Back to School

Nicola4Here in the UK it’s the first day of the new school year today. I can vividly remember the pleasure of the school summer holidays – six weeks off! – lasting from the end of July to the beginning of September, including my birthday and usually a holiday by the seaside. Summer was such a treat in that respect! Then the days would start to shorten and the nights would turn cooler and even if it felt as though it was still summer we knew that autumn and a return to school was on the way. The shops would all go on about “back to school” uniforms and stationery, and my grandfather in particular would tease me about going back to school knowing how much I wanted the holidays never to end. It wasn’t that I disliked school. I enjoyed it most of the time but there was something special about those summer holidays of childhood. Of course I never really thought about how fortunate I was to have an education until I started to study history and realised that girls in particular hadn’t always had those opportunities.

I was reminded of this when I watched the new costume drama that’s on UK TV (another sign that summer is over!) Vanity Fair Vanity Fairstarts with the heroine Becky Sharp leaving her position as a teaching assistant at Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for Young Ladies. She has been an “articled pupil” who has had to work for her own education by teaching French to other pupils. There is a big social gap between her and the daughters of rich merchant or gentry families who pay for their education. This is emphasised in the early scenes by the young ladies wearing the pastel colours of debutantes whilst Becky is in grey, a colour associated with work and a colour that often forms a part of school uniforms! (Mine was cherry red and grey.)

Schools such as Miss Pinkerton’s Academy feature heavily in literature in, and about, the Regency and Victorian period. The more exclusive seminaries in London and Bath took both boarders and day pupils and were often established by relatively impoverished gentlewomen who had enough money to set up a school but needed to generate an income from it. Cherry Steane in Georgette Heyer’s Charity Girl attended Miss Fletchling’s School in Bath and was very happy there, whilst Jenny Chawleigh, the daughter of a wealthy merchant in A Civil Contract, was sent to Miss Satterley’s Seminary for the Daughters of Gentlemen in Kensington in the hope she might make some advantageous connections with the upper classes as well as gaining what was known as a “comprehensive education.” This comprised decorum and female accomplishments such as drawing and painting, music and French. Manners and etiquette – elegancy of mind, as it was known – were also highly prized, and I think that is fair enough. I loved studying music and languages, but I’m also glad I had the chance to tackle physics!

Mansion HouseInterestingly though, the Georgian method of education could be construed as a distinct step back for women. Educational opportunities for anyone in Britain had been small in the medieval period, being provided only by family members or the church. Your best chance of an education as a woman was to become a nun; you could then be paid to teach the children on wealthy families. Teaching within the family home often included girls as well as boys since it was an asset to a woman running her own home. If you were a peasant of either sex, however, which most of us would have been, education was not a priority. The rise of the merchant classes in the Tudor and Stuart era was a giant leap forward for women since giving them an education was seen as beneficial to the family business. Elizabeth Craven was one such woman. After the death of her husband she continued to run both his cloth and his moneylending businesses at vast profit. As a girl she and her sisters had been well-educated alongside their brothers. Aphra Behn, poet, playwright, translator and spy was another exceptionally well-educated and able woman of the times.

The Georgian era was a time of contrasts for women’s education since the Bluestocking movement was sharing and promoting Blue stockings National Trust
educational pursuits and authors such as Mary Woolstonecraft were writing on women’s place in society. However the increasing emphasis on the separate spheres, where men went out to work and women took care of the household and the children, meant that girls no longer received the same education as their brothers but one that was more suited to the domestic sphere. Which brings us back to seminaries and poor Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, who couldn’t wait to leave Miss Pinkerton’s Academy but was then obliged to take a role as a governess.

Sitting here today I’m glad I don’t have to go to school on this first day back, but equally glad that I had the chance to learn when I did. When I was watching the lines of girls in their pastel gowns tripping out of Miss Pinkerton’s Academy I can’t help but wonder whether I would have been satisfied with that sort of education or whether I would have been sneaking into the library to read books that were banned for girls…

Do you have happy memories of schooldays, a favourite subject or activity connected with school, or are you glad that time is behind you?

50 thoughts on “Back to School”

  1. I LOVED school! I left early to go working and I will regret it all the rest of my days. I’ve educated myself mostly over the years by reading as I still love learning and can never know enough. History was and is my favorite subject. It’s so enthralling. I read nearly all historical fiction plus non fiction of different eras too.
    I’m watching Vanity Fair also. It was never one of my favorites but we’ll see what they’ve done with it this time.
    Your Summer holidays as a child sound much the same as mine. Oh happy days!!!

