Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Mystic London, by Charles Maurice Davies, 1875 - Chapter XIV - Utilizing the Young Ladies

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TIME was when it was accepted as an axiom that  young ladies had no object in life but to be ornamental - no mission but matrimony. The "accomplishments" were the sum total of a genteel education,  though charged as "extras" on the half-yearly accounts; and all the finished creature had to do, after once "coming out," was to sit down and languidly  wait for an eligible suitor.
    Times changed. And, in England, when we make  a change, we always rush violently into an opposite  extreme. Woman had a mission, and no mistake.  Now it was the franchise and Bloomer costume, just  as aforetime it was the pianoforte and general fascination.  Blue spectacles rose in the market. We had  lady doctors and female lawyers. The only marvel is  that there was no agitation for feminine curates.
    Then came reaction again. It was discovered that  woman could be educated without becoming a bluestocking,  and practical without wearing bloomers or  going in for the suffrage. Still holding to the wholesome  principle that " woman is not undeveloped man,  but diverse," the real friends of the gentler sex dis-[-117-]covered a hundred and one ways in which it could  employ itself usefully and remuneratively. It was no  longer feared lest, as Sydney Smith puts it, if a woman  learnt algebra she would "desert her infant for a  quadratic equation;" and the University of Cambridge  soon fell in with the scheme for the Higher Education  of Women; while Miss Faithfull, and several others,  organized methods for employing practically the  talents which education could only develope in a  general way. It was to one of these methods - not  Miss Faithfull's - my attention was drawn a short  time since by a letter in the daily papers. The  Victoria Press and International Bureau are faits accomplis, and it is well that efforts should be made  for utilizing in other ways that interesting surplus  in our female population. Mrs. Fernando, of  Warwick Gardens, Kensington, has set herself to  the solution of the problem, and the shape her method  takes is a Technical Industrial School for Women.  The object and aim of the institution is to examine,  plan, and organize such branches of industrial avocation  as are applicable to females, and open up new  avocations of useful industry compatible with the  intellectual and mechanical capabilities of the sex, not  forgetting their delicacy, and the untutored position  of females for practical application in all industrial  labour: to give the same facilities to females as are  enjoyed by males, in collective classes for special  training or special preparation for passing examina-[-118-]tions open to women, thereby to enable them to earn  their livelihood with better success than is attainable  by mere school education only: to give special training  to females to qualify them to enter special  industrial avocations with such competency as will  enable them to be successful in obtaining employment,  to apprentice females, or to employ them directly into  trades where such employers will receive them beyond  the limits of the industrial school and where females  can be constantly employed, such as in composing,  embossing, illuminating, black-bordering, ticket-writing,  circular-addressing, flower-making, flower-cultivating,  &c.
    Being a determined sceptic in the matter of prospectuses,  I determined to go and see for myself the  working of this scheme, which looked so well on  paper. The Institution occupies a large house exactly  opposite Dr. Punshon's chapel : and there is no chance  of one's missing it, for it is placarded with announcements  like a hoarding at election time. I found Mrs.  Fernando an exceedingly practical lady, doing all the  work of the institution herself, with the exception of  a few special subjects such as botany, &c., which are  conducted by her husband. There are no "assistants,"  therefore, or deputed interests, the bane of so many  high-priced schools.
    These classes are held in the evening from seven to  nine o'clock, and are intended for ladies above the age  of fifteen years, who may be engaged through the day [-119-] in various occupations, and for such as suffer from  neglected education, and who wish conveniently and  economically to improve themselves, without being  necessitated to mix with their juniors in day-schools.  These classes prepare ladies to meet the qualifications  necessary to enter clerkships and other official departments; to bring them also to a standard to meet the  qualifications for post offices and telegraph departments; and also to pass certain examinations open to  them. The charge is only 2s. per week - 8s. per  month- 1l. 4s. per quarter. The first course embraces  spelling, reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography,  and grammar. The second course consists of  advanced arithmetic, book-keeping and commercial  instruction, so as to qualify women to take posts of  responsibility with marked success. The third course  consists of French, for practical usefulness. The  fourth course embraces simple or technical training in  such departments as are available within the limits of  the class-room-to qualify women to enter industrial  avocations with competency, and to make them successful  in obtaining employment. This department  will be extended to greater usefulness as conveniences  arise, by apprenticing the girls or employing them  directly in trades beyond the limits of the classroom,  where employers will receive them, or where  women could be consistently engaged-as, for instance,  in the work of compositors, ticket-writers, embossers,  &c. &c.
[-120-] The two classes with which I was brought into  contact were the book-keeping and embossing. In  the former, more than a dozen young ladies were  being initiated in the mysteries of single and double  entry, and they posted up their books in a way that  made me feel very much ashamed of myself, when I  thought how incapable I should be of doing anything  half so useful. Many girls go from this  department to be book-keepers at large hotels, places  of business, &c.
    I then went to the embossing room, where six  presses were being worked by as many young ladies,  one in an adjoining room being reserved for Mrs.  Fernando, who not only tells her pupils what to do,  but shows them how to do it. The gilding and  colouring of the stamps was most elaborate; two  monograms of the Queen's name and that of the Empress  Eugénie being perfect marvels of artistic and  intricate workmanship. Every process, from mixing  the colours up to burnishing the gold, was gone  through in detail by this practical lady and her intelligent  pupils for my special edification, and I passed  out a much wiser and certainly not a sadder man than  I entered this veritable hive of human bees.
    No expense was spared in the education of these  girls, low as are the terms they pay. I saw quite a  ruinous heap of spoilt envelopes and fashionable sheets  of thick cream-laid ; for they have to make their experiments  on the best material, and the slightest alter-[-121-]ration in the position of a pin where the stamping  process has to be several times repeated spoils the  whole result. Mrs. Fernando has also introduced envelope  and circular addressing by women, as a department  of female industrial work in the Technical  Industrial School for Women, where a number of  females are employed between the hours of ten and  four o'clock, receiving satisfactory remuneration. She  provides the females employed in this department  evening classes free of charge, to improve themselves  in general education.
    I am an intense admirer of the female sex in general,  and young ladies in particular, but really when I  came away, leaving my pretty book-keepers and embossers  to resume their normal work, and saw the  numbers of young ladies sitting listlessly over misnamed  "work" at the window, or walking languidly  nowhither in the streets, I thought that, without  losing any of their attractions, nay, adding a new  claim to the many existing ones on our regard, they  might with great advantage take a turn at Mrs.  Fernando's sixpenny lessons in technical education.

source: Charles Maurice Davies, Mystic London, 1875