The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
I. THE INFLUENCE OF NURSES
It is nearly thirty years ago that I was asked to write or say something on the subject of the influence of Nursemaids on the children on whom they had charge. A friend of mine who lived at Kensington, told me of what she saw and heard when walking and sitting in the Gardens, and so strongly did she feel as to the importance of the matter, that she wrote a letter to the Times, in the hope of bringing it before the notice of parents and guardians.
In consequence of her representations I was induced to write a small volume, which also gave my own observations, made during many years in various parts of the country, when I have had ample opportunities of watching the kind of care which is bestowed upon children by those who are entrusted with them.
This little book was intended chiefly for nursemaids, and has long since been out of print. But on hearing of the efforts now being made by the "Parents' Educational Union," I could not help hoping that some attention might be bestowed on this matter, surely of the highest importance if we believe that education includes the training of every part of a child's being and character. I am not, of course, alluding in the following remarks to nurses of mature age and families with whom they live, and no one can appreciate the services of such more highly than one who had the benefit and privilege of such a nurse and friend, who lived her whole life in the one family to whom she was devoted. But a large majority of the families of the middle-classes have no such servants as these, and commit their children to girls or young women of the lower classes, who have probably been "dragged up" in much the same methods as they are now practising upon others.
The first point which struck my friend (who used to take out her own little boy for exercise) was the neglect and indifference shown by these nursemaids; if the children were in perambulators they were left in sunshine or shade as it might happen, contented or crying mattered not, so long as their attendants were amused by gossiping or reading some foolish paper or novel. But my experience goes far beyond neglect, and I am convinced of the terrible mischief, as well, done to those under their care, sometimes amounting to cruelty; often and often have I sat on the same seat at the seaside and elsewhere with these so-called "guardians," and listened with sorrow to the continued system of threats and scoldings carried on, generally quite unheeded by those to whom they were addressed, and, therefore, calculated to harden and demoralise their sense of duty and obedience, for they well knew that none of the threatened punishments would ever follow upon their disobedience. The vulgarity and low character of the conversation carried on with their friends was within hearing of those for whom it was most unfit, and often has the thought occurred to me, if only the mothers could know and hear what goes on during these long hours, surely they must feel the danger of such intercourse, wholly unchecked and unguarded as it is; but as they cannot witness what goes on out of their sight, they do not know and they do not think about it. When first I heard of the suggestion of "Lady-helps," it was with satisfaction and hope that the invaluable influence of women of education and conscientiousness would in great measure replace the class of which I had such long and sad experience, but I am unable to say how far the experiment has been successful, probably only in the limited sphere of the upper middle classes; but, wherever separate nurseries are found for the children and their nurses, with whom they would also have their meals, there would seem to be no insuperable difficulties, as many young women would be glad to take the salaries now offered to a lower class. But the chief solution of the difficulty would appear to lie in a more efficient training of those who are to take care of children, and, if this could be given to girls of the lower classes, their inefficiency might in great measure be overcome. Could the care of young children be given more generally to girls in schools, as part of their teaching, invaluable good might be done, not only to the children of the upper classes, but to the next generation as well. At a time when "training" is the word most frequently heard, when we may almost consider it to embody the Zeitgeist of the present time, why should it not be adopted for this most important of all work? Trained nurses are being called for on all sides, trained teachers for the young of all ages and classes; people are no longer considered to be "born" dully competent for any duties or calling, but in all and every profession the training for those who are to exercise it, whether men or women, is imperatively demanded, and rightly so, for they can no longer compete successfully with those who have acquired it.
We hail, therefore, with joy the plans that are being carried out for the practical work of life in Colleges and Homes of various kinds for young women, and we would only urge the most essential duty for them, the care of young children, should be brought more prominently forward than it is already.
That the evils of which I wrote so long ago no longer exist, I cannot flatter myself is the case, not only from my own observation, but from that of others. Only quite recently I have been asked by a friend living at Kensington to reprint my little book, for she witnessed still the same grievances of which I wrote, and her heart was grieved to see and hear what went on of cruelty and mismanagement of children, even from her own house and garden.
Much is said and written in these days to awaken mothers to a sense of their duties towards their little ones; and much also is done to try to enlighten and educate them up to the present-day standard both of hygiene and morals.