    Reply
  2. I LOVED school! I left early to go working and I will regret it all the rest of my days. I’ve educated myself mostly over the years by reading as I still love learning and can never know enough. History was and is my favorite subject. It’s so enthralling. I read nearly all historical fiction plus non fiction of different eras too.
    I’m watching Vanity Fair also. It was never one of my favorites but we’ll see what they’ve done with it this time.
    Your Summer holidays as a child sound much the same as mine. Oh happy days!!!

    Reply
  3. I LOVED school! I left early to go working and I will regret it all the rest of my days. I’ve educated myself mostly over the years by reading as I still love learning and can never know enough. History was and is my favorite subject. It’s so enthralling. I read nearly all historical fiction plus non fiction of different eras too.
    I’m watching Vanity Fair also. It was never one of my favorites but we’ll see what they’ve done with it this time.
    Your Summer holidays as a child sound much the same as mine. Oh happy days!!!

    Reply
  4. I LOVED school! I left early to go working and I will regret it all the rest of my days. I’ve educated myself mostly over the years by reading as I still love learning and can never know enough. History was and is my favorite subject. It’s so enthralling. I read nearly all historical fiction plus non fiction of different eras too.
    I’m watching Vanity Fair also. It was never one of my favorites but we’ll see what they’ve done with it this time.
    Your Summer holidays as a child sound much the same as mine. Oh happy days!!!

    Reply
  5. I LOVED school! I left early to go working and I will regret it all the rest of my days. I’ve educated myself mostly over the years by reading as I still love learning and can never know enough. History was and is my favorite subject. It’s so enthralling. I read nearly all historical fiction plus non fiction of different eras too.
    I’m watching Vanity Fair also. It was never one of my favorites but we’ll see what they’ve done with it this time.
    Your Summer holidays as a child sound much the same as mine. Oh happy days!!!

    Reply
  6. It sounds as though we have such a lot in common, Teresa! I loved history best as well although it did help that I had such an inspirational teacher when I was young.
    I haven’t watched many costume dramas lately and was curious about Vanity Fair. So far they have made Becky Sharp quite sympathetic, I think; I don’t remember her being at all so in the book!

    Reply
  7. It sounds as though we have such a lot in common, Teresa! I loved history best as well although it did help that I had such an inspirational teacher when I was young.
    I haven’t watched many costume dramas lately and was curious about Vanity Fair. So far they have made Becky Sharp quite sympathetic, I think; I don’t remember her being at all so in the book!

    Reply
  8. It sounds as though we have such a lot in common, Teresa! I loved history best as well although it did help that I had such an inspirational teacher when I was young.
    I haven’t watched many costume dramas lately and was curious about Vanity Fair. So far they have made Becky Sharp quite sympathetic, I think; I don’t remember her being at all so in the book!

    Reply
  9. It sounds as though we have such a lot in common, Teresa! I loved history best as well although it did help that I had such an inspirational teacher when I was young.
    I haven’t watched many costume dramas lately and was curious about Vanity Fair. So far they have made Becky Sharp quite sympathetic, I think; I don’t remember her being at all so in the book!

    Reply
  10. It sounds as though we have such a lot in common, Teresa! I loved history best as well although it did help that I had such an inspirational teacher when I was young.
    I haven’t watched many costume dramas lately and was curious about Vanity Fair. So far they have made Becky Sharp quite sympathetic, I think; I don’t remember her being at all so in the book!

    Reply
  11. When I was a kid, school vacation went from late May through early September (it is a much shorter period now). So usually by September I was anxious to get back and see my school chums again. The excitement usually didn’t last too long, but I always looked forward to the start of the school year.
    I finished high school and took some college courses after I started working, but I never finished college. Sometimes I wish I had completed college, but I can’t really say that I regret the choices I made.
    I never lost my love for learning though. God bless my computer. There are days when I think the internet was only made to benefits thieves and perverts (smile), but then I see something that interests me, and down the rabbit hole I go chasing all the info. that I can find on line. And, of course, my favorite subjects were always history, literature, and geography.

    Reply
  12. When I was a kid, school vacation went from late May through early September (it is a much shorter period now). So usually by September I was anxious to get back and see my school chums again. The excitement usually didn’t last too long, but I always looked forward to the start of the school year.
    I finished high school and took some college courses after I started working, but I never finished college. Sometimes I wish I had completed college, but I can’t really say that I regret the choices I made.
    I never lost my love for learning though. God bless my computer. There are days when I think the internet was only made to benefits thieves and perverts (smile), but then I see something that interests me, and down the rabbit hole I go chasing all the info. that I can find on line. And, of course, my favorite subjects were always history, literature, and geography.

