The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Our Work: "Our Girls"

by Miss Theedam
Volume 11, 1900, pgs. 338-339

Scarborough--On March 22nd, by the kind invitation of Mr. and Mrs. E.A. Cooper, Miss Theedam read a paper on "Our Girls." Miss Theedam dealt with the training of girls in every stage of life, laying great stress upon the early influences of the nursery and of the importance of the choice of nurses, &c., strongly advocating special training for this work. The paper was most excellent, and set before us high ideals of training and culture. Mrs. Edward Wallis afterwards spoke of the way in which mothers can help their daughters when they leave school by devoting a special care to training them in many ways which only experience can teach. The meeting was a very large one, nearly fifty being present. Mrs. Cooper presided.

--On April 7th, by the kind invitation of Miss McLean, B.A., a very interesting talk was given by Miss Constance Thomas, pupil of Mme. Osterberg, on the "Scientific Physical Training of Girls." It was pointed out that the object of this education is: (1) The harmonious development and solidity of muscles; (2) Strengthening the nerves; (3) Improving and strengthening the circulation. The system aims at the fewest possible movements with the greatest possible result, and the extreme accuracy insisted on inculcates a sense of truth, then of courage, finally, common sense. From common sense and courage combined, we derive presence of mind, and the knowing what to do, and doing it. The system is a means, not an end, and the object is to help the mind to gain the victory over the body. Miss Thomas was most kindly and ably assisted by eight students of Mme. Osterberg's system, who gave a very interesting exhibition of some of the exercises employed.

Following is the paper on "Our Girls" read by Miss Theedam:

Our Girls
By Miss Hester P. Theedam
Parents Review Volume 11 1900 pages 690-700

I have chosen this title for my paper, first, because of the great interest it must have for parents, and secondly, because of the great interest it has for myself. For more than thirty years I have lovingly studied girl-life in its many phases, and yet I often feel that its alphabet has not so far been properly mastered. "Know thyself," was Plato's great dictum; if that is difficult, how much more difficult must it be to know other beings--their hopes, aspirations, fears, causes of failure, physical well-being and ill-being? Yet this is the aim of every earnest parent, of every conscientious instructor in respect to the precious charges committed to their care. And in spite of a persistent following of this aim, there must always, as the years pass, be something to regret, something to work up to. "Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers," is as true now as in days of old, and its truth is emphasized as ideals with respect to child-life become higher; as we study each little one more and more patiently and lovingly and reverently, as part of nature's work--nature, the handmaid of God; as we watch the development of body, mind and spirit, and note the struggle ever raging between life and death, knowledge and ignorance, good and evil. That struggle rages whether we see it or not, whether we remember such in our own childhood or not; and we all recognize that it is our part, who are the appointed guides over roads full of pitfalls, roads that we ourselves have traversed, to help the young traveler, to give warning of danger, and to give encouragement to perseverance. We shall not have all the teaching to do; again and again we shall get glimpses of half-divine wisdom, sweetness and beauty that will make us bow the head and whisper: "For of such is the kingdom of Heaven."

Thus far I know that we are all in accord; but suddenly a fear springs up and confront me, as a lion in the way. This is a meeting of the Parents' National Educational Union, and as the deep honour of motherhood is not mine, it may possibly strike some parents, as the paper proceeds, that theory rather than practice is too plainly evident, and that difficulties in home-life are too often ignored. Should this be so, I can but plead for your kindly consideration. The home and the nursery in the home have been happy camping-grounds to me throughout my life, though of course the schoolroom and the home-life in the boarding-school have been my fixed abodes.

In speaking of "Our Girls," it is well first to ask ourselves what we most desire for them; and, second to that high desire that every Christian mother has for her child, may it not be briefly summarized in the two words "Sweetness and Strength"? The first appears almost a natural attribute to girlhood; as one watches a group of children in the nursery something akin to shock is felt if the little boys are more gentle and sweet than the little girls of the party. Boys are indeed gentle and chivalrous in every Christian home, but the gentleness is a similarity with a difference, and it is usually allowed that the presence of girls makes the development of this quality in boys much more easy.

