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Nineteenth-Century Children’s Literature

Published onMar 07, 2024
Nineteenth-Century Children’s Literature

Nineteenth-Century Children’s Literature

Perceptions of Childhood

By Kimberley Reynolds
The British Library
Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

From around the middle of the 18th century, many people in Britain began to think about childhood in new ways. Previously, the Puritan belief that humans are born sinful as a consequence of mankind’s ‘Fall’ had led to the widespread notion that childhood was a perilous period. As a result, much of the earliest children’s literature is concerned with saving children’s souls through instruction and by providing role models for their behaviour. This religious way of thinking about childhood had become less influential by the mid-18th century; in fact, childhood came to be associated with a set of positive meanings and attributes, notably innocence, freedom, creativity, emotion, spontaneity and, perhaps most importantly for those charged with raising and educating children, malleability.

Central to the change in how childhood was understood was the work of the philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose Émile, or On Education (1762) not only rejects the doctrine of Original Sin, but maintains that children are innately innocent, only becoming corrupted through experience of the world. Émile is an invented account of an experiment in raising a boy using Rousseau’s method. Instead of the heavy-handed instruction of earlier periods, Émile is allowed to develop naturally: in nature and following his own, naturally healthy instincts. This method, the philosopher concludes, preserves the special attributes of childhood, resulting in well-adjusted adults who will also be good citizens. Rousseau’s ideas soon found their way into children’s literature, perhaps most obviously in his disciple Thomas Day’s popular Sandford and Merton (1783-89).

Following Rousseau, and in the hands of Romantic poets such as William Blake and William Wordsworth, childhood came to be seen as especially close to God and a force for good. In children’s literature, this idealised version of childhood became and remained enormously influential throughout the 19th and into the 20th century, though its Christian origins grew less pronounced. In children’s books (and other kinds of literature and art too) childhood innocence, goodness, frankness and vision regularly restore the moral wellbeing of adults and society. This is particularly obvious in 19th-century Evangelical tales about urchins in city slums who bring about the salvation of others. A typical example is Hesba Stretton’s Jessica’s First Prayer (1867), but the same motif is at work in less overtly religious works such as Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy (1885), in which a young boy, raised in the poor part of an American city, effectively redeems and restores the antiquated and decaying British social structure.

That ways of thinking about and representing childhood could change so thoroughly over time shows that images and ideas about childhood are different from the actual lived experience of real children. Even when texts appear realistic, they will be underpinned by certain cultural understandings of childhood. Writers generally attempt to show their young readers what adults think children should be like. Usually these childhoods are rooted in middle-class life and values, with children of the poor either disappearing from view or being used as symbols and ciphers for literary and political ends. It should also be noted that many writers who idealised childhood were men, and so unlikely to be responsible for the day-to-day care of children, inevitably affecting how they viewed them.Just as there are many real childhoods at any given time, so multiple ideas or constructions of childhood co-exist in writing for children. In the 18th and 19th centuries, for example, not everyone subscribed to Rousseau’s theories about the nature of childhood. A few children’s writers such as Mary Martha Sherwood still held to the doctrine of original sin, while many saw childhood as the raw material from which adults were made rather than an ideal state to be valued and preserved.

Some, however, did not see childhood as a state to be hurried through in order to achieve adulthood. The 19th century saw the development of what is sometimes called the Cult of Childhood, with adults exultantly celebrating childhood in texts and images. The connections with the Romantic ideal of childhood are clear, but many writers of the ‘Golden Age’ of children’s literature (beginning in the 1860s with Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies, 1863, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865) went further, even expressing a longing themselves to be children once more. As Carroll put it in his poem ‘Solitude’,

I’d give all the wealth that years have piled,
the slow result of life’s decay,
To be once more a little child
for one bright summer day.

But perpetual childhood is impossible, and there is a notable tendency in some of the best-known Victorian fantasies for child characters to die in this world in order to be reborn (as in Kingsley’s Water-Babies) or to stay children forever elsewhere (George MacDonald’s At the Back of the North Wind, 1868). The Cult of Childhood persisted into the 20th century, reaching its height in J M Barrie’s Peter Pan (who first appeared in a play of 1904), who famously refused to grow up.