    Reply
  13. When I was a kid, school vacation went from late May through early September (it is a much shorter period now). So usually by September I was anxious to get back and see my school chums again. The excitement usually didn’t last too long, but I always looked forward to the start of the school year.
    I finished high school and took some college courses after I started working, but I never finished college. Sometimes I wish I had completed college, but I can’t really say that I regret the choices I made.
    I never lost my love for learning though. God bless my computer. There are days when I think the internet was only made to benefits thieves and perverts (smile), but then I see something that interests me, and down the rabbit hole I go chasing all the info. that I can find on line. And, of course, my favorite subjects were always history, literature, and geography.

    Reply
  14. When I was a kid, school vacation went from late May through early September (it is a much shorter period now). So usually by September I was anxious to get back and see my school chums again. The excitement usually didn’t last too long, but I always looked forward to the start of the school year.
    I finished high school and took some college courses after I started working, but I never finished college. Sometimes I wish I had completed college, but I can’t really say that I regret the choices I made.
    I never lost my love for learning though. God bless my computer. There are days when I think the internet was only made to benefits thieves and perverts (smile), but then I see something that interests me, and down the rabbit hole I go chasing all the info. that I can find on line. And, of course, my favorite subjects were always history, literature, and geography.

    Reply
  15. When I was a kid, school vacation went from late May through early September (it is a much shorter period now). So usually by September I was anxious to get back and see my school chums again. The excitement usually didn’t last too long, but I always looked forward to the start of the school year.
    I finished high school and took some college courses after I started working, but I never finished college. Sometimes I wish I had completed college, but I can’t really say that I regret the choices I made.
    I never lost my love for learning though. God bless my computer. There are days when I think the internet was only made to benefits thieves and perverts (smile), but then I see something that interests me, and down the rabbit hole I go chasing all the info. that I can find on line. And, of course, my favorite subjects were always history, literature, and geography.

    Reply
  16. I loved school. It was a place I could work hard and excel and that meant everything to me.
    I do realize that throughout history, girls and women have had so many times when they were treated as second class citizens. I started reading at the age of 4 and I hate to think what my life would have been like if I lived in a period of time when reading would never have been available to me or my questions would not have been answered in books.
    School was a time to open up my mind, and to all the girls who have gone before who were unable to be truly educated I am so sorry.

    Reply
  17. I loved school. It was a place I could work hard and excel and that meant everything to me.
    I do realize that throughout history, girls and women have had so many times when they were treated as second class citizens. I started reading at the age of 4 and I hate to think what my life would have been like if I lived in a period of time when reading would never have been available to me or my questions would not have been answered in books.
    School was a time to open up my mind, and to all the girls who have gone before who were unable to be truly educated I am so sorry.

    Reply
  18. I loved school. It was a place I could work hard and excel and that meant everything to me.
    I do realize that throughout history, girls and women have had so many times when they were treated as second class citizens. I started reading at the age of 4 and I hate to think what my life would have been like if I lived in a period of time when reading would never have been available to me or my questions would not have been answered in books.
    School was a time to open up my mind, and to all the girls who have gone before who were unable to be truly educated I am so sorry.

    Reply
  19. I loved school. It was a place I could work hard and excel and that meant everything to me.
    I do realize that throughout history, girls and women have had so many times when they were treated as second class citizens. I started reading at the age of 4 and I hate to think what my life would have been like if I lived in a period of time when reading would never have been available to me or my questions would not have been answered in books.
    School was a time to open up my mind, and to all the girls who have gone before who were unable to be truly educated I am so sorry.

    Reply
  20. I loved school. It was a place I could work hard and excel and that meant everything to me.
    I do realize that throughout history, girls and women have had so many times when they were treated as second class citizens. I started reading at the age of 4 and I hate to think what my life would have been like if I lived in a period of time when reading would never have been available to me or my questions would not have been answered in books.
    School was a time to open up my mind, and to all the girls who have gone before who were unable to be truly educated I am so sorry.