Sweetness, like a flower, needs careful tending in the young, and rough words and actions by them or towards them will, of course, be carefully guarded against. Is our domestic system a little at fault here? The ordinary nurse, under the mother's eye and direction, may do her work fairly well in the nursery; but what of the hours spent alone with the children and in the open air? It is obviously impossible for the busy mother, with household and social duties pressing upon her, to accompany the nursery party in its walks often--the English mother in this respect seems less able than her French sister--and the children are left to the mercy of, perhaps, an untrained, undisciplined woman. The results are seen by us all, in places of public resort, at draughty corners, on wind-swept railway platforms; but somehow when we hear the wailing cry of the little ones, the rough words of the attendant (perhaps accompanied by a blow), we hope and believe that it is not thus with the nurslings of our own home; and specially blest is that mother who has a devoted, high-minded guardian of her child, as I know some of our own members can testify. But "exceptions prove the rule," and unless mothers can secure nurses of a superior class, education and training, the children are bound to suffer. For our children, when out of health, to be exposed to unhealthy surroundings and ungentle handling is bad enough, but too often habits of deceit are engendered, which take many years of anxious care on the part of parents and teachers to eradicate--yes, and which cost many tears and much unnecessary suffering to the children themselves. The nurse may make appointments with friends, or visit houses unknown to her mistress, and she little thinks of the harm she is doing to the conscience of the child when she commands her "not to tell mother," when she follows up the command by vague threats, or even worse, perhaps, when she bribes with sweetmeats. A sense of proportion is lacking in children; grief, pain, terror, a guilty secret, the consciousness of a mean desire even for the sweeties served out to keep the little tongue tied--all tend to wrap the soul in a cloud of absolute misery. Many a loving anxious mother has wondered at the quickly falling tear, the shrinking from caresses, the non-response to a loving appeal, and, following her instinct, has patiently pursued enquiry until some such cause as I have indicated has been discovered. But children, like ourselves, are creatures of habit; if a system of duplicity be continued, the misery passes away, and habits of evasion and deceit are acquired. Or little ones lose sweetness and strength: their tempers are injured, their nerves are weakened, their consciences are seared. This is no fancy picture--it is absolutely faithful to life, and possibly more than one here could confirm it from actual experience.

How then is this evil to be met and overcome? I would suggest the employment of educated and well-trained nurses, and urge that our Society set itself to the supply of a great demand. It has done this in the training of private governesses at Ambleside; why not add the training of nurses? I am not ignorant of the good work done by the Norland Institute (29, Holland Park, London, W.), but that institution, and any other that may exist--such as the Liverpool Ladies' Sanitary Association (8, Sandon Terrace, Liverpool)--cannot meet the needs of a nation such as ours. Nurses for the sick body and mind are trained; nurses for the underdeveloped body and mind should be trained also. No farmer or horse-dealer would entrust valuable young horses to unskillful hands, and yet parents, who would give their lives for their little ones, feel themselves compelled, through our faulty domestic system, to a course of conduct that they would think reprehensible if pursued towards a lower creation. It would not be possible within the limits of this paper to give details of the course of training, but the trained child nurse should know something of physiology, something of children's diseases by a moderate course of hospital training, something of the development of mind and intellect, something of the importance of habits. We have our Technical School for dairy-work, cookery and laundry; let us demand a school for the child's nurse, and I doubt not that the supply will follow. Of habit (this primary object of all training) we have heard much of late years, and we are beginning to realize its importance in its bearing, not merely on action, but also on character. In the nursery, of course, the training of "Our Girls" begins, and the foundations are laid of those habits of diligence, order, patience and self-control which conduce to a well-ordered household as well as to a well-ordered life. Many old-fashioned restrictions and prohibitions are now happily removed, but for the retention of those two that conduce to the well-ordered body and the softly modulated voice I would most earnestly plead. It is a real pain to see young girls nowadays lolling for hours in the mother's easy chair, or traversing the street with manly stride and hands in jacket pockets, acknowledging their equals, even their superiors, with a curt nod that might have been borrowed from a man on 'Change. Alas!

          Thy woman's gentlest mood o'erstept
          Withers my love that lightly scans
          The rest, and does in her accept
          All her own faults, but none of man's.

It is to the loss of the sweet home harmonies for the voice to be gruff, loud or uncultivated that should be sweet, musical and refined. It is to the loss of love, sweetness, yes, and of strength in the home, if nature's plan is not observed, if the order and the beauty of sight and sound are not maintained by our mothers and daughters, for

          Love's perfect blossom only blows
          Where noble manners veil defect.

