Laneton Parsonage was, we remember, published in 1846-1848. By the time Note-Book of an Elderly Lady was appearing serially (prior to 1881) experience had "considerably altered" Miss Sewell's opinion as to the "superiority of day-schools over boarding-schools for girls" (Note-Book, p. 330). As late as Principles of Education (1866), she had written with a touch of acid: "We see advertisements in the newspapers which tell us that for twenty, thirty, or forty pounds a year, young people are to receive all the care and tenderness belonging to a home" (Principles, p. 66). Within ten years or so, however, Miss Sewell had come to see the superiority of the home in disciplining a girl's mind and character as "illusory. " Her fear now that, particularly in the homes of tradesmen and professional people, "the claims of business and housekeeping, to say nothing of amusements" will be "considered before those of the children" (Note-Book, pp. 330-31).1 Aside from this Miss Sewell had come to realize that boarding schools had no monopoly on frivolousness and lack of refinement (p. 331)—what she had earlier called "school-girl tone." The "school-girl tone, " she wrote in Principles of Education, " is low, untrue, irreverent. ... It will exhibit itself in an outward polish of manner, but no ease; a flimsy show of accomplishments, and very little information; a flip- pant tone of conceit, and a weak judgment; an intense secret worldliness, combined with the newest fashion in religion ..." (p. 393).
If Elizabeth Sewell's views on the education of girls became more realistic and somewhat less visionary as she grew older, it is probably due to her own grappling with the problems of founding and operating a school on a shoestring budget. St. Boniface School at Ventnor, Isle of Wight, was founded in 1865, but it did not become self-supporting until years later. This venture unquestionably drew on all her previous experience in education from her work in the village school at Bonchurch during the Laneton Parsonage period (see Journal entry for April 7, 1849) through her long years of receiving pupils in her own home, a practice that continued up until 1890. Yet the St. Boniface venture was distinct from either of these in that it was aimed at daughters of middle-class families, whereas the village school had accommodated chiefly lower-class children and Miss Sewell's private venture at Ashcliff served the upper classes.
Like Nathaniel Woodard of the well known Woodard Schools and many others of the mid-nineteenth century. Miss Sewell had become concerned for the social class which any thoughtful observer of the English educational scene could see was worst off. The Report of the Committee of Council, 1870-71, put the matter very succinctly: "The middle-class, it is generally admitted, is the neglected class. The rich endowments of the public schools and universities chiefly benefit the upper classes; the small grammar school is converted into a national school for the education of the poor."2 For the girl of the middle class the situation was particularly critical. Few adequate schools for girls existed at any level. A tradesman might be too proud to send his daughter to a national school and too poor to send her to a private school. Besides, a high fee was no guarantee of high quality.
The exact boundaries of the middle class "were of course sometimes a bit difficult to determine. The Victorians tended to think of social class in terms of occupations. Brian Heeney, in Mission to the Middle Classes: The Woodard Schools 1848-1891, devotes seven pages (5-12) to defining the term "middle classes," noting that "in 1865 the Guardian referred to the middle classes as made up principally of farmers, retail dealers, and clerks."3 In Note-Book of an Elderly Lady, Mrs. Malcolm, the rector's wife, is made to inquire: "Does the grandson of a nobleman belong to the middle class when he is obliged to work for his bread? And does the grandchild of a tailor or shoemaker cease to belong to the middle class when he marries an Earl's daughter, lives at Something-Hall, and has twenty thousand a year to spend?" (p. 81). "But we all understand what we mean?" protests Mrs. Blair — a reply that does very nicely until she thinks to ask, "Do I belong to the middle class?" (p. 300). There truly indeed be a psychological block involved in assigning oneself to a particular social class. Anne J. Clough had the same sort of problem in mind when she suggested a name such as Victoria Schools for schools intended for girls of the middle class.4 Often the term "middle school" was used to refer to a school for children of the middle class, and Miss Clough feared that professional families would not send their daughters to an institution so labeled.
In January, 1872, Elizabeth Sewell contributed to Macmillan's Magazine an article summarizing her experience with St. Boniface School under the title "An Experiment in Middle -Class Education. " It is worth examining in some detail for the light it sheds on Miss Sewell's own thought and work as well as on, some of the most pressing problems in the field of nineteenth-century education. Miss Sewell prefaces her account with references to small private schools in which "the intellectual teaching left the children with the impression that the Jordan was a mountain, and Paris the capital of Turkey; whilst the moral training was strengthened by instruction . . . in the art of getting in and out of a carriage."5 To avoid such travesties on education Miss Sewell concluded that two things were necessary: (1) A middle-class girls' school must be under the supervision of "educated ladies who should make the "school their personal care," and (2) "it must be a Church school." Miss Sewell's reasons for supervision and testing by ladies will be left for discussion in a later chapter. In her insistence that the best school will be a Church school Miss Sewell sums up what must have been the view of the majority of Churchmen of her time as one reads of the struggles of Church and State, Church and Dissenters in the nineteenth century:6 "Education implies moral training, moral training implies religion as its sanction, and religion implies a creed" (Macmillan's 25:243). Like Nathaniel Woodard Miss Sewell clung to "a Tory view of the union of Church and State" and "to the Church's vocation as national educator, " and viewed her educational scheme as a means of "drawing the middle classes into the Anglican fold" (Heeney, pp. 185, 175.). She may even have shared William Sewell's view that Christian schools would save the Church of England (See James, p. 46).