Moral and Instructive Children’s Literature

By M. O. Grenby
The British Library
Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Those who write children’s books have always thought it part of their job to instruct their readers, whether in facts, religion, morals, social codes, ways of thinking, or some other set of beliefs or ideas. From very early on, authors and publishers realised that instruction would be more effective if it were made entertaining, and this sugar-coating approach – ‘instruction with delight’ – became enshrined in children’s literature from around the middle of the 18th century.

The pioneer children’s writers of the 1740s and 1750s were already experimenting with short fictions designed to teach behavioural and ethical lessons: what would come to be known, towards the end of the century, as ‘moral tales’. One of the first was The Christmass-Box, published by M. Cooper and M. Boreman in 1746 and written by ‘Mary Homebred’ (a pseudonym for the novelist Mary Collyer). It included stories three or four pages long whose lessons can be easily summarised. In ‘The History of Miss Polly Friendly’, for instance, Polly accidentally breaks a set of china and hides the pieces in the coal cellar but, when the breakage is blamed on a servant, admits her fault. Virtue becomes a habit and she grows up to marry an alderman, eventually becoming the Lady Mayoress. ‘The influence that stories of the like kind … have had upon my own Children,’ wrote the author in her preface, ‘is a great Inducement to me to make these Publick’. This kind of declaration that a published book had sprung out of maternal duties was typical. Men wrote moral tales too, and there was definitely money to be made from them. But it was a genre associated with women, which probably partly accounts for its lowly literary status.

Moral tales became longer and often more sophisticated. Sarah Fielding’s The Governess (1749) was an early school story, but had a structure similar to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, each of the schoolgirls giving an account of her own life then telling a moral story for the education of the whole class. ‘An Adventure of Master Tommy Trusty and his Delivering Miss Biddy Johnson, from the Thieves who were going to murder her’ (in The Lilliputian Magazine, 1751-52) was a novel in miniature, warning against the childish vanity of Biddy who was kidnapped because she insisted in walking around town in fine clothes and jewellery. The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes (1765), also published by John Newbery, was perhaps the first full-length novel for children, telling how the young Margery became an orphan, how she educated herself and then others, how she ran a school, foiled an attempted burglary, exposed a fake ghost and, eventually, married the local landowner.

By the end of the century, in the hands of skilful writers such as Maria Edgeworth, the moral tale could introduce the reader to psychologically complex characters put in situations in which there wasn’t always a clear moral path to be taken. A famous example is Edgeworth’s ‘The Purple Jar’, first published in The Parent’s Assistant (1796). It depicts the agonies of indecision of Rosamond, a girl who wants to do right but, when her mother refuses to advise her, chooses (foolishly) to buy a gaudy vase rather than the new shoes she will soon need. The vase Rosamond buys turns out to be full of a foul-smelling purple liquid which, when poured away, leaves her with only a rather dull glass jar. This demonstrates why the moral tale was so successful: carefully designed narratives could allow characters, and through them the readers, to learn by their own mistakes, rather than by direct authorial admonition.

Indeed, most moral tales were set in familiar environments – middle-class homes, nicely kept gardens, well-to-do villages and cities – which would maximise the reader’s identification with the characters and their dangers and dilemmas. The values being taught were generally familiar too: commercial qualities like hard work, thrift and honesty; moral virtues like solicitude for others; social virtues like politeness, charity and obedience to parents; and a rationality which disdained fear of the dark or ghosts and rejected sentimentality or excessive emotion. In the early 19th century, the Evangelical revival led to an increasing number of religious tales, many of them published and distributed by the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge or the Religious Tract Society. The most famous was probably Mary Martha Sherwood’s The History of the Fairchild Family (1818-47). Even with all its overt religiosity, The Fairchild Family could entertain and perhaps comfort the reader with its familiar domestic setting, its close study of parent-child relationships, its strong central characters, and the small predicaments they find themselves in.