    Reply
  21. I loved school! As I was raised in a teaching family, I was encouraged to do so. My highest level of (formal) Education was a BS in Education, back in the days when we still had Normal Schools (Teachers’ Colleges). When I went to work editing textbooks, I found that that education compared well with that of folk who went to more prestigious colleges. (Note, I left the class room, but I continued to work in Education.)
    Of course, I continued learning, taking extra courses, reading fact and fiction. And my favorite reading fields also served to educate me. Science fiction in science. Science in my weak spot, so I keep looking up things to see if the science in SF is real or fictional. I’m still weak there, since I have no “hooks” with which to build a cohesive view. Still I know more facts than the average person, and I remain interested.
    Romance and mysteries also continue to encourage to look things up.
    So, I continue to go to school and to learn.

    Reply
  22. I loved school! As I was raised in a teaching family, I was encouraged to do so. My highest level of (formal) Education was a BS in Education, back in the days when we still had Normal Schools (Teachers’ Colleges). When I went to work editing textbooks, I found that that education compared well with that of folk who went to more prestigious colleges. (Note, I left the class room, but I continued to work in Education.)
    Of course, I continued learning, taking extra courses, reading fact and fiction. And my favorite reading fields also served to educate me. Science fiction in science. Science in my weak spot, so I keep looking up things to see if the science in SF is real or fictional. I’m still weak there, since I have no “hooks” with which to build a cohesive view. Still I know more facts than the average person, and I remain interested.
    Romance and mysteries also continue to encourage to look things up.
    So, I continue to go to school and to learn.

    Reply
  23. I loved school! As I was raised in a teaching family, I was encouraged to do so. My highest level of (formal) Education was a BS in Education, back in the days when we still had Normal Schools (Teachers’ Colleges). When I went to work editing textbooks, I found that that education compared well with that of folk who went to more prestigious colleges. (Note, I left the class room, but I continued to work in Education.)
    Of course, I continued learning, taking extra courses, reading fact and fiction. And my favorite reading fields also served to educate me. Science fiction in science. Science in my weak spot, so I keep looking up things to see if the science in SF is real or fictional. I’m still weak there, since I have no “hooks” with which to build a cohesive view. Still I know more facts than the average person, and I remain interested.
    Romance and mysteries also continue to encourage to look things up.
    So, I continue to go to school and to learn.

    Reply
  24. I loved school! As I was raised in a teaching family, I was encouraged to do so. My highest level of (formal) Education was a BS in Education, back in the days when we still had Normal Schools (Teachers’ Colleges). When I went to work editing textbooks, I found that that education compared well with that of folk who went to more prestigious colleges. (Note, I left the class room, but I continued to work in Education.)
    Of course, I continued learning, taking extra courses, reading fact and fiction. And my favorite reading fields also served to educate me. Science fiction in science. Science in my weak spot, so I keep looking up things to see if the science in SF is real or fictional. I’m still weak there, since I have no “hooks” with which to build a cohesive view. Still I know more facts than the average person, and I remain interested.
    Romance and mysteries also continue to encourage to look things up.
    So, I continue to go to school and to learn.

    Reply
  25. I loved school! As I was raised in a teaching family, I was encouraged to do so. My highest level of (formal) Education was a BS in Education, back in the days when we still had Normal Schools (Teachers’ Colleges). When I went to work editing textbooks, I found that that education compared well with that of folk who went to more prestigious colleges. (Note, I left the class room, but I continued to work in Education.)
    Of course, I continued learning, taking extra courses, reading fact and fiction. And my favorite reading fields also served to educate me. Science fiction in science. Science in my weak spot, so I keep looking up things to see if the science in SF is real or fictional. I’m still weak there, since I have no “hooks” with which to build a cohesive view. Still I know more facts than the average person, and I remain interested.
    Romance and mysteries also continue to encourage to look things up.
    So, I continue to go to school and to learn.

    Reply
  26. You sum it up really beautifully, Annette. It must have been truly frustrating to be denied access to education and so much fascinating learning. It would definitely have been sufficient to make me vow to be a nun!

    Reply
  27. You sum it up really beautifully, Annette. It must have been truly frustrating to be denied access to education and so much fascinating learning. It would definitely have been sufficient to make me vow to be a nun!

    Reply
  28. You sum it up really beautifully, Annette. It must have been truly frustrating to be denied access to education and so much fascinating learning. It would definitely have been sufficient to make me vow to be a nun!

    Reply
  29. You sum it up really beautifully, Annette. It must have been truly frustrating to be denied access to education and so much fascinating learning. It would definitely have been sufficient to make me vow to be a nun!