But in the many publications which undoubtedly give so much real and invaluable counsel to mothers, I have failed to find any allusion to one of the greatest hindrances mothers have in carrying out the excellent advice and rules laid down for their guidance in nursery matters--I mean THE NURSES; and being a mother in middle life, who has had no little experience, I feel that a warning voice ought to be lifted, and a helpful hand extended, in this direction. The advice given by "Baby" is delightful, but we mothers need the problem solved as to how these theories are to be turned into practice.
We know a mother's first duty is to "live," as Froebel suggested, both "for and with our children." But in the higher walks of life, where the mother has many social claims and the duties of her position to fulfil, it is simply impossible for her to live with her children. To do this she must be herself head nurse; whereas she has to be also her husband's wife, the entertainer of his guests (forming acquaintances and friendships in the great world which must affect her children's future career), the head and mistress of the household, which may consist of five or fifteen or fifty servants, and the "virtuous woman" who would fain be "a crown to her husband," must "look well to the ways of the household" as the wisest of the kings advised. Or again, a mother may be delicate and physically unable to be in and out of her nursery, as she fain would be (and could be in a country home), owing to the impossibility of mounting the steep stairs of a town house. It is for the mothers of these classes we would plead.
Within the last week the following instances have been brought to my notice, illustrating this point very practically as occurring where neither expense in procuring "experienced" nurses, and providing sufficient nursery help, was spared, nor parental love lacking.
(a) A child, let fall by a nurse, after a time developed trouble in the leg. First-rate medical help was obtained, and the child was sent to the coast with three nurses, under strict orders that the foot must not touch the ground, and must remain in its splints, &c. The doctor coming in unexpectedly, found the child crawling about on the floor, splints and bandages off, the wound exposed--result, disease and amputation. Little comfort here in the heirship to broad lands, to riches and titles.
(b) An idolised baby, in charge of a head nurse (at £50 a year, with wet nurse and nursery maid), left alone in the park with the wet nurse; and at nights the nurse herself out for hours, and when at home entertaining men at supper in her nurseries.
© A little child dying; the doctor discovers it is the third attack of inflammation brought on by a head nurse's "hardening" process of giving the little one cold baths.
(d) A little boy's knees grazed through nurse dragging him up a set of stone stairs, half wrenching out the one arm by which she held him, and bumping the tender knees on every step.
(e) A visit paid to two children in lodgings (left summer by summer in the care of a "most excellent, trustworthy" head nurse and her assistant) disclosed the suite of rooms utterly unventilated, and the smell of stale perspiration in the sitting room and from the unaired beds positively indescribable.
(f) Three children, aged three, four, and five years, bathed in a bath with one ewerful of cold water--two nurses kept.
Time would fail to enumerate the cases of drugging little babies (here again we fail to trace any allusion to this most common practice in the aforesaid books and magazines, or any hints given as to how it is to be suspected and detected); of falls, wrenched arms, deafened ears, dimmed sight (caused by exposure of infant eyes to strong light, whether of fire or sun)--the absolute cruelties to which the upper-class children are exposed, and to which any careful observer in Kensington Gardens could bear witness, and yet no Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children steps in to protect them; the sunstrokes occasioned by the laziness which will carry no parasol over the fragile infant's head (although often it is held well over the nurse's own).
The HABITS (to the formation of which Miss Mason has so well referred in "Home Education") which are being formed in the nursery, of untidiness, unpunctuality, dawdling, daintiness about food, messiness in eating, untruthfulness, deceit, disobedience to authority (illustrated by nurse's own breach of nursery rules and mothers' wishes), disloyalty, absence of respect and due consideration for others (exemplified in the want of punctuality for a meal or a carriage, and in the permission of unrestrained noise in the nurseries over the heads of still-sleeping parents as soon as the children are up themselves); laziness, inculcated by the late breakfasts allowed in nurseries, varying from 8 to 9 a.m.--(thus entailing late going out, and but little time in the fresh air). In short, the hundred and one matters which are all dead against the higher teachings of the new Parents' Education scheme, and which cannot be altered without continual friction, fighting, and open or secret rebellion, as the experienced nurse "knows her business," and does not "allow any interference in her nursery," and the children are either threatened and frightened into not repeating what is done to them, and how they are neglected, or laughed out of "being such little telltales as to go and tell mother everything," and sometimes (if mother be delicate) their tender feelings are worked upon "not to go and worry poor mamma, who is so poorly and has such headaches."
