Most of us with family in K-12 are back to school in the states. I remember my school days fondly. I loved school, loved reading, loved learning. I couldn’t wait for summer vacation to be over so I could go back for more! I’m sure that’s why I can so easily envision my heroines in La Petite Four going to boarding school. So I was a bit surprised to find, in my research this week, that some women (though by no means all) were ardently opposed to young ladies going to the equivalent of high school in the nineteenth century.
Consider the words of J.M. Lacey in The Lady’s Magazine, December 1814, on the prospect of seeing her fifteen-year-old niece be sent to a boarding school for “finishing”:
“The mother of the young lady is, perhaps, one of the very best examples of female propriety, that can be found: and the daughter, from spending all her time, except that occupied by instruction with her, is as interesting as is possible for a young female to be. All the best affections of the heart, all the true fondness for home, all the genuine love for her relatives, are so commingled in her breast, that I should be very sorry to see any such feelings destroyed by the attempt at improvement above-mentioned.
I must confess my fears that the general practice of sending female children to boarding-schools is not one which will tend to make them better, either as daughters, wives, or mothers. I do not mean, for an instant, to censure any of those who are the keepers of them, nor to find any fault with their regulations; many of both are excellent; but the very circumstance of so many children being together, tends to injury. They will not be all alike, the children of rich parents; and those, who are so, will be apt to infuse pride among the meaner ones, thus occasioning in them a sort of detestation of home and fashionable demeanor, totally unfit for the station they are to fill in life. A vast number of other, and stronger objections are to be found in the circumstances of their being so much alone together, which neither the best school-mistress, nor the most able teachers can prevent. But with me the very strongest objections are the alienation of affection, and the almost total unfitness for domestic duties, which too often follow such an education; and these are things most essential to a female. What is so dearly interesting as to see a young maiden pouring forth all that natural flow of love and regard for parent, brother, or sister, which shows a heart unpolished, a mind untainted by fashion or by folly; and in later life, what so necessary as the complete knowledge of domestic duties; and the cheerful, because habitual fulfillment of them? And how, let me ask, is this likely to be the portion of a female unless brought up under the eye of her mother?”
So, going to school would make you 1) think you could improve your life over the one your parents had led, 2) bring you closer to your friends, and 3) make you dream of being more than a trophy wife. Oh, such a dreadful fate! I can hear that finishing school calling.