Romantic writers, in the early 19th century, found it expedient to make the moral tale the butt of their complaints about what they saw as the increasingly utilitarian direction society was taking. This kind of literature, they argued, suppressed imagination and true morality. In 1808, for example, Samuel Taylor Coleridge lectured against ‘moral tales where a good little boy comes in and says, Mama, I met a poor beggarman and gave him the sixpence you gave me yesterday. Did I do right?’ Such books, he said, ‘do not teach goodness – but if I might venture such a word – goodyness’. Writing in 1823, Sir Walter Scott agreed that when children read moral tales, ‘their minds are, as it were, put into the stocks’ and he objected to the way ‘the moral always consists in good conduct being crowned with success’. ‘I would not give one tear shed over Little Red Riding Hood’, he went on, ‘for all the benefit to be derived from a hundred histories of Jemmy Goodchild’.But in fact, these critics hugely exaggerated the dichotomy, and the line between the moral and instructional tale, and the fairy tale and fantasy writing, was very blurred. Moral tale authors were not above employing fairies and fantasy elements, particularly talking animals, as in Dorothy Kilner’s The Life and Perambulations of a Mouse (1783) or Sarah Trimmer’s Fabulous Histories (1786) about a family of robins. There is plenty of evidence that actual children enjoyed moral tales every bit as much as the more traditional stories that the Romantic poets claimed to prefer. The moral tales could often be very radical too, in stylistic, substantive as well as political terms. They pioneered science education for instance, for girls as well as boys, and many moral tales decried the slave trade. The Happy Family; or, Winter Evenings’ Employment (1801) was one, an older brother explaining slavery to his six-year-old sister and urging a boycott of the sugar that keeps the slave trade going. ‘Perhaps if older Christians than we were to come to a resolution to break the fetters, to emancipate and kindly raise up these poor afflicted fellow-creatures, who are so sorely burthened,’ he tells her, ‘they would feel a more exquisite sensation that they had ever before experienced.’

Despite the poets’ disdain, the moral tale did not die out in the 19th century. It continued alongside the revival of the fairy tales tradition and the new fashion for fantasy literature. Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1857), for instance, was not so very different from Fielding’s Governess, written a century before, teaching a certain kind of morality in a school setting. Mrs Ewing’s Jackanapes (1879) was a moral story set on an imperial battlefield. Indeed, it might be said that the moral tale entered the mainstream. Charlotte Yonge’s The Heir of Redclyffe (1853) was not written as a children’s book, though it was widely read by the young, but in classic moral tale style, it used an affecting narrative to ram home to its many readers the virtues of patience, devotion and integrity. By the start of the 20th century, this kind of moral literature was still being mocked, in E. Nesbit’s The Wouldbegoods (1901) for instance. But had the moral tale not been a common feature of many children’s lives, that mockery would have had no purchase. Despite the flowering of fantasy literature, instruction was just as important a part of children’s literature in the 20th century as it had been at its origins 200 years previously.

Fantasy and Fairytale in Children’s Literature

By M. O. Grenby
The British Library
Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

It is not as easy as one might think to define fantasy literature, or even the fairy tale. Must a fairy story contain actual fairies for instance? Or is the presence of an ogre, a talking cat, or of larger-than-life characters like Bluebeard enough? Must a fantasy story take place solely in a made-up land, or is it ok if the characters casually slip between our world and the other worlds? And must the fantasy world be full of wonders, impossible in our world, or do alternative universes which are actually rather banal and similar to our own count? What about journeys to strange worlds which turn out to be the past, or the future, of our own? What about worlds that turn out to be merely a character’s dream or hallucination? What about ghost stories, or superhero stories, or utopias, or satires, or stories in which animals are given thoughts and intelligible voices? In short, fantasy literature, and the fairy tale, are amorphous and ambiguous genres, whose boundaries are actually very difficult to set. What is certain, however, is that both fantasy and fairy tale literature have proved hugely popular with children. Indeed for many young readers, and critics, these genres are the core of children’s literature. But the place of this kind of make-believe literature in children’s culture has not always been secure, and it has a complex history.

Historians of children’s books have often seen two forces – realism and didacticism on the one hand, and fantasy and fun on the other – as constantly in competition. Didactic literature, they argue, dominated in the 18th century, but in the Romantic period, around the start of the 19th century, the fantastic (they say) finally began to win the battle. The Brothers Grimm’s fairytales, first published in German in 1812, were translated into English in 1823. Hans Christian Andersen’s stories began to appear in the 1830s (first translated into English in 1846). And Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published in 1865. All these books can be seen as marking the beginning of a ‘Golden Age’, with fantasies of various kinds, like E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It (1902), Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902), J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan (1904), Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows (1908) and, in America, L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), setting the stage for the great fantasy writers of the 20th century, notably C. S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Philippa Pearce, Lucy Boston, Alan Garner and Philip Pullman.

