Huddersfield and Holmfirth Examiner (03/May/1856) - Education of Women

The following is a transcription of a historic newspaper article and may contain occasional errors. If the article was published prior to 1 June 1957, then the text is likely in the Public Domain.



It has often been said of late that in our day social questions have become more important to the progress of society than political ones. In a deeply interesting sense there can be no doubt the remark is correct. The statement is not only true of our times, but it was always true. More attention is certainly being given to social matters now than in former times. Of all social questions, we unhesitatingly affirm that education is the most important. When regarded in its widest acceptation, it is greater than any other; it deals more directly with the springs of human action, and more widely influences the formation of character than any other. When we speak of education doing this, however, we mean something more than the elements of knowledge that are ordinarily communicated in a common school. We understand by the term the development and training of the whole properties of humanity, and not simply intellectual instruction. The importance of this distinction has often been pointed out.

It cannot be too frequently insisted on. For ourselves, we are opposed to state education, because, amongst other things, we believe it would lead to the destruction, or to the practical forgetfulness among the people of this the wider, the more noble and the holier view of education. To render education productive of its grand and legitimate objects, the agency of parents in the work is essential.

It never can yield its best fruits, — its highest moral results, without the enlightened and devoted co-operation of parents. Schools, however you improve them, will never effect this. The better parts of humanity, the emotive and moral, if ever they are to be properly evolved and directed, must be mainly cultured by parental influences. And in this work the mother must be the more powerful educator. Indeed, this work is assigned to her by the beneficent Author of our nature. Now, are mothers qualified to fulfil this office aright? Are they truly sensible of the weighty obligation, and, are we fitting woman, intellectually and morally, for the proper discharge of this duty? If not, does it not become one of the moat momentous questions to a community, — How can woman be prepared for the fulfilment of her high mission? Is is not the first duty of society to seek to qualify its women tor their noble vocation? Philosophers, divines, and educationists have tong contended for this. Some have earnestly endeavoured to gain for this truth a practical recognition; but, as yet, it seems to be treated but as a theoretical dogma. In the system of that greatest of eduealionists, — Pestalozzi, the agency of the mother is the prime force. He believed little effectually could be accomplished for the moral and spiritual elevation of society, for the thorough education of man, until mothers were better fitted for their duties. This conviction is evident in all he did, said, and wrote. It is true, he worked in the school, but it is equally true that, for moral ends, he regarded the school as a very subordinate agent to the mother. Ha said, "Unless material love be rendered more instrumental in early education than any other agent; unless mothers will consent to follow the call of their own better feelings, — unless they will consent to be mothers and act as mothers, — unless such be the character of education, all our hopes and exertions can end only in disappointment." Again, "Let me repeat, that we cannot expect any real improvement in education, and improvement that shall be felt throughout an extensive sphere, and that shall continue to spread in the progress of time, increasing in vigour as it proceeds — we cannot expect any improvement of this character, unless we begin by educating mothers;" and again he remarks, “In short, whoever has the welfare of the rising generation at heart, cannot do better than consider as his highest object, the education of mothers."

Now, we apprehend most thinking persons will concur in these sentiments of Pestalozzi. But let us ask ourselves, what are we, in all our boasting about education, practically doing for the education of women, or the preparation of them for mothers? We grieve to say that very little indeed is being accomplished that is specific, effective, or in any way commensurate with the claims of the work. We know that, within the last few years, maternal associations hare been established in several localities; and although these are producing good, their influence is very limited. The Rev. Mr. Maurice has recently established some classes, in connexion with his working-men's college, for the instruction of women in several branches of knowledge that are very useful to females. But how lamentably few and feeble are the special efforts for the mental and moral improvement of women? How is it that the country does not abound with classes like those founded by Mr. Maurice? Surely these are as needful as mechanics’ institutions for the instruction of young men. We hold that they are more important and more necessary. We rejoice to say that Huddersfield has for some years, enjoyed the singular honour of having a "Female Educational Institute." The public may not have heard much of this institution and its proceedings. Its operations may not have been paraded in soirées and demonstrations; but we are glad to know that it has been pursuing a noiseless, useful, and, on the whole, prosperous course. All honour to those who originated it, and have sustained it. The institution is based on the broadest foundation; and its objects are wholly of a catholic and unsectarian nature. It embraces classes for the instruction of girls and women in most of the useful departments of knowledge; and some for their improvement in matters peculiarly belonging to females. We are gratified to know that its classes are, at the present time, as numerous and as well attended, as at any period of its existence. Its funds are also in an encouraging condition. Its operations are not, however as extended as we could desire to see them. In a town, like Huddersfield, where the condition of the women of the working classes ought to excite peculiar interest among the enlightened and benevolent, we should like to see this institution operating on a much larger scale. It ought to be thus. Why is it not so? Might not our employers, — our wealthy, public-spirited merchants and manufacturers render assistance to such an undertaking? They ought to do so with the greatest alacrity. Again, are there not many ladies in our town that might easily render assistance in conducting classes in such an institution? They would thus be encouraging and aiding women in the humbler condition of life to secure for themselves a higher education. What an ennobling and truly womanly mission this! What a field for the benevolent! What a work for the disinterested, the high-minded, and the devoted!

Our readers will be glad to see, from an advertisement in another column, that Mrs. Balfour is coming to lecture next Thursday evening, under the auspices of this institution. She is to bring the whole question of female education before a Huddersfield audience. The committee have done well to secure a lecturer so eminently qualified to unfold the nature off female education, and to urge its importance on the attention of all earnest and thoughtful people. Mrs. Balfour's talents as a lecturer are well known and appreciated in Huddersfield, and we doubt not she will have a good attendance. We hope her labours will lead to a wider and deeper conviction amongst us of the value of female education, and to a practical sympathy with all well-directed efforts to extend and improve it.