Having stated her point that middle-class education for girls must be church-related, Miss Sewell in the Macmillan's article goes on to affirm that "a Middle School ought to be self-supporting" (p. 243). In the same paragraph she lists the drawbacks to financial success of locating such a school in Vent- nor, I.O.W.: a small, fluctuating population with few "upper tradesmen" and "lower tradesmen, " high rents and high prices. In a characteristically matter-of-fact statement Miss Sewell then writes: "The first requisite was money." Estimates called for "£200 a year for the first three years, and £100 for the first expenses. " The need for the school was felt to be so pressing, however, that Miss Sewell and her associates actually began with only £150 secured for the first year and less for the next two years. "Our highest subscriptions, " she writes "were £5 with occasional donations ranging up to £20." A letter inserted in The Guardian brought some subscriptions and many applications for the position of governess.7
The governess, or head mistress, of St. Boniface's, Miss Sewell had decided, must be "a certified mistress from one of the great training schools" (Macmillan's 25:244). By the term "great training school" Elizabeth Sewell undoubtedly meant one of the women's teacher training colleges built between 1842, when the National Society founded Whitelands in Chelsea, and 1872, the year in which she published the Macmillan's article, at which time the opening of Bishop Otter Memorial College at Chichester in Sussex was being planned. Bishop Otter College, which Miss Sewell mentions favorably in the Note-Book (p. 120), opened the following year "for the purpose of training ladies as elementary teachers in the principles of the Church of England."8 Of the twenty-six teacher-training colleges for women established between 1842 and 1894 the majority were, in fact. Church related, in part at least because of building and maintenance grants available to church colleges during this period. (The demand for teacher-training colleges in general — many of the earlier ones patterned after Kay-Shuttleworth's Battersea, founded in 1840 — was of course increased by the fact that from 1870 on all children were required by law to be in school up through at least the age of ten, or failing the obtaining of a certain standard, until fourteen.)
To discover the training-school certified mistress desired for St. Boniface School Miss Sewell and "the incumbent, "— that is, her parish clergyman — advertised in the National Society's monthly paper. Forty applicants or so were narrowed down to three, of whom thorough investigation was made. The final choice, whose name we know from the Journal (entries for August 6, 1866 and July 26, 1873) as Miss Ellen Seeley, had been governess to a private family before going to training college at Fishponds. In addition to a "first-class certificate" this paragon is said to have possessed "principles, [a good] temper, and refinement of mind and manner" (Macmillan's 25:244). To complete the instructional staff. Miss Sewell undertook to teach history herself, hired a master for music, and for the time being placed the French language in the hands of a lady volunteer.
Instruction having been arranged for, the next requisite was pupils. Distribution of a prospectus which "gave the names of two gentlemen as trustees, the incumbent of the district as visitor, his wife and myself as superintendents" elicited the offer of three pupils, "children of some of the first tradesmen in the place" (p. 244). To attract more pupils to St. Boniface's, Miss Sewell goes on, the intended tuition fee of ten pounds per year had to be lowered to £6 for children of eight years of age, with an increase of £1 each year up to £10; whilst in the case of two or more children from the same family, we made a deduction of £2 per annum for each child."
Originally St. Boniface was intended to be a day-school only. A chance circumstance converted it into a mixed day and boarding school. When the governess designate wrote and asked to bring three children who had been left in her charge, it was decided to enlarge the prospectus and advertise for boarders at £30 per annum. "And so," Miss Sewell continues in the Macmillan's account, "we began our -work with seven pupils, in a small furnished house, for which we payed £77 per annum, this sum including cooking and attendance" (p. 245). With only £150 subscribed for the first year this was indeed a venture of faith. Before the first year was out the rented quarters had grown too small; yet an available larger home could not be purchased without additional subscriptions and additional student fees.
At this point in her account of establishing St. Boniface Miss Sewell pauses to comment on the nature of the competition for the small church school. The pool of potential day pupils had been drawn upon heavily by "the new and good school set up on a liberal basis by the ex-national schoolmaster and his wife" (Macmillan's 25:245). The tradespeople in a neighboring town, in whose homes Miss Sewell visited "to explain the object and style of the education we proposed to give" preferred, she says "sending their children to London, where they might be taught by 'professors'" (p. 245).