There are, however, several problems with an account that pitches fantasy and fairytale into a simplistic battle with realism and didacticism. First of all, there’s the question of whether didactic and realist children’s literature was really so dominant in the 18th century. Certainly it was the case that many 18th-century educationalists cautioned against introducing children to the supernatural. The philosopher John Locke, writing in Some Thoughts Concerning Education in 1693, influentially warned parents and teachers not to tell stories of ‘spirits and goblins’ in case they frightened the children in their care. But we should note that Locke had multiple agendas. He was concerned that supernatural tales were the province of servants and the poor, and one of his main aims was to remove the children of the middle and upper classes from the influence of their social inferiors. We should also remember that for most children in 18th-century Britain, stories of ghosts and goblins, and popular tales like Fortunatus (with his bottomless purse and magic hat) and Jack the Giant-Killer, would have been standard fare, whether told orally or published in cheap and flimsy chapbooks.

In any case, the more respectable children’s literature that began to emerge for the first time in the 18th century was far from devoid of fantastical elements. One highly regarded favourite in middle- and upper-class families were the fairytales of Charles Perrault, first published in France in the 1690s and in English in 1729. They contained morals alongside the supernatural elements. ‘The Little Red Riding Hood’, for instance, ended with a warning for ‘growing ladies fair’ against wolves ‘With luring tongues, and language wondrous sweet’ who ‘Follow young ladies as they walk the street’. And although fairytales continued to be criticised by Lockean educationalists, new editions were printed especially for children throughout the century. Similarly, following their first appearance in English at the start of the 18th century, the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments were quickly taken up by a juvenile audience. By the end of the century they were being published in editions designed especially for children, with added didacticism. The compiler of The Oriental Moralist or the Beauties of the Arabian Nights Entertainment (1791), Richard Johnson, admitted that he had ‘added many moral reflections, wherever the story would admit of them’ and ‘considerably altered the tales … to fortify the youthful heart against the impressions of vice’.

But in fact the line between fantasy and didacticism had always been very blurred. Even the mid 18th-century pioneers of the ‘new’ children’s literature would often include fantastical elements in their supposedly rationalist and instructional books. John Newbery’s Lilliputian Magazine (1751-52), for instance, included accounts of several voyages in which young boys and girls find themselves in strange lands populated by bizarre creatures or full of fairytale possibilities. One story takes us to ‘Angelica’, for instance, where there lives a race of tiny people with three eyes, one on the tip of their right-hand middle finger, which can be thrust down someone’s throat to determine moral worth. Another story takes us to ‘Petula’, where a poor London orphan named Polly, eventually becomes queen because of her great virtue, and lives in ‘a palace of jasper, the front of which was overlaid with pure gold, the floor paved with pearls and emeralds, and the ceilings adorned with the most curious paintings of sacred history’.

These are moral tales certainly, but they are not so very dissimilar from C S Lewis’s Narnia stories or the many other ‘alternative world’ fantasies of the 20th century in which undistinguished children find themselves transported to weird and wonderful lands where they suddenly wield great power. Another example of an 18th-century ‘moral fantasy’ is The Prettiest Book for Children; Being the History of an Enchanted Castle; Situated in one of the Fortunate Isles (1770). Here, the ‘enchanted castle’ belongs to a giant called ‘Instruction’, who employs new methods to teach children lucky enough to find themselves there. Again, this isn’t so very different from more modern fantasy literature. Alice’s Wonderland and the Never Never Land in Peter Pan are really spatial representations of childhood itself, from which adults are debarred and where children can behave entirely as they ‘ought’. The Never Never Land, with its pirates, ‘Indians’, fairies and mermaids and their eternal games and stories, represents Barrie’s idea of what childhood would look like if it could be plotted on a map. Similarly, the ‘Fortunate Isles’ in The Prettiest Book for Children is an adult writer’s fantasy of what childhood should be: a zone of cheerful and effective education.

In the 18th century then, fantasy and didacticism could evidently happily coexist in the same books. But the same was also true in the 19th. A series actually called ‘Moral Fairy Tales’ appeared in the 1820s, including such titles as Miss Selwyn’s Mary and Jane; or, Who Would Not Be Industrious? Not dissimilar was Christina Rossetti’s Speaking Likenesses (1874), an imitation of Carroll’s Alice in which the heroine finds herself transported to a world where children’s exteriors exhibit their disagreeable moral characters. In 1853, George Cruikshank, who had illustrated the Brothers Grimm’s tales, began to rewrite fairy stories so that they included obvious anti-alcohol lessons (infuriating Charles Dickens, who, in keeping with the Romantics’ reverence for what they thought a sacred trove of ancient stories, attacked such ‘meddling’ in his 1853 essays ‘Frauds on the Fairies’). And it is difficult to think of a more preachy book than Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby (1863), one of the most celebrated of all children’s fantasies but also including substantial amounts of moralising and a large dose of social realism in its attack on child chimney sweeps. George MacDonald’s At the Back of the North Wind (1871) is another hybrid: part fairytale, part social realism, and part religious allegory.

