CM on the Education of Girls

Dear Reader,

I recently did  a post on the education of girls. Not for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Charlotte Mason, though she lived a hundred years ago, also addressed the very issues I have been pondering. In her fifth volume, Formation of Character [my edition was put out by Wilder Publications in 2008], she discusses the problem of young women who have finished their formal education but are not yet married off. She laments the tendency of these ladies to wile away their time frivolously and to slide into unacceptable habits such as gossiping as well. She asks, “What is to be done with these girls?” [p.170] Boys go immediately into careers, but these young women have been prepared for lives of domesticity which they are not yet able to begin. So what are they to do?

One solution might be that they could help in their parents’ houses, assisting in domestic duties. This would, of course, help prepare them for their own (presumed) futures as well. While this helping at home is good, Charlotte says that it is not enough:

“Besides, the girl wants more work — she wants a career; she wants work that depends upon her, that cannot be done without her, and the doing of which will bring her honour, and, possibly, pay.” [p.171]

The work at home is really just a part of her mother’s work. And when someday she leaves home, it will go on without her. She is helpful but not necessary and so something inside her is not fulfilled.

In her fourth volume, Charlotte speaks at length about the desires with in us which are good but can go so horribly wrong if taken to extremes. This desire for useful work is one such. Yes, it can be taken to extremes. One can become a workaholic. Any of these desires if it comes to dominate and push out other right concerns becomes sinful. But the desire itself is good. It is given by God who made us to work, even before the Fall. And it is in females as well as males. So it is natural that our daughters as well as our sons should have a longing to do something useful and productive. They may find this desire fulfilled in the taking care of their own home and family, but then again they may not. They may be called to a life of singleness or it may be that for some period of their lives they have no husband or children to care for.

So Charlotte asks,

“Now, what is the poor girl to do under this craving for a career, which is natural to every adult human being, woman as much as man?” [p.171]

She briefly discusses those girls who make a career of catching a husband. But this, as you can imagine, is a very unattractive profession. Rather she says,

“Every one of them should have a thorough recognised training for some art or profession whereby she may earn her living, doing work useful to the world, and interesting and delightful to herself, as is all skilled labour of head or hands. It appears to me that parents owe this to their girls as much as to their boys.” [p.172]

And if she later marries and has a family? Then Charlotte says,

“But in no case is the training thrown away. To say nothing of the special aptitude she has acquired,she has increased in personal weight, force of character, and fitness for any work.” [p. 172]

This calls to mind my earlier post on the goal of education. Charlotte’s goal for children (and adults too) was not worldly success, nor was it only eternal salvation. It also included being as complete as possible in this life. It includes enjoying God’s works and giving glory to Him now. So too for our girls, we do not waste education on them just because they will spend most of their adult lives caring for home and children (and indeed some will not), but education itself builds them so that they are more than they otherwise would have been. And all this is to the glory of God, whether they use the degree or skills they have acquired directly or not.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Excellent post, Nebby! I wish I had considered this as a young girl. Will definitely be helping my daughters follow this line of thought.


  2. […] the disadvantaged or only for the “normal” kid. It is not one education for boys and one for girls.  I believe that God is the Lord of all the earth and that all knowledge and wisdom and beauty […]


  3. […] Girls and CM on Educating Girls and Chesterton on Educating […]


  4. […] the Young Maidens at Home.” However, I have already blogged on this section in my post CM on the Education of Girls. Frankly, when I first read through the book I couldn’t wait to tackle that topic so I did it […]


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