It may be asked (and I do hope free expression will be given to any difference of opinion during our discussion): "How is it that, with this spread of education, this intense sympathy with and better understanding of child-life, this emancipation from much which tended to fetter free growth, there should be this generally acknowledged lessening of grace in movement, speech and manners in Our Girls? The nurse of the last and the beginning of the present century was more supreme in the nursery than her modern sister; she was less educated, less scientific, more a servant." I would answer: "More a servant, yes; but was she not also more a friend? Less scientific may be, but not less sympathetic and observant. Less educated? Well, perhaps; she was undoubtedly less instructed." But is it not true that much of the strange subtle fragrance of feudalism lingered longest and died hardest in the child's nurse? That reverence for the family went side by side with the autocracy of the nursery, and made sweeter manners and speech and carriage a sine qua non ['without which not']? No kitchen talk or conduct could be tolerated in the presence of the nurslings, much less permitted to them. Is it not true that the less frequent presence of the family doctor made the knowledge of simples and herbs, not only much more necessary, but also more general, and that lack of book learning was supplemented by a quickness of perception and a strength of memory now unhappily rare? Is it not true that as "the old order changeth, yielding place to new," there must be, for a time, some loss, as well as much gain--some readjustment of relations? Modern democracy has swept away much, and has not yet had time for reconstruction. Let us then not blame the young untrained nurse, just fresh from the crowded cottage home, if our ideals are not hers. How can she understand, for instance, the attitude towards truth of the intensely delicate nervous child, who, under sudden fright, seeks refuge in a lie? How can she understand that a fierce cutting remark on a child's awkwardness may rob that child of simple natural grace for years and, worse still, induce a self-distrust that may seriously hamper usefulness in future life?

But I must get away from the nursery, though there is much that I would like to say, after reading Dr. [Francis] Warner's Study of Children, on attention to nerve signs, such as movements, balance, gestures, &c. He holds strongly, not only that "mental confusion often accompanies nervous movements," but, also, that the correction of these movements by care and physical training will tend to dissipate mental confusion; and he insists on the early eradication of any merely bad habit as a means of mental and physical strengthening. I can warmly commend this little book to anyone interested in children.

