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UTILIZING THE YOUNG LADIES.
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.