Financial stability was a long time in coming to St. Boniface according to its founder's account. In the third year a dearth of boarding pupils inspired the desperate expedient of renting first-floor rooms to lodgers — a plan that might have worked had not the new tenants found unbearable the noise of piano practice sessions taking place above them. Since the four guineas a year payed by each music student were indispensable to the budget, the lodgers had to go. By the time Miss Sewell wrote the Macmillan's article, she could report an enrollment of thirty-three children, of whom seven were boarders and twenty-six day pupils. She could also declare optimistically: "When the yearly accounts are made up I hope to find that; we are nearly self-supporting" (Macmillan's 25:245).Financial considerations aside, Miss Sewell claims for St. Boniface "moral effects" which justify the conclusion that such a school can succeed anywhere. As evidence she offers the following points: Examinations prove that the girls have been instructed well, and observation reveals their "propriety of demeanor." Superintendents, visitors, and trustees are able to forestall abrasive relations between teachers and pupils. Finally, the school tends to "unite together in a common interest the different classes of society, in England often so widely separated," functioning in the community as "a centre round which the most respectable people in the town gather" (p. 246).
The remainder of Miss Sewell's article "An Experiment in Middle-Class Education" deals with the provisions which guarantee close connections with the Anglican Church, including the clergyman of the parish as ex-officio visitor, all managers members of the Church of England, and the Bishop's office as a court of final appeal. Children from Dissenting families may be pupils in the day school, but not in the boarding school unless their parents consent to their being brought up as members of the Church. Her reasoning, which seems to have been fairly typical for Church educators of the period, is as follows: "The boarding school is the family, it cannot admit of religion differences" (p. 248).
Miss Sewell seems not to have envisioned the possibility of pupils whose families were Catholic, Jewish, "or unaffiliated when she dreamed her "dream of a network of St. Boniface schools spreading over the country" (p. 247). In a footnote to her "Experiment in Middle-Class Education" Miss Sewell comments favorably upon the "prospectus of a school in Camden Town which certainly seems to move in the right direction." Miss Sewell refers to the second school founded by Mary Frances Buss, which, though private, was supervised by the local Church of England clergy, who saw to the religious instruction of girls from the lower middle class while they were being made fit "for business or domestic life" or were learning "to become elementary teachers of their own children or of the children of others."9 Miss Sewell's admiration for Miss Buss's enterprises is shown, as already mentioned, from the Journal entry for July 3rd to the 23rd, 1875 (Journal, p. 285). Did the advocate of the chain of "St. Boniface schools" know that Miss Buss had written, as early as 1868, "Even Jewesses have received the whole of their education in the school"?10 In any case, it is clear from the same Journal entry that Miss Sewell must have had an inkling by 1875 that Miss Buss's London Collegiate would be known to posterity not as a Church of England school but as the prototype of the large girls' high school which was to force the small private, sectarian school out of business. Ten years later (May 20, 1885) she was to write in her Journal, p. 307, "The rage is for High Schools.
What did Miss Sewell think of the secular high schools? In Note-Book of an Elderly Lady she takes, in regard to such high schools, the via media position we have come to expect of her; she has no desire for the Church to compete directly with the public high schools. In areas where secular high schools have already been established she sees no need to set up a Church school (p. 22). In a letter to the editor of The Guardian, to whom Miss Sewell had earlier appealed for advertisement of St. Boniface, she is even more emphatic on the point of not founding schools "in opposition to high schools." From Ashcliff, Bonchurch on March 15, 1881, she writes: "I think of them [diocesan schools] as intended for a class who do not live within reach of high schools, and who cannot afford the expense of a boarding-house. England's needs are surely urgent enough to demand more than one kind of education."11
For clever, aggressive girls, high school may do well enough, but there are several reasons Miss Sewell mentions in the Note-Book why she instinctively distrusts the secular high school and favors the type of "Church High School for Girls," which actually came into being in London under the direction of the Reverend Francis Holland — a fact which Miss Sewell mentions in a footnote (p. 33) added when the Note-Book was published in book form. Miss Sewell's reasons for preferring the Church high school for girls to its secular counterpart are put into the mouth of Mrs. Blair, "author" of the Note-Book. "I distrust them [secular high schools]," Mrs. Blair states, "partly because I dislike the crowd and excitement and competition for girls [italics mine], partly because it seems to me that in this competition the child of moderate or poor abilities must be swamped by her clever companions. But most of all because I believe the secret of all good education for girls is the personal influence of a superior mind; and in High Schools, whatever may be the talent or the goodness of the lady at the head, she must, from the very fact of the numbers "who frequent the school, delegate her authority . . ." (Note-Book, p. 26).
Contained in the above statement, implicitly or explicitly, are the tenets of Miss Sewell's credo for the training of women for their sphere in life, which will be the focus of the next chapter. The nature of the female sex, Miss Sewell feels, implies certain considerations for the education of girls and women which do not necessarily apply to the education of males. She insists, furthermore, that the girl of moderate abilities is not to be overlooked. "Personal influence" being all important, the girls' school must, in Miss Sewell's view, be kept small. Finally, the term "Church school" suggests the primacy of religious teachings, and our general knowledge of Miss Sewell's thinking tells us that the education of any woman is intended to fit her for social and familial position. We are now ready to look particularly at Elizabeth Sewell's views on women — their special needs, and the contribution they may make to society as they relate to men and to other women.
Last modified 23 March 2008