The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Training of Girls for Professional Life

by Edith A. Barnett.
Volume 5, 1894, pg. 92-98

[Edith A. Barnett wrote books in the 1880's and 1890's about Domestic Economy, Common-Sense Clothing, Home Economics, Fashion, Nurses, Cookery.]

"Happiness comes at the end of work well done; but that is not because the work alters, but because the doing of it alters the worker."

(Continued from pg. 13)

So much for general training, the same for all girls of whatsoever profession. And I have said nothing of school work; I have not pointed out the value of public or of private school, of boarding house or of home life, of classics or science. The fact is, I have little to say. That school is best in my opinion which teaches a girl to be most diligent, most hard-working, most punctual in the affairs of daily life, most greedy of knowledge and most capable of gathering it, least greedy of material reward; which makes her less of a savage, less of an animal and strongest in well-doing. I have only one thing definitely to say, and it is this: girls and boys who have to make their way in the world should not grow up to man's or woman's estate tied to their mother's apron string, nor with their nose continually within the pages of a book. They should go away from home and find their level among strangers while their characters are yet unformed. I think that a serious fault of girls' training often lies here. They have seen nothing of the world until they are tossed into it to sink or to swim. The usages of society make it more difficult for a girl over school age to find her level among her mates; therefore the more reason for not keeping her shut up at home until school time is over. A girl who has spent her time between the day-school and her home is seldom a very succesful woman when the time comes for her to fling down her gauntlet before the world. In my experience, the most successful women are those who have travelled in foreign countries, or who have been sent to a foreign school in their teens; and amongst the most unsuccessful are those who have spent their whole endeavours in working for school prizes and university scholarships.

You will be saying that I have lured you here on false pretences; that I promised an address on the training of girls for professional life, and that I have really talked about nothing but elementary morals and sociology. Not so, I set out to tell you what I think it necessary for any girl to be trained in if she is to earn a good living in any profession; and that is exactly what I have told you now. Teach your girl to be diligent, hard working, punctual, willing and able to learn, conscientious in work, eager for duty and careless for reward, and you may be sure that she will never lack employment nor an income. Put her into what profession you may, you will find that the qualities she possesses are so rare among her colleagues and so much valued by her employers that she will never be left out in the cold when work is slack. Bad times come in every trade, and when they come, the worst servant is discharged first. You are all employers of women's labour; when bad times come to you, and you managed with one less servant, don't you stretch a point to keep the girl who is diligent, hard-working, conscientious, teachable, and scrupulously honest in all her ways? Such servants are unhappily rare? Exactly so; they are not more rare or more valuable in one walk of life than in another. "Godliness has the promise of this life." I wish people could be made to see that it is the possession of godliness, of goodness, that makes the world, hard though it is, a safe place to leave boys and girls alone in.

Now for the special training that every worker must have. It may consist in the cultivation of some special gift, more or less rare; you may wish to make your girl into a pianist or a painter. Or it may consist in the acquirement of some special knowledge, such as law or medicine, or classics, or mathematics; or it may be that you wish only to cultivate some manual skill, such as every woman has in a minor degree; you will be satisfied if your daughter can serve in a shop, can use a type-writer, can cook a meal. They have only one thing in common; training is in all cases needful. It may last over months, or it may last over years. It may cost tens of pounds or hundreds; it may mean severe mental effort or easy manual exercise; but it always means the expenditure or time and of money. The work that can be done without training more than is given to every girl at a decent school and in an average home, is always work that is badly paid and overstocked with workers. When you want a parlour-maid, are you willing to give good wages to one who has never been out before? And yet the chances are that your would-be parlourmaid has had more experience of the work she offers to do than your untrained daughter has had of any kind of systematic work.