Even Alice, if looked at in a certain light, can seem rather didactic. Carroll mocks the cautionary tale: the ‘nice little histories’ Alice has read, ‘about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts and other unpleasant things, all because they WOULD not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if your hold it too long; and that if you cut your finger VERY deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds’. But Alice does learn as she goes through Wonderland and then the Looking-Glass world. After falling down the rabbit hole (a sort of birth) and wrestling with the Caterpillar’s interrogation about who she actually is, she gradually grows up, encountering small, cuddly creatures first, then scarier figures like the Duchess and the Queen, dealing with increasingly adult concerns (anger, death, judgment), and understanding how to comply with strange rituals like the croquet match. All the time she is gaining a stronger sense of herself until, at the end of the second book, she finally comes into her own by becoming a queen on the chessboard. Much fantasy literature seeks to teach similar lessons in empathy and what the Germans call Bildung (‘formation’, ‘self-education’). In F. Anstey’s Vice Versa (1882), for example, a boy and his father find they have swapped bodies and must learn to live in each other’s places. And in Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Selfish Giant’ (from The Happy Prince and Other Tales, 1888), characteristically for late Victorian writing, it is the adults (represented by the giant) who learn from the children as much as the other way round.

Why fantasy literature became so popular in the 19th century is not exactly clear, but its success was surely linked to rapid social, economic and intellectual change. Social reformers like John Ruskin and William Morris may have seen in the fairytale tradition, with its medievalism and its privileging of individualism, honour and the ‘old ways’, an antidote to the industrial and urban society whose advance they regretted. (Both Ruskin and Morris wrote successful fantasy novels: respectively The King of the Golden River, 1851; and The Well at the World’s End, 1894). Dickens, in his ‘Frauds on the Fairies’, wrote that ‘In an utilitarian age, of all other times, it is a matter of grave importance that Fairy tales should be respected’. Kingsley’s Water-Babies was, in part, a response to Charles Darwin’s On the Origins of Species, published only four years earlier, and Nesbit’s innovative time-shift fantasies, such as The Story of the Amulet (1906) were clearly influenced by the same developing ideas in physics that inspired H G Wells’s The Time Machine (1895). Whatever led to the rise of fantasy literature, two things are clear. Firstly, by the end of the 19th century children were having a vast range of fairytales and fantasy literature written for them. And secondly, this literature was not quite so different as we might at first think from the realistic and didactic texts that fantasy and fairytales have sometimes been seen as displacing.

Education in Victorian Britain

By Liza Picard
The British Library
Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Ragged schools originated in the Sunday School founded in 1780 by Robert Raikes in Gloucester, who taught children to read so that they could read the Bible. Then a Portsmouth cobbler, John Pounds, gathered groups of children to play with his disabled nephew, and by 1818 had a class of 30 or 40 who he was teaching to read, from the Bible because it was the only book easily available. The idea spread to London. In 1844, 19 Ragged Schools joined to form a Ragged School Union, headed by Lord Shaftesbury. By 1861 they were teaching over 40,000 children in London, including the children of convicts, drunks and abusive step‐parents, and deserted orphans – and even ‘the children of poor Roman Catholics who do not object to their children reading the Bible’. By 1870 there were 250 Ragged Schools in London and over 100 in the provinces. Meanwhile Quintin Hogg, the ex‐Etonian son of a prosperous London merchant, had set up a Ragged School, just off the Strand in London, in 1863, when he was just 18. His pupils were the wildest and most destitute of the street children. Hogg persevered, and even set up a ‘doss house’ for homeless boys. One of his sisters was enlisted to run classes for girls, who were just as wild. The London Polytechnic, now the University of Westminster, can trace its origin to Quintin Hogg.