Let mother's car be open at all times to the cry of her little ones, even as the Heavenly Father hears the young lions and the young ravens when they cry, and seek their meat from Him.
And once more--with bated breath would we utter it--the formation of those habits of secret sin (of whose existence mothers, alas! are utterly in ignorance, but of which, physicians, philantropists, the managers of Idiot and Lunatic Asylums, are too painfully aware). Sins which, as one of the greatest philantropists of the day has said, are "far more rife in the nurseries of the great
Meanwhile, why cannot cultivated intelligent young women of a superior class take to the nursery as a profession, rather than a crowd the ranks of governesses--that great army of the unemployed who have not been educated up to the requirements of the present-day standard of Higher Education, but who are superior in mind and training, and, above all, in morals, scorning to deceive, or tell or act a lie, or to disobey or be disloyal? Such would indeed be true mother's helps. Not, be it understood, the so-called "lady nurse or help" who declined to "do anything menial" (all practical work coming under this convenient category), requires extra servants to be hired to do the actual work of the nursery for her; but the sound-minded, practical, common-sense woman who has a head on her shoulders and uses her brains, who delights to use her hands and feet and to make herself a real help-meet in the home to which she has come, and can, in some measure, take a mother's place in the nursery, at all events the place that a mother fills in the poorer ranks of life where she has to be mother and nurse in one--or has only the assistance of a young untrained nurse-girl. There is an almost endless demand for such young women who will fully qualify themselves for the post, and comfortable homes, good living, and pay from £20 up to £80 a year, according to their qualifications, awaiting them. *
III. THE NURSE VERSUS THE MOTHER
According to J. S. Mill, in his famous essay on education, by it we ought to mean the training requisite to equip a child most adequately for the struggle of life. Working people, and others of limited mental range, talk vaguely of "a good education," but we generally find, on inquiry, that they think of what is taught in school, of that technical acquaintance with the rudiments of knowledge which the School Board and the Board School take care of. And it is curious to notice how a working mother's sense of responsibility often limits itself to the material wants of the child. Food and clothing she supplies, poor woman, as best as she can; but the urgency of daily toil so engrosses her attention that the idea of the ordinary family life shared by parents and children being in itself an education, never crosses her thoughts. The parson christens the baby; in a year or two it can toddle to the infant class of the nearest Sunday school (she knows it is taken care of, and taught to say or sing hymns), and later on, perhaps, a catechism comes in. Then the Board School, with its five hours of mental tension and technical discipline.
"Home influence" ought to keep pace with outside "education"--never superseded by it. The home atmosphere forms the child into the man; the education acquired at school is an outside environment. They bear the same relation to one another as a picture to its frame, an embellishment more or less appropriate; desirable, certainly, but not absolutely indispensable for the toiling thousands who must earn their bread by the labour of their hands. For them, even more emphatically than for the classes above them, "a good character" is the essential element of success. The mother keeps the key of her child's conscience; her influence moulds its daily habits of life.
Next comes the middle-class household--a wide word, embracing alike the bank clerk or the curate with his £200 a-year, and the prosperous merchant or shopkeeper with his comfortable thousands. Under rather different conditions we find the same ideas, the same procedure. The nurse, the nursery-governess, the kindergarten, later on, the expensive boarding school, are supposed to have all care and responsibility about the child. Let us talk first about the nursery. Let us supposer a very common example. A cultivated, refined young mother, the wife of a doctor, lawyer, or merchant, is absorbed in the "struggle for existence" quite as much as the woman of the peasant or artisan class. The actual bare necessities of material existence do not clamour for her, it is true, yet her mind, her time, her powers, are absorbed in the race for social distinction, the wish to make a good appearance on her husband's income, often, let us hope, too, on his account and for his advantage. The children have a large, airy, nursery, and a well-paid nurse. As soon as they can sit at table, they have midday dinner with the mother, and perhaps, later on, enjoy half an-hour with papa, the pleasure being considerably shadowed by nurse's threats and admonitions about sashes and white frocks. For the rest of their time they are entirely at the mercy of a woman who may have the temper and the cruelty of a fiend, and yet satisfy all outward requirements taking care of the health and physical comfort of the children. I do not hesitate to affirm that, as a rule, the nursery life of most children is unhappy, because artificial and unnatural. There are many difficulties and inconveniences in the way of children sharing the family life as early an age as possible, but it is their rightful heritage, and to deprive them of it in the way I have indicated is to surrender the dearest privilege of humanity to conventional prejudice or custom.
