The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Discussion on Educating Girls

Volume 13, 1902, pg. 302-307

Discussion (continued), invited by the Editor, on the paper in the February number: "How far is the Present Method of Educating Girls a Success."


DEAR EDITOR,--I am glad to see discussion is invited on Mrs. Gaudin's interesting paper, for it raises many questions.

Were indeed the girls of the past so limited so much to be pitied? Are we all convinced that the object of the girl's education is "to fit her to take an equal place with men in the competition of life and capable of looking after her own interests"? Surely not! Such an aim could not make her more womanly--certainly not one of Ruskin's "queens."

Education in its true sense is no new thing for women, in spite of all the talk to that effect. In all ages there have been cultivated women, and ever since the Tudors, women who knew their classics, read and wrote French and Latin with ease and charm, and yet were thoroughly trained in all housewifely duties. They did not attempt to invade the Universities, but had an immense influence over the men among whom they lived. Women may have in some ways great power today, in others she is losing it rapidly.

I quite admit all the High Schools and Girls' Colleges have done in raising the standard of teaching and in insisting on qualified teachers, but the methods and the daily environment leave, I think, much to be desired. For those who are deliberately destined to clerkships, type-writing, etc., the business-like way of acquiring facts and the monotonous preparation for local examinations, must be an admirable training; originality is not needed in the offices. But the supply of these situations is limited, even though brothers and cousins are gradually ousted from work for which they are more suitable. The teaching profession is notoriously overstocked because, as it seems to me, the great schools absorb so many girls who would learn more and be far finer women had they individual attention and a chance of developing peacefully and quietly at home.

Even if we consider office hours and a bachelor existence desirable for girls, where shall we find more business-like women than the French? No women are such good managers in home and office, such comrades to their husbands, such an influence to their children. Yet how strictly and quietly is their girlhood spent. I do not touch on the vexed question of manners--that is a question for the parents alone. I know a most cultivated gentlewoman who is powerless to control the girls' manners out of school hours. Domestic training seems impossible in these crowded days, everything in the home must give way to lessons. The great servant difficulty is really the mistress difficulty. Do women think good servants used to be born? I can speak with authority, as during twenty years I have made good servants and kept them. Domestic knowledge now seems in all classes to be taken up when other trades fail, and one is most likely too old to learn. Lectures and classes certainly are very little use. It can only be learnt in the home and taught by the mother making her daughters feel the importance of woman's work. Should a mother break down in health, or from any cause need a woman to help her, the ideal "Tante" is never to be found. She will have a crowd of applicants, some useless, selfish and frivolous, some willing, but all equally ignorant, tactless, and unable to think for her. Yet how many of these girls if differently trained would find happy homes. No one wants our women with their present education in the Colonies! They are certainly not a help "meet" for man or woman either. I agree with Mrs. Gaudin in the value of history and literature, but how are they taught in schools? Think of the appalling fact that now thousands of children are "doing" Julius Caesar for the Oxford Local with the same notes! Alas! how many will learn Marc Antony's speech and spout it at prizegivings! A child who saw Tree said to me, "Do you know, they said something rather like that at the High School!"

Well, perhaps better so than not at all, but there is a better way. Literature and history should be taught together after the lines of the National Home Reading Union, which is most helpful. For the last seven years I have arranged the education of two girls the same age, but of different temperaments and abilities. I am more used to boys, so have given much anxious thought to it. This is my only excuse for trespassing on your time, and I should like here to acknowledge the great help the P.N.E.U. has been to me. The girls began regularly at seven--they could then read, model in clay, and do brush drawing, and speak French. They were never hampered by a kindergarten, but realised that work meant work and not play. They are now nearly fourteen, and I will briefly state what they are doing. French they read easily and speak well, joining and following any conversation. They have always had foreign maids and governesses, and have lately taken up syntax, which seems very easy to them. In Latin they are reading Virgil and Livy, and are well on in grammar; Euclid, third book; algebra, quadratic equations; Greek, the irregular verbs; arithmetic, profit and loss. For these subjects they have a tutor, for a man teaches on much broader lines than a women. They love the work, and have neither rewards nor punishments. English is taught them by a well-read woman, one of Miss Buss' pupils, to whom they are devoted. This term they take Creighton's Age of Elizabeth, with Kenilworth, Westward Ho, and biographies from Myers' Great Men. Shakespeare they know well and love; they see all the good revivals and their dolls vary in costume with the plays. They have now been to see "Ulysses," as they say they know "all about it from Virgil," and have read Mr. Phillips' book. They have an intelligent knowledge of English literature up to the end of Elizabeth's reign, also of Tennyson, Browning, Whittier and Longfellow.

