Friday, June 5, 2009

Getting an Education

The school year is drawing to a close in the states. Most students I know can’t wait for the freedom of summer vacation. But schooling was a very different animal in nineteenth century England, especially if you were a girl.

Marissa has talked about how things changed through the century when it comes to etiquette and knowing who was in your class and who wasn’t. At the beginning of the century, life was also more predictable. You were born in a location, you took up your father’s occupation or became a wife like your mother, you married someone else who lived nearby, your children took up your occupation, and you died in the same location, sometimes never even having seen the next village two miles away! The most education you needed was the ability to read the Bible (or have someone read it to you), and you could get that in Sunday School.

But the Industrial Revolution and the rise of a middle class changed all that. People who could read and write and speak intelligently had opportunities, so the middle class mamas and papas wanted to invest in education. Private schools, especially for young ladies, sprang up to accommodate them. The government realized that people needed to read and write to work in the new economy, so they sponsored schools too. Whole “teaching colleges” arose where people of all walks of life could apprentice to become teachers of the next generation.

So, if you were a young lady in a family of some means, your education might include

  • Instruction from your mother on how to behave as a young lady

  • A private school with other young ladies to learn the basics and fit you for an occupation as a shop keeper or seamstress

  • A governess trained in reading, writing, math, perhaps a foreign language, and definitely needlepoint

  • A select academy or finishing school to “finish” you for your debut in society.

Early in the century, most families opted for the first; the second wasn’t much available and you were more likely to be apprenticed into a trade, if you were lucky; and only the most wealthy took advantage of the last two. By the end of the century, many of the middle class were taking advantage of the select academy, and duke’s daughters were rubbing elbows with the daughters of wealthy merchants. And life was never quite the same again!

So, for all those who are graduating this year, here’s to the Class of 2009, especially Ted and Nathaniel! Your lives are changing too. May the future be yours! Carpe Diem!

Please come back next week, when we have a special set of guest posts by up-and-coming YA author, Mandy Hubbard, whose Prada and Prejudice hits stores June 12! Boy, does her heroine get an education when she’s transported back to the nineteenth century!


QNPoohBear said...

Interesting topic. Last fall I wrote a research paper on education for American women in the 19th and early 20th centuries and how it helped them break out of the so-called "women's sphere". I found it really fascinating and might expand upon the topic for my final graduate paper or thesis or something if and when I ever get there.

Happy summer vacation for those who have it! Mine came and went already and I don't get another until August.

Addie said...

Prada and Prejudice sounds like a wonderful summer read!

Christina Farley said...

I guess I'd like to go off to school than be stuck at home. But it was definitely a different world. Looking forward to the upcoming interviews.