Before I go on to speak of this or that training, let me allude to a very common fallacy. Parents, when I ask what training a girl has had, often say: "Oh! she went to an excellent school, she's had a good education." They think that if a girl has been sent to a fairly good school for five or six years she ought to be able to earn her living for ever after. Ordinary schooling is a drug in the labour market. Time was when even an ordinarily good general education was so rarely given to girls that it had a certain market value. And in those days, so little was demanded from a teacher of girls that almost anyone who had been to school could earn some sort of living as private governess. All that is now changed. It is ordained by custom, though not yet by law, that a teacher must have some certificates, and to gain any certificates worth speaking of, some training beyond the ordinary school curriculum is needed. Still, it is no doubt true that the tendency of ordinary school teaching is to breed a perpetual succession of school teachers who in turn produce more like themselves; and the reason why school training is, and is likely to remain, a very much over-stocked profession lies just here.

If the girl did go to an excellent school, she had there general training in good habits of work, but she has not had there any special training. That is yet to come. And I think that even the general training leaves much to be desired unless it has been carried on at home as well as at school. There is a tendency now-a-days to think of school work as the only work that a child must do with punctuality and diligence. That idea once rooted is a real, though often unrecognised hindrance to success in professional life.

The special training, is, in the large majority of cases, better carried on away from home. Of course, if a girl has been away from home before, it may not be so necessary for her to go now. Still, we must not forget that special training must mean the acquirement of new habits, and that it often does mean the breaking off of many old bad habits. It is always easier to take up with new ways among new conditions. And again, women who are launched in the world for the first time, always make mistakes; errors of judgment, faults of temper, rebellion against necessary authority, cause many failures. It is better that those defects should be overcome during training rather than during work, and that they should be exhibited to those whose business it is to correct them, rather than to the public, whose method of correction is that of swift, and often severe punishment. And in those cases where the general training in moral qualities has been neglected, you will see at once that if a grown woman has not learned in all her years at home to be diligent, industrious, and capable, her only chance is to try and learn these lessons under fresh conditions, and that such a woman, if she does not go away from the home where she has been taught so inefficiently, is just courting failure.

In deciding on a profession for the girls, there are many things to be considered; but we should never lose sight of some obvious truths.

1. We know the world as it is now; but the children will have to make their way in the world as it will be when their time comes and our time is over. The world changes very rapidly; it is certain to continue changing. It is no good wasting our money and the children's lives in training them for a profession that depends only on passing fashions, or on customs that are fading away. All other things being equal, it must be better to train the girls to fulfil a need that will last as long as the world does, rather than to minister to a craze that is founded on no fundamental necessity of human nature, a craze of this decade that will be forgotten as soon as the decade is passed.

Let me explain my meaning: you can imagine a society that did not care for wood-carving, nor for church-embroidery nor even for C.C. lectures. Fin-de-siecle [end of century] England does pay its money for all these things, but in less than a decade shall have done with fin-de-siecleism, and shall be face to face with the ideas and the tastes of the young century. But you cannot picture any society in which people did not want their dinners cooked, and their clothes made, and their children tended; and it is not possible to believe that the world will alter so much in your time or mine, that teachers in State Schools will be superfluous, or that doctors of one sex or the other will find no employment. Among the crazes of the present day, is the craze for teaching. Everyone wants to teach; no one is content just to do. Women teach painting because there is no market for their pictures; they teach dressmaking when they can't make a dress; and cooking when they never did a week's family cooking in their lives; and thrift though they never can balance their own petty cash-book. The craze for teaching will of course pass, and bad times are in store for those teachers who can do nothing. My advice to parents on this point is definite; never think your daughters are well equipped as teachers unless they could earn a living at doing the things they talk so glibly about. If they can teach cooking as long as it is convenient, and cook directly there is no teaching to be done; if they can teach dressmaking now, and make their own and other people's dresses as soon as fashions shift; if they who talk so pleasantly about children, can, when the time comes, care for children in the flesh; then you need not worry about future work and wages. There is always handiwork of that sort, and for good work there is always wages.