Having left the nursery, and brought "Our Girls" with us, we bring also cares with respect to their further instruction and education. A decision has to be come to respecting the relative merits and demerits of the home, schoolroom and the semi-public schoolroom, on the effect upon the character likely to result from the one choice or the other. Many mothers feel that they cannot give up so much of the training of their children as school-life involves; others feel that the quickening, stimulating effect produced by contact with other children, not of the same family, makes instruction easier and prepares better for the bigger school of life. In either case, it will be necessary that absolute confidence be felt in the one made primarily responsible by the parents for the child's instruction and development. Here, again, a well-trained teacher--except under most exceptional circumstances--is desirable, and is happily now attainable. She ought to be a lover of children; she should have studied not only the child's body, but the child's mind; and she should have a deep consciousness of the dignity and responsibility of her office. Children from three to fourteen years of age form about one-fourth part of the population. Surely, to have a hand in the instruction and education of so great a multitude is no mean office, and its work must not lightly be taken in hand, neither must its office-bearers be lightly esteemed. A great Jesuit once said, "Give me the child until he is eleven years old, and then do what you will with him." He did not speak lightly or without experience, for, as we well know, the Jesuits have been, for ages, great instructors and educators of youth. If early training is so momentous, a mother may say: "But, having reared my child thus far, am I now to place such 'absolute confidence' in the instructor that my voice is not to be heard as to the direction her studies are to take, the hours she should work, the condition of health that may make a change in the time-table necessary?" I would reply, that these are duties which the mother cannot abrogate, and that the experienced, earnest teacher counts upon such as valuable helps in her work, helps without which that work is sure to suffer. The child may have inherited tastes which it is desirable at once to cultivate; the mother may have plans for her future which the teacher can at once begin to further; the child may also have inherited some weakness of vision, nerve or spine which may make some change in the hours of work absolutely necessary for a prolonged period; or a usually healthy child attending a day-school may suddenly show signs at home of over-fatigue. (Of course, fatigue in itself is not unhealthy.) If the child is greatly interested in her lessons, she may appear as eager, even as intelligent as usual in class--for a time; but the observant mother notices that day after day she is dull and tired in the morning, irritable with the little ones, indisposed for food, and restless in sleep. These, of course, are danger-signals which any teacher is thankful to have pointed out to her. Dr. Warner would say in such a case, "Observe, act, but do not question the child." More than once in his valuable book, he warns the mother and teacher not to ask children if they have headaches. I fear I often, very often, transgress this rule, but the principle underlying it has been useful to me nevertheless. We desire strength of mind, nerve and body for our girls, and suggestion has to be carefully used. But I must hark back to my plea for such absolute confidence in the teacher, that she and the parents may work in perfect accord for the child's welfare. This can only be secured by complete self-control on both sides. It is held a point of honour among teachers never, in the children's presence, to criticize the parent's action, never to impugn the parent's authority; but--is it considered dishonourable for the parent to disregard this rule with respect to the teacher? A wise parent will recognize its unwisdom, a sensitive refined parent its unkindness, but who regards it as distinctly dishonourable? Yet, surely, the contract is pre-supposed if unexpressed--a contract of mutual trust and confidence that only unworthiness on the one side or the other can prematurely sunder. The work is the noblest that man or woman can undertake, for it is the training of a human body, mind and spirit, and on that training depend eternal issues. It is because teachers and parents are working together to this end that such great care is necessary to ensure that the little beings, so quick of ear and eye, should never have reason to doubt the absolutely harmonious working of the two powers. There will, therefore, never be thought of appeal from one to another, and the co-operation of parent and teacher will bring about that co-operation of teacher and taught so essential to healthy, happy child-life; while reverence for authority, which lies at the foundation of all social order, will give birth to voluntary obedience. It is impossible in this paper to discuss the various studies which "Our Girls" may pursue; much, very much, must of course depend on natural aptitude and leanings. The waste of precious time and money, for instance, on the musical education of an utterly unmusical subject is now happily rare; but, on the other hand, genius has been defined as "an infinite capacity for taking pains," and unfitness for any particular study should not be lightly assumed. It may be safely asserted that no study is forbidden to a girl now because she is a girl and not a boy. Should circumstances or choice lead her to adopt a profession, there are plenty of open doors. She has only to be in earnest. For most of our girls, homelife is expected to succeed to school-life; possibly, therefore, modern languages, music, painting and literature will be preferred to classics, mathematics and science. I cannot see anything to regret in this myself (though I know some keen educationalists do regret it) so long as the instruction is thorough, and care is taken to insist on correct definitions and accurate reasoning. It must be confessed that to these last "Our Girls" do not take naturally; it would seem as if the irresponsibility of past ages stands in their way, as it has seemed to stand in ours, and it is for us to warn and to encourage them. The reason should be calm and just, and the speech fair and merciful, as well as the heart quick of sympathy and the hand bountiful of help, if the girl is to merge into

          A perfect woman, nobly planned
          To warn, to comfort and command;
          And yet a spirit still and bright
          With something of an angel light.

Assuming that "Our Girls" are well placed in the schoolroom, be it at home or abroad, we have to think of the recreation hours and of the long holidays. These we shall strive to make as bright as possible, with just enough of work in them, if it be but the dressing of a doll or the making of some little gift, to render the play more enjoyable. May I say a word here about the making of presents for members of the home circle? That good old-fashioned custom seems to me to be in a little danger of falling into abeyance; presents are too often bought now, not made, and all the little abstinences, all the pretty little acts of self-denial, all the sweet little secret services of the past are resolved into a sentence in father's letter asking for a speedy remittance, as mother's birthday is at hand! There is, perhaps, just a little danger now of our making "Our Girls" self-seeking in our great anxiety for their good, forgetting that

          Who pleasure follows, pleasure slays:
          God's wrath upon himself he wreaks;
          But all delights rejoice his days
          Who takes with thanks, and never seeks.

It is their best good we long for, really, not the good merely of a happy childhood that has no touch of self-repression in it, but one that has learned to give largely out of its great abundance, to love much because of being greatly loved.

