Last night I ran across an exciting (for someone who loves research) article by Christina de Bellaigue (2015), a professor at Oxford University who has researched Mason's impact on education, particularly for women. This piece, titled "Charlotte Mason, Home Education and the Parents' National Educational Union in the Late Nineteenth Century" and published in the Oxford Review of Education, is chock full of interesting information that I think I could write about all day. But there was one section in particular that I thought would be helpful to moms who are feeling like they are trying to do the impossible. It has to do with statistics and demographics. Those terms may not exactly scream warmth and comfort, but taking a look at them and thinking about their implications may help some people adjust their expectations, which may then relieve some pressure.
Consider the following:
Of the 120 women who took the [Mother's Education] course between 1892 and 1907, a sample of 27
have been traced in civil records. Of these, four were the wives of peers or upper gentry, four were
married to large-scale businessmen and manufacturers (ship-owners, textile manufacturers) and three were married to high-ranking military officers. Only three had husbands in lower status white-collar occupations. Many had homes in London and in the countryside (as would be expected if they followed the Season), and they had an average of 3.5 live-in servants. Eight had resident governesses, and 15 had a resident nurse. (de Bellaigue, 2015, p. 507)
Can you imagine how much easier the task of homeschooling would be if you had someone who cooked, cleaned, did the shopping and laundry, and took care of the babies and toddlers while you oversaw the governess in the education of your school-age children? Particularly if those children went to school after age 8, as most boys of society did at the time? It sounds almost like a hobby!
She goes on to explain that the PNEU was also attracting women of the working-class, and they did not have things so easy. De Ballaigue includes an excerpt from Ethel T. Matthews (c. 1903), who could not complete the exam for the Mother's Education Course:
I think you will realise a little of my difficulty when I tell you I have 3 little children the eldest 4, the baby 16 months. I have only a young nurse--which means a great deal of the care of the children falls to me--then after I have done their sewing of an Evening--or when I can fit it in--so many [tasks] for the vicarage...& one finds no spare time to oneself. (AL, PNEU II/29/38, Matthews to Mason, nd. [c. 1903?] (de Bellaigue, 2015, p. 508)
Now that is a lady to whom we can relate--except that she also had a "young nurse" to help out. Those were different times, after all.
I was also struck by this statistic:
The women who joined the PNEU also shared a demographic profile. These were the mothers of families acting out wider patterns of middle- and upper-class family limitation. For elite couples marrying between 1880 and 1899, family size dropped to around 2.23 children...(Rothery, 2009, p. 677). Similarly, in the 72 families enrolled in the PRS in 1891, the average family size was 2.2 children (Woodley, 2009, p. 278)....These figures suggest that the PNEU was attracting women of a certain social status whose work as parents was focused on a limited number of children. (de Bellaigue, 2015, p. 509)
So for those of you who do not have live-in servants or a private governess or someone to take care of the preschoolers during the school day, for those with more than 2.2 children, and for those who homeschool their children beyond age 8, I would like to say to you that your job feels hard because it is hard. You have many, many plates spinning, and some are bound to come crashing to the ground occasionally.
Time only moves forward, and we will never return to the days when even working-class mothers had live-in help with taking care of the home and children. But I think the statistics discussed in de Bellaigue's paper may be pointing us to adjust what we expect of ourselves and to come up with creative ways to rein in our responsibilities and commitments and the heavy load of homeschooling, and to try, as best we can, to live our lives on a more human scale.
De Bellaigue, C. (2015). Charlotte Mason, home education and the Parent's National Educations Union in the late ineteenth centry. Oxford Review of Education 41(4), pp. 501-517.
Armitt Library (AL). Ambleside, Charlotte Mason Archive and papers of the PNEU (CM 22, PNEU II/29).
Rothery, M. (2009). The reproductive behaviour of the English landed gentry in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Journal of British Studies 48, pp. 674-694.
Woodley, S. (2009). 'Go to school they shall not': Home education and the middle classes in Britain 1760-1900 (Unpublished DPhil). Oxford: University of Oxford.