Girls in School in the Eighteenth Century

In the 19th installment of Mr. B Speaks! Mr. B discusses visiting his natural daughter at her school.

Mr. B's daughter, Sally, is about six years old which, from a modern viewpoint, seems rather young to be away at school. Remember, Three Men and a Little Lady, where Tom Selleck rescues his soon-to-be-stepdaughter from being packed off to boarding school? The idea of sending a child under twelve away from home for weeks at a time is uncomfortable to modern sensibilities. (Though after age twelve, parents often start hunting up ways and means to send the child into someone else's care for a time!)

Pamela actually never does this with her children; in fact, not all middle-class parents did (middle-class families and members of the gentry were more likely to use an outside school system than aristocratic families who would have governesses/tutors). Like teen marriage, sending small children off to school--while openly debated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries--bore no stigma. Jane Austen was sent to school at age 8 and later at age 10 to the Reading Ladies' Boarding School (see below). In her book Jane Austen: A Life, Claire Tomlin makes a strong Freudian argument that these events, combined with Jane being nursed outside the home for the first eighteen months of her life, weakened the bond between mother and child.
The Reading Ladies Boarding School was situated IN the gateway
The current Abbey School for girls refers to this landmark.
Check out this wonderful site about places in Jane Austen's life:
A Jane Austen Gazetteer.

While Jane and her mother didn't have the closest of relationships, Mrs. Austen would not have been criticized for sending her daughter away from home, and Jane herself seems to have accepted her treatment as within the norm (the number of writers whose great works might never have been if they'd ever received solid therapy is truly staggering).

Likewise, Mr. B and Lady Davers (who is the child's legal guardian at this point in the narrative) would never be criticized for sending a 6-year-old to boarding school, especially since Mr. B has gone out of his way to ensure that the school is a good one.  Just like schools and day-cares today,  girls' (and boys') schools ran the gamut from Jane Eyre's dreary life at Lowood to, well, Sally Godwin's stay with a pleasant woman who takes her girls on outings to the local farmhouse for a good breakfast and a fun romp around the grounds.

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