14 and 15 September 2010
11 Bedford Square, Royal Holloway (Central London)
Inhabiting Institutions in Britain, 1700-1950
Living in Institutions
Susan Skedd, (English Heritage)
Everything necessary to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge’. Eighteenth-century girls’ boarding schools and their contribution towards the institutionalization of education
This paper proposes to cast new light on how boarding schools for girls were conceived and managed as educational institutions during the period 1700 to 1840. The growing number and popularity of boarding schools took place against a backdrop of continuing and often heated debate about the competing merits of public and private education, especially for girls. One of the strategies used by boarding school proprietors to address and allay parents’ anxieties about sending their children to a public institution was to emphasise the private and domestic nature of their particular institution. From the evidence considered in this paper, it could be argued that such concerns directly influenced the size, setting and organisation of girls’ boarding schools in the eighteenth century, which in turn created institutional norms that were perpetuated in the reformed boarding schools established from the 1840s onwards.
Drawing on the promotional literature created by boarding school proprietors and the testimony of pupils and teachers alike, this paper will examine how an institutional setting offered girls new opportunities and experiences, both academically and socially. Furthermore, it will look at the physical environment inhabited by boarders and staff, both in terms of the architecture of the school buildings – which were only in a few instances purpose-built – and also the rural or urban setting of these establishments. Finally, this paper will consider the similarities and differences between eighteenth- and late nineteenth-century models of schooling and suggest that girls’ boarding schools played an important part in normalising education as an institutional activity that took place outside the home.