Education, Education, Education – for girls in the Georgian era

I have previously looked at employment for 18th century girls, so today we’re going to look at educational establishments for girls.

Lady Jane Mathew and Her Daughters c1790 YCBA

If you were middle or upper class, you would no doubt have been educated, but for the lower classes education may well  have been carried out by the mother in the home, and in a large part, a girl would have learnt the same skills as her mother, whether that be childcare or perhaps some sort of home based work, for example framework knitting.

We know that for girls born into noble families education was often carried out home, with tutors being brought into the household or by a live in governess, rather than the girl attending a school, but for many upper class young ladies they were educated and would perhaps attend boarding school. Sending your daughter to a boarding school could also be quite risky, as it meant your daughter was no longer under your roof and it would be difficult to assess how safe she might be in such a place, despite their seemingly impeccable credentials.

Trade card of Mary and Ann Favell (Eltham), school. c.1755. British Museum

Of course, it was a different situation for young gentlemen, as there were education establishments popping up all over. Once educated, it was common for an affluent young gentleman to go off on the Grand Tour and for others to go to university, or if not suited to academia, perhaps a career working for the East India Company might have been an option, or joining the military.  None of these options were on offer to young ladies.

Sloane House Boarding School. British Museum

Today, I’m going to look at adverts in the newspapers to see what schools offered young women and women who sought employment in them.

The Morning Herald, London seems to have been a popular newspaper for such establishments seeking both pupils and also for employees and there were certain skills required by potential teachers as we can see from these:

17 March 1802

Wanted, as one of the English teachers in a very superior ladies’ boarding school, a lady, not less than thirty, of genteel manners, an informed mind, and capable of teaching the English language, and different kinds of needle-works. It is also absolutely necessary that she should translate and speak French.

and another from 28 August 1807 by a school looking for

A young lady, who thoroughly understands teaching music. If acquainted with the French language, the more agreeable.

and this from 21 January 1806:

Wanted immediately, as an apprentice in an established ladies’ boarding school, a young lady, who upon reasonable terms will be instructed in writing, arithmetic, needlework, grammar, composition, geography, in the French and Italian languages, and in other departments of study requisite to qualify her for a school, or as a private governess. French and Italian are the languages chiefly spoken in the school.

Trade card of The Misses Lankester (London), school. c1800. British Museum

In the St James’s Chronicle 10 February 1801, we see an advert from a widower who had five daughters and was:

Desirous of their education being completed at home, rather than at boarding school. Any lady of respectability, perfectly qualified for such an undertaking, may meet with a very agreeable situation. Preference will be given if accustomed to the tuition of children. Satisfactory references will be expected.

We then move on to look at young ladies who offered their skills as a teacher such as this one potential candidate who, in 1801 offered her skills as an assistant teacher in a respectable school. She advised potential employers that she was

19 years of age and the daughter of a clergyman and that a potential employer should be aware that as this would be her first trial, salary will not be an object.

Which loosely translate to her being prepared to work for very low wages to gain additional skills.

Morning Post 6 July 1803

Wants a situation, in a ladies boarding school,  a young lady, who can teach the French and English language, needlework and the rudiments of geography.

The Sense of Hearing, Philippe Mercier.
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

From the adverts for both lessons being offered, and those equipped to teach them, the skills for a young lady would appear to be English and French, with French being a necessity for all young women. Art, needlework, music and geography were lessons appearing in most adverts, but dancing and music lessons, which I thought might have been included appear to have been offered as an extra-curricular  option and would have been taught by a dancing master, who would often offer this at home.

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John Richard Comyns of Hylands, Essex, with His Daughters YCBA

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8 thoughts on “Education, Education, Education – for girls in the Georgian era

  1. mistyfan

    It’s fascinating to compare those 18th century job adverts with the ones of today. Take the one where the jobseeker virtually says she is willing to accept low pay because she is inexperienced. No jobseeker would say that today – never sell yourself short to a prospective employer is the maxim. I wonder how the job interviews back then would compare with modern ones.

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    1. Sarah Murden

      They seem to have almost a set skill set the employer required which was quite limited for the teaching of girls. I would imagine the employer would test candidates on their skills for suitability – ‘play the piano for me’, ‘show me examples of your sewing’ etc. I haven’t found any examples of the sort of questions asked as yet, so I think we’ll just have to guess for now, but I will keep looking:)

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    1. Sarah Murden

      French was used in England dating back to about Norman times and frequently used at court, so it would be important for young people to be able to read and speak it. I have come across quite a few letters in the Georgian Papers Online exchanged between members of the royal family that are written in French.

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      1. mistyfan

        Oh yes, it was very big in Tudor times too. Anne Boleyn’s father, who spoke it fluently, had her learn it as her second language. If I remember right, Catherine of Aragon was also taught it, as it was considered vital to have when she went to England (over knowing English!). Next to Latin, French must have been the major international language in Europe in those days. As I understand it, even today, French is the biggest foreign language taught in English schools.

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        1. Sarah Murden

          Yes, French is still the main second language taught in schools, then, I think German and Spanish. Sadly, Latin is taught far less today . 😦

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  2. mistyfan

    It was interesting to read that in one of the adverts for boarding schools, washing was an extra three guineas. That tells you something about bathing in those days.

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    1. Sarah Murden

      I have seen that on quite a few adverts, so I assume that pupils took sufficient clothing with them for a term, then took them home at the end of term to be washed.

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