the godmother of Elizabeth and Anne Bronté. The school was at Wakefield, and was one of the most noted of its day. It was kept by Miss Richmal Mangnall, the famous author of "Mangnall's Questions."
The diary covers the last two years of Miss Firth's school
The "ladies," they are never called girls, and they all, except the very naughty ones, have the title Miss before their surnames,—are divided by age into the "great ladies" and the "little ladies." They read, or had read to them by Miss Mangnall, "The Lay of the Last Minstrel," "Rokeby," and the "Vicar of Wakefield." That was their Literature.
They had geography on the globe, with latitudes and longitudes.
The diary gives these records:
"Our Class of geography were two hours looking for the Emperor of Persia's name. My governess (presumably Miss Mangnall) told us it was Mahomet."
"My governess told our class of geography that if we did not know the rivers off we might go away. They all went but myself, though some of them knew them all."
"We had a brain-day in Geography,"-when the ladies had a viva voce examination the day was distinguished as a "Brainday"-"I had seven mistakes, which was the least of any one." The writer was rewarded for her proficiency in geography by the gift of an inkstand from Miss Mangnall, and of a silver knife from her teacher.
There is only one reference to English History:
"I got the names of the Kings of England"-(no mention of the queens).
But she also notes that "She began of reading ancient history."
French and Drawing are dismissed very briefly.
I began of painting my roses."
The backbone of the education at Miss Mangnall's Academy was evidently-Geography, Spelling, the Church Catechism and Verses. And the spelling of the diary is by no means faultless.
"We had dictionary excused. Several of the ladies were sent to bed for missing at spelling. Those who did not lose walked in the ring field." "Miss Fayrer gave 270 words of dictionary for poking; I had ten." Miss Firth's deportment appears to have been as good as her geography!
"Miss Ropers were sent to Coventry till they could say their Catechism. Some of the ladies had the Epistle and Gospel, twenty-eight verses, for writing on their desks."
The teaching was evidently entirely that of facts, and these, as in the instance of Mahomet, reputed by Miss Mangnall to be King of Persia, were not always distinguished for accuracy!
Of the moral tone among the "ladies" and the absence of training in honour and unselfishness and public spirit, the diary is significant.
Miss Mangnall's pupils were evidently very naughty. They were greedy, noisy, and untruthful. They stole each other's cake, they gossiped and raised evil reports about each other's characters and the characters of their nearest relations. They fought with each other.
For all these delinquencies they are punished severely. They are made to suffer the indignity of wearing a dunce's cap and have papers pinned on them, describing their faults of omission and commission. They are whipped and sent to bed with or without their tea.
But there is no indication of any attempt to distinguish between faults of manner and morals. The "ladies" are
rewarded by having good things to eat. They are punished indiscriminately for telling fibs and stealing and "ippertinance" and putting their feet on the fender.
Oct. 30th. "There was a petticoat about, and we were not allowed to wash till after supper, and threatened with twenty verses if it were not owned. It was not owned." The diary is dramatically silent as to what happened next. Perhaps, as on another occasion, they were "whiped" (spelt with one p) for obstinacy!
One may assume that Miss Firth turned out a charming woman in spite of the education which she received. Brilliant exceptions there doubtless were, but is it any wonder that the majority of the girls brought up in such a moral atmosphere should have gone back to their homes selfish, prejudiced, and helpless, with no object beyond their own pleasures, and no appreciation or understanding of their duties, and of obligations to themselves and others? This is a type of a school which provided for the rich daughters of England. For the poorer there was no provision at all.
Between 1830 and 1850 "Reform" was in the air, and amongst the questions raised was the education of girls.
By 1852 the conviction had been brought home to the supporters of the "Governesses Benevolent Institution" that if women teachers were to be self-supporting they must be competent; and to this end they must be educated. Classes must be formed-tests of knowledge and competency must be instituted. A sum of money was collected by Miss Murray, one of the Queen's Maids of Honour, and devoted to this purpose. Some of the distinguished professors of King's College offered their help; among them were Professor Maurice and Dean Trench and the Rev. Charles Kingsley. Before long a house in Harley Street was taken for the purpose of "holding classes in all branches of female learning," and Queen's College was started. The organization was in direct imitation of King's College, all the professors receiving a pro