Geography they frankly loathe! they will only learn it by looking up what comes in their history and by doing maps. The only science I give them at present is Dr. Schofield's splendidly simple Physiology, on which they can do a good examination, and which ought to be taught to every girl. They have exactly five hours a day for work. This includes the violin and needlework, but not the piano, which is made rather a special study. They are well taught by a lady who was trained in Germany, the only thing German I advocate. The musical child plays when she is asked, and though she can exquisitely enjoy Paderewski and Sarasate, she can read at sight waltzes if requested and accompany comic operas to her brother's satisfaction. They have much time in the open air, and can ride, swim, skate, and play tennis and hockey; one is captain of her eleven. They have also that, for which I am always pleading, leisure time to themselves, hours not regulated by any time table, but they know that leisure must not spell idleness. But best of all to me is their loving thoughtfulness and ready help at home, their sympathy with illness and trouble in any class with which they come in contact--their readiness to care for and wait on the tired men folk out all day at work. These children have time to care for their pets, help with housework, and make the music sweet. They realise that woman's best work is behind the scenes; learning self-control and self-culture; appreciating , not criticising; comforting, not competing; keeping steadfastly bright the lamp of Christ's love which gets dimmed sometimes in the rush of life. So I plead for home education for girls!

It can be done inexpensively, though specialists must give each study its interest. Two or three girls could always meet at the house of a woman able to organise, and many qualified teachers, who need work sorely, could thus fit in their time. Having found good teachers they must be kept and given time to make an impression. Of course the woman who undertakes this must be ready at all times to discuss the children's work, be often present at the lessons and overlook everything. It is a tax sometimes, but it is delightful work. Then how much more carefully can their health be overlooked. Work can be stopped or eased to their individual needs without the worry of losing marks or place. Physical exercises, breathing, etc., can be practised daily and physical drill, after the real Swedish method, should be regularly attended. Gymnasiums are not desirable. Best of all is the similarity of interests between mother and daughter which can never end in "revolt."

I am fully convinced that knowledge qua knowledge is not the greatest boon in a woman's life--that education is the atmosphere in which our children grow, and that for girls the best atmosphere is home.

Truly yours,



DEAR EDITOR,--As discussion on this subject is asked for, I venture to make a few remarks drawn from the experience of twenty years in charge of High School girls.

In many respects I think modern education is a great success, although I hope that in the coming years much of the writing will be replaced by speaking, in grammatical English, and without hesitation. At present slovenly scraps of English are often all that a girl can produce in the way either of conversation or of narrative. I also hope fervently that in ten years' time no girl will be considered educated unless she has some knowledge of housework and cookery. But in two respects I think the physical development of our girls is unduly interfered with by ordinary High School arrangements, and I believe that a changein these arrangements would lead to an immense gain in health and vigour of our growing maidens.

These two points are, first, the carrying on of school hours up to the moment when the girls must start homewards for their early dinner, and second, the absence of any proper break for rest after the same meal, in those cases where girls are supposed to do their preparation, or a portion of it, at school.

1. If a girl has half an hour's walk to get home to her dinner she gets fresh air, but she also gets a good deal of fatigue, which in summer often takes away her appetite. If, however, she lives near the school she gets no exercise, for one o'clock is the ordinary dinner hour among busy families, and the girl practically goes straight from her lessons to her dinner. I have always felt that the school ought to break up, not at one, but at 12.30. If a growing girl is at all delicate she is apt to feel the long morning--breakfasting at eight, and sometimes not dining till 1.30, and a slice of cake, or even a glass of milk, at eleven does not seem to fill the void. If she could get out of school at 12.30, and (living near) could have half an hour's walk, or saunter in the garden before dinner, or (living at a distance) could get her dinner at one instead of half-past, I believe health would be immensely improved.

2. But what is more objectionable still from the point of view of health, is the commencement of school preparation at 2.30. Girls in boarding houses are usually exempt from this necessity. I used always to make mine, unless they were unusually robust, lie down on their beds after dinner for half an hour with a story book. But home girls have constantly to rush off the moment their dinner is swallowed, to walk back to school, and to sit at their desk from 2.30 to 4. This means that in summer they are at work through the heat of the afternoon, and in winter they are indoors until the sun sets--exactly the time they ought to be out in the fresh air.

What remedy? you will ask. My suggestion would be this. Make the morning's work from 9 to 12.30, and the afternoon preparation from 3 to 4.30. If you like, turn out all the children except those who have a long walk home to dinner into the playground for a quarter of an hour before they go home; but insist that there should be real fresh air before the meal. And do not let them show their faces again in school till three. If some of them stay to dinner, let them have a classroom to sit in, with easy chairs and amusing books to read, but do not make their work the drive it frequently is.

High School Mistresses, who only see the girls in their hours of interest and vivid excitement, often have little notion of the delicacy of the average growing girl, and put work on all alike which is only suitable to the most vigorous. Yet health is the one possession for the loss of which no completeness of mental equipment can compensate in after life. Do we consider it as much as we ought?

Yours truly,

Typed by happi, Mar 2020; Proofread by LNL, Apr 2020