Friday, September 5, 2008

School, Schmool

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.

Can you?


Gillian Layne said...

Hear, hear!! It's like my youngest says (at nine years of age she has no self-confidence issues) "Who tells the President what to do? I want to have that job."

Long live the "attempt at improvement" in education. :)

Gillian Layne said...

Ok--totally off topic:

The girl in the picture, and she's wearing one glove? I've been looking for a bit of information on day gloves all day. I know long gloves had buttons at the wrist so they could be taken off and tucked under in order to eat--

Did short "day" gloves have any buttons at the wrist? And were they made of both kid or cotton?

If you have any idea, I'd really appreciate it.

Regina Scott said...

Gillian--I think it would depend on the young lady and the situation. Day gloves were actually more fitted then than now, and the material sometimes tightened with disuse (hence Marissa's glove stretcher we showed some time ago). Day gloves could be kid leather, cotton, lace, or even wool. You'd probably wear the heavier ones if you were going out or riding, the lighter ones if you were staying in and the day was warm. And I imagine lace was a bit racy because you could see skin through them. Oh, my!

Hope this helps!

Gillian Layne said...

Regina, thank you, this helps very much. It seems there are a great many pictures that have no accompanying descriptions, or descriptions of evening gloves only.

Anyhoo, variety makes it much easier!:)

bethany said...

I know this is an old post but there is some truth in what that person wrote back then. Some families today are very distent and the women don't really have the same training that they did back then. The ladies might not know a good way to run a household or raise children, but be able to hold a full time job at a NASA facility. I believe that at the time it hadn't gotten to that extreme but it obvously does eventually. You may think I'm some old grandmother concerned for the way the "young people" are being taught, but I'm fourteen and really do enjoy this site.