In 1800 there were only a very small number of women who were literate, this was a large number of women who could neither read, nor write, this was the way that the men of the time wanted it to be. This was because women were not seen to need these skills, they should stay in the home and perform their duties as a mother. By 1900 a large number of women were literate. This change was largely due to universal elementary education. The biggest early provider of this education were factories and workhouses, the education went hand-in-hand with these places as many women children were working at them at this time.
Also, the poor law began in 1834, unemployed people could go to work houses where they would be given jobs to do. These jobs were often meaningless tasks such as bone breaking to try and encourage people to get out and get a job. Naturally the conditions at these places were horrible. This was to make sure that you would not go there by choice and sponge off the state. The poor law also made the work houses legally bound to give half time education to all its child workers. These schools taught the three R’s, reading, writing and arithmetic. The education was poor but it was equal for both genders.
Workhouse schools were often a lot worse than in the factories, both sexes were taught to read but girls were often taught more domestic jobs such as sewing and cooking rather than academic subjects that they would not need in the home In 1870 the education act was passed to educate all. The church wanted people to read the bible and so the Church of England National Society for Education was set up. The majority of working class children went to these schools at some point, the Sunday schools offered similar education to factory schools and religious groups financed them.
Some people believe that this was just a social control to convince the working classes to accept their position in life. Although this was one of the only educational opportunities for girls many parents kept them at home. Girls and boys were also seated separately. During the 1830’s the middle class values began to be incorporated and girls were taught how to cook and clean. Inspectors even suggested that arithmetic might help with shopping bills. Dame schools were also set up. These were run by women for a small fee, the teachers were part-time and mainly female.
They were seen as better then the factory run schools because they had a better atmosphere. The quality of the education varied as many taught gender-specific skills such as needlework to girls only. The 1870 education act had many benefits such as schools built in poorer areas and Local Education Authorities replacing school boards in 1902 paving the way for secondary education. However, there were fears over moral decline and this led to attempts to reinforce family values, in 1878 domestic science was made compulsory in Board Schools.
These emphases on domesticity meant that many girls did worse in subjects like arithmetic that were given a lower priority. Girls were not discriminated against in education, but the education of boys was seen as more important. During 1833 the government gave away money to existing schools to help them educate the children. Working class men were given the vote in 1867, this gave hope and a greater prospect to the working classes. Then in 1870 the plan was to, “fill in the gaps” this was because some people were not being educated. In order to educate them Board schools were set up in areas with low prevision.
The need for education was spreading due to the power of the church and social control, if the children are educated at a young age then they will not turn against the government later on in life. Political and economic growths are also reasons for this want of education. By 1880 education was compulsory in Britain for all girls and boys. In 1890 the monitorial system came into play, this was a pupil to teacher system where children with good prospects as teachers would stay on at the school and become monitors, and eventually they would also become teachers themselves.
In 1864 Kay-Shuttleworth set up a scheme where grants were given to best equipped elementary schools to train teachers, however, this system was criticized for lack of intellectual rigor and was ended in 1902. In 1842 the first women’s college was founded at Whitelands but used trainee students as domestic helps. For the working classes the amount of change was not substantial, although the education act meant that a lot of women were suddenly able to read and write, however it stopped there.
The focus at this time was on universal education of all, but this education was gender specific, as the academic education of boys seemed to take priority. This does not mean to say that this did not aid women’s emancipation, as the skills acquired would be very useful in the suffragette years to come. This is also an example of continuity, the change for this group was not large as I mentioned above and there was not a great deal to come for the working classes for quite some time. Education of the middle and upper classes consisted of most girls being taught at home by parents or a home tutor if you could afford one.
Thus this education varied and was usually directed at the domestic side of life such as child upbringing, cooking and cleaning. The aim of home tutoring was primarily to help women find a husband. The argument used against education at this time was that it was cause an upset in social order with women competing for professional jobs. That the relationship between the sexes would break down and social values lost. This is view is obviously incorrect but the men at the time were afraid of this new kind of educated women.
In the mid 19th Century new schools were established, they were run by trustees on a professional basis to educate middle class girls, e. g. The North London Collegiate school founded by Frances Mary Buss. However, girls were still expected to behave in a ladylike manner and only the minority attended with 70 % still at the old private schools. These schools were highly exclusive, with high fees and only the daughters of independent gentlemen and professionals were allowed. For this group of women the change was almost the opposite of the working classes.