The idea of apprenticeships was admirable: for a fixed term, usually seven years, a master or mistress of a trade would train a young person so that he could earn his living at that trade. The master kept the apprentice in board, lodging and clothes, but had no duty to pay him, although many did in the final years of the term, when the apprentice had learned enough to be helpful. The system applied throughout society. Prosperous merchants, goldsmiths and bankers made tidy sums from the premiums paid by the parents of hopeful apprentices. The members of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames, who had a monopoly of river traffic, had 2,140 apprentices in 1858. Poor masters could profit from the unpaid labour of children taken from the parish workhouse. There were many scandals of parish apprentices being so ill‐treated that they ran away, or even died.

Parish workhouses were supposed to provide education for the children in their care whom they had not managed to apprentice out, but this duty was poorly observed. Some satisfied it by shunting their children to the Central London District School for Pauper Children on the outskirts of London, known as the ‘Monster School’ because of its size – it housed 1,000 pupils. (Charlie Chaplin was one such pupil, later.)

The Church of England and the non‐conformist movement both provided elementary education, and both adopted the Lancaster system whereby the brightest pupil taught what he had learned, to a group of fellow‐pupils, each of whom in turn passed it on, and so on: tidy and superficially efficient but prone to errors. Nevertheless Joseph Lancaster himself gave 1000 children some grasp of the rudiments, reading, writing and ‘reckoning’, in this way. The system was replaced by properly trained pupil‐teachers in 1846. Both establishments set up teacher training colleges, which gave their graduates the entrance to employment as well‐trained, certificated teachers.

The Jews Free School had opened in the east end of London in 1817. By 1822 it offered ‘a religious, moral and useful education’ to 600 Jewish boys and half as many girls – already almost up to the Monster School level. From 1842 to 1897 its head was Moses Angel, a brilliant polymath with a genius for teaching. By 1870 it had 2,400 pupils, and was perhaps the largest school in the world. (It still exists today in Harrow.)

Only the English could call their most exclusive and expensive educational establishments ‘public’. Winchester College was the earliest, founded in 1382. The College of St Mary at Eton followed, in 1440. There was a burst of new foundations in the 19th century, reflecting the aspirations of the middle classes to the status symbols of the nobility and gentry. They emphasized the importance of sportsmanship and of a brand of Christianity later called ‘Muscular Christianity’. They produced self‐confident young men ready to become leaders destined for the army or the civil service, at home or in the Empire. Scholarship came lower down in their priorities.

In the upper classes it was assumed that a girl would marry and that therefore she had no need of a formal education, as long as she could look beautiful, entertain her husband’s guests, and produce a reasonable number of children. ‘Accomplishments’ such as playing the piano, singing and flower‐arranging were all‐important. If she could not find a husband she faced a grim future as a ‘maiden aunt’ whose help could always be called on to look after her aged parents or her siblings’ children. She might even be forced to take on employment as a governess, shut away in the schoolroom with children who had little interest in absorbing the information she was teaching. This became increasingly unattractive to intelligent women. But their future was improved when Queen’s College in Harley Street, London was founded in 1848, to give governesses a recognized and marketable qualification. No ‘accomplishments’ there. Ten more years saw the foundation of Cheltenham Ladies’ College. Other girls’ public schools followed. This increase in female education led to renewed demands for the vote. The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was founded in 1897, hotly denounced by the Queen, who from her position of unimaginable power saw no reason why women should want to vote at all.

The Factory Act of 1833, had imposed a duty on employers to provide half‐time education for employees under 13. In practice, the Act was easily ignored. The break‐through came in 1870. Elected school boards could levy a local rate to build new schools providing education up to the age of 10. In 1880 the provision of elementary schooling for both sexes was made compulsory, and the age raised to 13. By 1874 5,000 ‘Board Schools’ were running. Another change in the law enabled grammar schools for girls to be founded and funded. By 1898, 90 such schools had been founded

For centuries, the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge had imposed three barriers to entrance. An applicant had to be 1: male; 2: unmarried; and 3: a member of the Church of England. While 2 and 3 could be evaded with a little cunning, 1 could not. Non‐sectarian colleges had been opened in London from 1828 onwards, grouped into London University in 1836. Durham University was founded in 1832, Owens College in Manchester in 1851, and Birmingham University in 1900. In 1878 London University admitted women to two colleges, Bedford College, and the Royal Holloway College opened by Queen Victoria in 1886, which was funded by the proceeds of patent medicines. But Oxford and Cambridge held out against women until the next century.

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