In passing let me say a word with regard to "Nurses." Years ago, when a child myself, I witnessed a curious scene in our nursery! Late at night I was awakened by the sound of blows and cries; our nurse was beating one of my brothers with a stick, and he was begging for mercy. It was characteristic of nursery discipline that I never attempted to interfere, nor even thought that nurse could be wrong, and not till my brother told me, some days later, why this violent woman had thus attacked him, when helpless in bed, did it occur to me that we had better appeal to my mother.
A monthly nurse once told me that in a certain nursery, in Lancashire, she noticed a child of three years holding its arm in a constrained attitude and not using it. The child screamed piteously when dressed or undressed, and was slapped for doing so. The monthly nurse insisted on examining the limb, and found the upper bone of the little arm both fractured and dislocated, hanging useless in its socket. The doctor assured the family that it had been caused by a wrench or a blow, inflicted more than a week previously! Then it all came out, how the head nurse drank, and abused the poor children in her fits of fury.
Another woman destroyed a boy's reason by the following method:- She took him every day to a large public cemetery, where frequent burials took place. He was told to look into the grave and see how deep it was, and then threatened with being buried alive. Night after night he sobbed himself to sleep, thinking always of his probably fate, and at last a few days brain fever finished the little history. We all hear such tales, and are shocked and grieved, but do we ever think of the unnatural, artificial, nay, rotten state of family life which they disclose. It is--it must be--impossible for the parents to be in constant loving intimacy with their little children where such things go on under the common roof.
Surely it can be remedied. The same defect is at the root in all classes of society. The working mother abdicates in favour of the Board School; the fashionable mother puts her infants out of sight in nursery and schoolroom--and all the time, every day and hour, the child is changing, developing, forming, but unnaturally and abnormally. I repeat it. The danger of our time is the narrowing of family life and weakening of family feeling by a strange failure in the same sense of parental responsibility. People are only lately beginning to discuss heredity, and all that is involved in the term. The destinies of the nation may be, today, folded up in the careless hands and light hearts of young mothers and father, who regard their share in God's heritage of children, either as an unwelcome burden, or simply as the amusement of a leisure hour.
IV. TRAINED NURSES
As Dr. Parker has freshly expressed it, "Childhood in itself is little; but it is a quantity which is always growing, and upon the parents alone rest the responsibilities of directing its growth." As no general would ever dream of letting his army be drilled by men who had themselves received no military training, so it behooves parents to choose sergeants specially educated in the great work of training the young, so that when the soldiers go forth into the world to fight the battle of life they find themselves armed at all points and are able to withstand temptation and fight well and valiantly in the cause of purity and right, because that has been their habit form their earliest days.
This is more recongnised at the present moment in Germany than in England. Far be it from me to say one word against the faithfulness, the devotion and patience of our English nurses. I even feel that their want of mental education lends them greater physical strength to battle through the first year or two of a child's life. The fine brain would feel exhausted after a run of sleepless nights.
We will first briefly refer to the system as at present worked in Germany, and secondly state what a trained nurse must be and know.
Kindergarten schools in Germany are private establishments, and, with the exception of public schools for the very poor, are not under State control. They therefore differ in management according to the wishes and idiosynscracy of the head mistress. A girl who wishes to qualify as a kindergärtnerin enters one of these schools, and for a nominal fee of three to four pounds works there for six months. She receives both practical and theoretical training, under the supervision of the head mistress, teaching in the school during the day and in the evening attending classes. At the end of six months the kindergärtnerin must pass a severe examination, and is then placed in a class. So highly do the Germans think of these trained nurses that an ordinary nurse is very seldom now to be found in the better families. One consequence is that the demands has opened out a new career for gentlewomen, many being daughters of doctors, clergymen, architects, and some are even of noble birth.
Secondly:--What a kindergärtnerin must be and know. She must study physiology, psychology, the telling of tales, and must write down the duties of a kindergärtnerin, so that in future life she can constantly re-read them and refer to them.
To show the high sense these nurses possess of their calling we will read a few of these rules, all of which resemble beautiful mosaics.