    Reply
  30. You sum it up really beautifully, Annette. It must have been truly frustrating to be denied access to education and so much fascinating learning. It would definitely have been sufficient to make me vow to be a nun!

    Reply
  31. Fascinating, Sue! I love this theme that is emerging of all our shared interest in continuing to learn, no matter our age, circumstance or formal education. We are fortunate in that respect but also it fits the idea of a community of authors, readers and researchers. Lovely!

    Reply
  32. Fascinating, Sue! I love this theme that is emerging of all our shared interest in continuing to learn, no matter our age, circumstance or formal education. We are fortunate in that respect but also it fits the idea of a community of authors, readers and researchers. Lovely!

    Reply
  33. Fascinating, Sue! I love this theme that is emerging of all our shared interest in continuing to learn, no matter our age, circumstance or formal education. We are fortunate in that respect but also it fits the idea of a community of authors, readers and researchers. Lovely!

    Reply
  34. Fascinating, Sue! I love this theme that is emerging of all our shared interest in continuing to learn, no matter our age, circumstance or formal education. We are fortunate in that respect but also it fits the idea of a community of authors, readers and researchers. Lovely!

    Reply
  35. Fascinating, Sue! I love this theme that is emerging of all our shared interest in continuing to learn, no matter our age, circumstance or formal education. We are fortunate in that respect but also it fits the idea of a community of authors, readers and researchers. Lovely!

    Reply
  36. I’m another who enjoyed attending school. Which is really a good thing as I attended 15 different schools between kindergarten and twelfth grades. Can you tell we moved a lot? Since we moved so ofter, school was where I made friends (other than the sister who moved along with me). Thanks for an enjoyable post, Nicola.

    Reply
  37. I’m another who enjoyed attending school. Which is really a good thing as I attended 15 different schools between kindergarten and twelfth grades. Can you tell we moved a lot? Since we moved so ofter, school was where I made friends (other than the sister who moved along with me). Thanks for an enjoyable post, Nicola.

    Reply
  38. I’m another who enjoyed attending school. Which is really a good thing as I attended 15 different schools between kindergarten and twelfth grades. Can you tell we moved a lot? Since we moved so ofter, school was where I made friends (other than the sister who moved along with me). Thanks for an enjoyable post, Nicola.

    Reply
  39. I’m another who enjoyed attending school. Which is really a good thing as I attended 15 different schools between kindergarten and twelfth grades. Can you tell we moved a lot? Since we moved so ofter, school was where I made friends (other than the sister who moved along with me). Thanks for an enjoyable post, Nicola.

    Reply
  40. I’m another who enjoyed attending school. Which is really a good thing as I attended 15 different schools between kindergarten and twelfth grades. Can you tell we moved a lot? Since we moved so ofter, school was where I made friends (other than the sister who moved along with me). Thanks for an enjoyable post, Nicola.

    Reply
  41. A wonderful depiction of the frustrations of intelligent females occurs in Geraldine Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing, a novel of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. The narrator is the daughter of a clergyman on Martha’s Vineyard. Altho she is much brighter than her slow brother, HE is destined for the ministry and is forcefed education, while she scrambles for scraps.
    Peg from DC

    Reply
  42. A wonderful depiction of the frustrations of intelligent females occurs in Geraldine Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing, a novel of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. The narrator is the daughter of a clergyman on Martha’s Vineyard. Altho she is much brighter than her slow brother, HE is destined for the ministry and is forcefed education, while she scrambles for scraps.
    Peg from DC

    Reply
  43. A wonderful depiction of the frustrations of intelligent females occurs in Geraldine Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing, a novel of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. The narrator is the daughter of a clergyman on Martha’s Vineyard. Altho she is much brighter than her slow brother, HE is destined for the ministry and is forcefed education, while she scrambles for scraps.
    Peg from DC

    Reply
  44. A wonderful depiction of the frustrations of intelligent females occurs in Geraldine Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing, a novel of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. The narrator is the daughter of a clergyman on Martha’s Vineyard. Altho she is much brighter than her slow brother, HE is destined for the ministry and is forcefed education, while she scrambles for scraps.
    Peg from DC

    Reply
  45. A wonderful depiction of the frustrations of intelligent females occurs in Geraldine Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing, a novel of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. The narrator is the daughter of a clergyman on Martha’s Vineyard. Altho she is much brighter than her slow brother, HE is destined for the ministry and is forcefed education, while she scrambles for scraps.
    Peg from DC

    Reply

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