2. It is wise to put your daughters to work that is only beginning to be taken up by women of education. The girls who go in for something new, while slower witted women are waiting to hear what Mrs. Grundy will say about it; the girls who have pluck enough and character enough to say "This is a profession for gentlewomen because we mean to make it so;" these are the girls who pick up all the best things. The world pays well for courage and enterprise, and the women who have neither go without the wages thereof.

3. Don't rush into the profession that looks from the outside the most attractive, but go rather where there is work of any sort waiting to be done and few to do it. I do not say that you should neglect any decided gift. I only say that decided gifts are not common, and that they are apt to look much larger than they are in the close quarters of home. Many a mother fancies that her daughter has a real genius for painting, or for music, or for writing, or a wonderful voice for singing, when she has really nothing more than a pretty knack of no marketable value whatever. And there are no professions more overstocked than the very few that can be followed by these unfortunate women who have mistaken a pleasant ornament for a marketable commodity. All work is interesting when you learn to do it well, and the top of any ladder is more roomy than the bottom of any, where you must scramble with the rest for a footing on the lowest rung.

There is always room at the top of any ladder; therefore do not go into any profession unless you can get adequately trained for it. If you have little capital, do not choose a profession for which the training is costly and prolonged, nor one in which a condition of success is that you spend an income in keeping up appearances while you earn and wait for your name and fame.

5. In reckoning up the chances of this, or that profession, consider how many years a woman may reasonably expect to go on with her work in it. There are some professions for women very unhealthy, others where the possession of good and youthful looks is a sine quâ non. For some work, an average woman would be incapable at forty; at other work she could go on till she was sixty. Harassing work, work that involves a great strain of mind or body, work that calls for a great keeping up of appearances, is badly paid unless it receives a large salary.

6. The world also, all other things being equal, pays most for the doing of those things that are not sufficiently agreeable or fashionable to tempt anyone to do them gratis. And, other things being equal, the more distasteful work is, the larger are the wages thereof. Of course, work may attract you and repel me, or vice-versâ. But work that is not in itself attractive to the majority of women is sure to be better paid and less overstocked, than work that is so attractive that many women would rather do it than not do it, even if they did not earn a penny piece. You would think it must be unnecessary to point out so simple a fact as this, but I assure you there is nothing I have oftener to repeat when my advice is asked by a would-be worker.

"Oh! I shouldn't like to do this," they say; "and I'd rather not undertake that part of it."

"My good woman," I feel inclined to retort, "of course you'd rather not. Every employer knows that. But you'd rather have the money than go without it. You are to be paid money in order to overcome your reluctance to the particular piece of work that your employer wants to have done. Look at the balance of advantages! Would you rather have the money and the work, or neither? If neither, then don't come to me, and don't expect me to pity your poverty. If you must have the money, take the work, and be thankful that it has fallen in your way. The only kind of hard work that is always pleasing, or appears to be so to those who do it, is the playing of games. You don't go about the world wailing for an employer who will pay you a guinea a day for playing golf or tennis. You are willing to pay for the pleasure of doing that work. You like the work so well that you'll do it for less than nothing, and we may come and look at you for nothing.

"Doesn't any one really like work, then?" says my friend. "Yes; many do after a while, and a few do even to begin with; and I've no doubt that you yourself would enjoy life more if you had occasionally to get up early in the morning and work all day at a job that you hate. But that is one of the paradoxes of life, and you'll never get happiness out of work if you set out on a straight road to look for it. Happiness comes at the end of work well done; but that is not because the work alters, but because the doing of it alters the worker. And the happiness does not come at first, perhaps not for a very long time. At first it is tolerably certain that an idle girl will hate the discipline of steady work, no matter of what kind. That is the natural and the fitting punishment for what a distinguished writer on education and heredity has called "the fundamental immorality of the idle." But to idleness and to industry more perhaps than to any other vice and virtue does the old proverb apply: "He who finds pleasure in vice and pain in virtue, is still a novice in both."

There was no Number 4 in the original article.

Typed by happi, July 2018; Proofread by LNL, May 2021