1. The duties of a kindergärtnerin are holy and high. What are they? She must develop all that is noble and good in her children. She must form the character and the soul, and train the understanding. To be brief--the child is a man in the miniature, and must be formed in the image of God. This lies in her hands, and she can do all this. From two to seven years of age the child is as soft as wax; it absorbs everything; it learns what is good easily, but also what is evil. Whether a child becomes good or bad depends altogether on the influences brought to bear on him before the school training begins. Therefore, the most important factors in a man's life are his parents and his nurse. Every child imitates what he sees--this is his nature, so that what they see daily and constantly copy, becomes in time a habit either for good or for evil. That a kindergärtnerin should always remember the holiness and importance of her undertaking is her first rule.
The second is that she must always remember that she is an example to her child.
The third is that she must never do anything the child ought not to see--for instance, make faces, behave badly at meals, or use wrong words: remembering always that the child is a small copy of his nurse.
These are the first rules showing the kindergärtnerin what she must be. There are altogether twenty-six dealing with this subject.
What a Kindergartnerin must know.
You must, therefore, not show distrust to a child, though appearances may be against it. At the same time the teacher must not pass by this want of truthfulness in a child, because if she is wanting in care, the habit of loose feeling about the true and the false will lead to conscious want of veracity, and if neglected may ruin the character and life of the pupil. The kindergärtnerin will, if she knows her children well, soon learn to distinguish between self-deception and the conscious untruth. Whereas she will be lenient to the former while not neglecting it, she will in the latter case be as severe as possible; and above all point out to the child the unworthiness and evil of untruth, and the harm it can bring to others and himself.
12. Children must be respected and must show respect. The kindergärtnerin must never give way to herself or allow her moods to master her. She has not idea how quickly the child perceives, how keen are its judgments, how soon he sees her weaknesses. One of the ways to show respect to children is, that we never have them out of sight whether we are at work or occupied in conversation with others. If we must ta;l, we should always place ourselves in such a position that our eyes rest upon them, and they know it. Their will is then strengthened to do right and to abstain from wrong-doing. The consciousness that they are not under the magic influence of the eye tempts them to do things which they know are not permitted.
The object of this paper is to make parents long for more efficient helpers to work under and with them. The can now get some little idea of the high level the kindergärtnerin works on, and if our existing kindergarten schools in England would consent to train gentlewomen, there is no reason why every English child should not be better equipped for the struggle of life. Remember Carlyle's words about a little child: "Good Christian people, here lies for you an inestimable loan, take all heed thereof, in all carefulness employ it; with high recompense, or else with heavy penalty, will it one day be required back."
[It is with some regret that we insert the foregoing protests. Considering the casual way in which mothers must pick up their nurses, the wonder is that these turn out so well on the whole, and often so much better than could be expected. During the last few weeks we have had occasion to visit five different families in which were young children, and in each of these homes the mother has spoken of her nurse with confidence and grateful affection, adding, in three cases out of five, "She has been with us since the birth of my first baby." But the fact that there are good nurses as well as bad, and the good are commonly those who allow themselves to be trained by the mothers, does not affect the grave consideration that the health and character of the future man or woman depends to an incalculable extent upon the nurse of the infant. This being so, the nature of the influence exercised by the nurse is not to be left to the chapter of accidents. "Vera" is a little displeased with educationists who leave the preparation of nurses out of sight. Let us remind her that a "House of Education" was part of the educational scheme we launched rather more than a year ago. Two parts of the scheme, the "Parents National Educational Union" and the Parents Review, are already so far in successful operation that we may venture to promise the "House of Education" in the near future. We cannot yet unfold fully the scope and methods of the "House of Education" but one of its functions is the training of nurses. We shall invite women of some refinement and education to come to us for a year's training. They will leave us, we hope, with what we shall venture to call the "Enthusiasm of Childhood," with such a knowledge of elementary physiology and the laws of health, of a human nature, and of child nature, with such moral training and religious feeling as shall fit them for the most sacred and responsible of all tasks--the rearing of an infant. They shall have, too, practical training in the duties of a nursery; shall learn endless employments and amusements for the children; and shall be made familiar with the common objects of the country which every child should know. They shall learn, also, that loyalty and deference to authority are the first duties of those to whom the training of children is entrusted. The details of the work will be laid before the public in due time. Meanwhile, we should be glad to hear ** from
* The writer will be happy to answer any communication bearing upon the subject of this article, if addressed to the care of the Publishers.
** Through the publishers of the Parents' Review--Messrs. Kegan Paul, Trench Trubner & Co., 1, Paternoster Square, E.C.
Typed by happi, June 2017
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