Out-door games--tennis, hockey and the like--now happily enter into a girl's everyday life, and we believe the result will be greater strength of mind and body, with no diminution of sweetness of character, or gentleness of voice and bearing. These games, added to the Natural History excursions arranged by our Society, amateur photography, sketching, cycling and walking, indoor games, needle-work, music and books, should afford sufficient pleasure without more than a very occasional resort to places of fashionable amusement, such as our Spa, for instance. Forgive me if I speak a little strongly. I have known some bright young lives half stifled by its fashionable atmosphere; I have known earnest, noble-hearted girls, full of high resolve, pledged soldiers of the Cross of Christ, become frivolous, worldly and selfish through its influence even before the schoolroom has been quite forsaken; I have known later home-duties neglected, solid reading, good music, all cast aside,--and for what? Not for the stately buildings, the lovely gardens, the beautiful views of the sea, but for the dress and the fashion, the gossip and the admiration. This is not good for "Our Girls"; for ourselves we may have gained sufficient wisdom to take the good and reject the evil, but these eager young things have not; their very childlikeness and susceptibility to impressions make such a presentment of life all the more dangerous, and one asks oneself sometimes with fear and trembling; "Will that young girl, so sweet and innocent still in spite of this present folly, so full of noble resolve but a few months ago, become, in the end, merely a vain, selfish, worldly woman?" of whom it may be said:

          Thy life has been
          The history of a flower in the air,
          Liable but to breezes and to time,
          As rich and purposeless as is the rose;
          Thy simple doom is to be beautiful.

Beauty a doom, not a blessing? Yes, because purposeless and growthless, not the beauty whose--

                                           Best attire
          Is woven still by the snow-white choir.

It is against this purposelessness, this growthlessness, this "tragedy of aimlessness," that we have to guard when "Our Girls" emerge from the schoolroom, and it is well for us to remember that it threatens every girl, however noble her nature, whose hours are not well and fully employed. Again, "the old order changeth, yielding place to new," and the young things have not yet fallen into rank. Oh, do we not remember? Can we not be observant and sympathetic, firm and tenderly wise? Can we not ourselves fight the dull demon of middle-age, just as "Our Girls" have to fight the gay spirit of over-exuberance, and if we cannot always work with them and play with them, at least see that they have plenty of work and play? Those of us who heard Miss Soulsby's beautiful and helpful address some two years ago, have not forgotten her earnest plea for hobbies. True, they may be ridden too hard, but I do not envy any one who can say, "I have never in my life ridden one!" My answer would fain be: "Well, I am sorry for you, but it's not too late to mend; go and seek one. Don't obstruct the path of others, but never mind a fall or two for yourself, you'll be the better for every ride, possibly for every fall." But seriously, it may be taken for granted, I think, that a good, healthy, thorough-going hobby is desirable for every child, if only for the reason that it is almost essential to healthy middle and old age. Having once learned to ride, we can change our studs as occasion requires. One hobby need never get beyond us (if I dare call it a hobby without disrespect to our venerable universities), and it is especially valuable as offering equal interest both to the mother and her girls. Of course, I refer to the University Extension Society, of which we have such an excellent centre in Scarborough. In the lectures given under its auspices, rich fields of study and of thought are revealed by University men; while the Students' Association, by organizing meetings for the discussion of difficulties, and by the lending of books for study, makes the student's work as delight. I know of few forces for good more potent than the work of this Society amongst "Our Girls," and I can testify, from the experience of many years, to its elevating and refining influence.

Thus far, no reference has been made either to religious privileges offered to "Our Girls," or to religious and charitable duties incumbent upon them, simply because the last address by our President, The Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of Hull, dwelt exclusively on these points; but it has been pre-supposed throughout this paper that the religious training has, from the first, gone hand in hand with the physical, moral and intellectual, that the parents of "Our Girls" have prayed for them and with them, as well as worked for them; that around the happy childhood with its well-ordered nursery and loyally observed rules, around girlhood with its schoolroom and lessons and discipline and gladsome hours of fun and frolic, around young womanhood with its tender home ties and duties, its giving and takings and newly adjusted relations, that golden thread of prayer has run, like the "ribband of blue" around the white tassels of the Israelitish garment, as a perpetual reminder of "Holiness unto the Lord."

Proofread June 2011, LNL