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ERIC Number: EJ748410
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2004-Apr
Pages: 15
Abstractor: Author
Reference Count: N/A
ISSN: ISSN-0030-9230
Behind the School Walls: The School Community in French and English Boarding Schools for Girls, 1810-1867
de Bellaigue, Christina
Paedagogica Historica: International Journal of the History of Education, v40 n1-2 p107-121 Apr 2004
This article develops a comparative analysis of lay boarding schools for girls in France and England in the first part of the nineteenth century, demonstrating that the character of school life in the two countries differed markedly. Contemporary observers such as Matthew Arnold, Henry Montucci and Jacques Demogeot visited boys' schools on either side of the Channel and contrasted the "barrack-life" of lycees in France with the more domestic arrangements of English public schools, but they did not visit the private boarding schools for girls that were multiplying in both England and France in the first half of the nineteenth century. Evidence collected from inspection records, school memoirs and pedagogical treatises, however, reveals differences between female establishments on either side of the Channel that echoed, but were not identical to, the contrasts between English and French boys' schools. Different ideas on the nature and role of women interacted with the separate educational traditions of the two countries to construct two distinct institutional models of female schooling which could be termed "domestic" for England, and "conventual" for France. The article compares female institutions in the two countries to uncover some of the key features of these distinct models of schooling. In highlighting the way ideas about gender shaped school communities, it points to differences in the prevailing conception of femininity on either side of the Channel. English girls' schools tended to be small in size and self-consciously familial and homely in atmosphere and organization. Many schoolmistresses deliberately limited the number of pupils they would accept in order to preserve the intimate and domestic character of their establishments. This reflects the influence of a conception of femininity emphasizing women's maternal nature and domestic role, and women teachers' need to conform to this ideal in order to preserve their middle-class status. French schools, by contrast, were more often large, hierarchically organized establishments. Unlike their English counterparts, they tended to be housed in buildings specially adapted as schools. The institutional character of French schools owed much to the educational patterns of convent schooling and to the powerful position occupied by women in religious orders. The differences between these two conceptions of the school affected the conditions of school life and relations between pupils and teachers in concrete ways. In England, schoolmistresses tended to cultivate warm relationships with their pupils, and often characterized their role in maternal terms. Naturally, in practice not all relationships between teachers and their charges were as harmonious as the language of motherhood might suggest, yet at a time when spinsters might be labelled "redundant" or "unnatural", drawing on a maternal metaphor was one of the ways in which schoolmistresses, who were for the most part unmarried and childless, could reconcile their situation with prevailing ideals of femininity. At the same time, motherhood was the only socially legitimate position through which a woman could exercise authority. In keeping with the familial atmosphere, warm relations between pupils were also encouraged in English girls' schools, and girls often enjoyed considerable liberty in the collective "room of one's own" that school could offer. In France, schoolmistresses tended to maintain more distant relations with their pupils, drawing on the precedents established by women in religious orders to develop authoritative public personae. At the same time, pupils were strictly supervised and attempts were made to limit the intimacy of friendships between schoolgirls. Schoolgirl memoirs are peppered with references to "the school walls" that heightened pupils' sense of enclosure and contained them within a rigid system of discipline and order. In practice, girls at school were often able to establish warm friendships with their peers and to circumvent the rules, yet such intimacies and rebellions went against the grain. The school regulations preserved in the archives evoke strictly ordered days and continual supervision of pupils; they reveal a preoccupation with order and discipline and the same suspicion of female autonomy that Bonnie Smith and Gabrielle Houbre have identified in the work of Catholic educators whose central concern was the preservation of a feminine innocence. The interaction of differing ideas about the nature and role of women with distinct inherited educational traditions and with contrasting ideas about the state's role in education resulted in the construction of two distinct models of female schooling in England and France. The effect was that if, in both countries, the stated aim of the education provided by girls' boarding schools was to educate girls for motherhood, behind the school walls the character of daily life in English and French establishments differed in significant ways. Comparing the structure of schools and experience of schoolmistresses and their pupils in these different institutions highlights the ways in which ideas about gender helped shape the school community and uncovers the roots of the contrasting evolution of female education on either side of the Channel.
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: France; United Kingdom (England)