Maria's Diary 4
I realise that since I started this diary, I have spent most of my time writing about William and his relationship with our family, and all the exciting things he did during his time in London. But I should like to write about my education, which is somewhat different from most others.
It was very fortunate when I was considered old enough to start school, at age 5 and a bit, that a new school for girls was opened not that far away. It is a Quaker school, but as they are considered dissidents, as the Unitarians are, we have much in common, and Father was keen that I should get my education from this school.
It started with only only 12 of us, and a mixture of ages. My best friend is Louisa Hooper. Her sister Emily has been here from the beginning too, but she is older than me. Louisa started school in Croyden but finding out how much Emily enjoyed our school, she moved here too. I’m so glad she did as we have the same interests and have read the same books.
Our head mistress and teacher for much of the time is Miss Susannah Corder. She is a Quaker, and we all have to wear bonnets like hers, which are quite sticking-out, and make the other children laugh and make fun of us.
The prospectus said that the school was, “an establishment in our religious society on a span in degree different from any hitherto adopted, wherein the children of Friends should not only be liberally instructed in the elements of useful knowledge, but in which particular attention should be paid to the state of mind of each individual child. “
As time went on and the school grew, our list of subjects grew too. There are 36 of us now,
Mr. William Allen, whose idea it was to start the school went to Ireland to find Miss Susannah Corder who he had met a few years previously. She was teaching at Suir Island School at Clonmel, and she learned her education methods there. Mr Allen hired her and gave her a free hand to organise the school as she felt was best.
We learned the basics, reading, writing and mathematics. We learned needlework too, and the school was partly funded by the sale of the embroidery that we did. But as we grew older, we were introduced to Latin, Greek, German , Italian and French.
Mr. Allen teaches chemistry, physics and astronomy and I will be able to start on those next year. We were taught Italian by the poet and revolutionary Ugo Foscolo. He was quite an old man, but he has a fascinating history. He wrote many books and poems. He was in England for 11 years, but he died a few years ago, so I only had him for Italian for two years. Mr. Allen employed him, but I think it was Father who gave him the idea, as he had been involved in showing Mr. Foscolo around the London literary circles.
One of the unusual things about our school was that we had a school bus, one of the first in the country. Miss Corder asked for a vehicle to take 25 pupils facing on bench seats, and in this the girls who were Quakers were transported to their church which was in Gracechurch Street in London. Father allowed me to go with them , as it was part of our school life, and he felt it was important to find out whatever there was to know about all kinds of religions. The public sometimes called our school the Newington Nunnery, and a Quaker who came to visit us a few years ago, wrote a verse letter to his cousin, and sent a copy of it to us at the school.
Dear Coz in my last
I shewed the advantage as well as renown
That our body of Friends cannot fail to acquire
By the Female Establishment two miles from Town"
"Where the pupils imbibe such astounding variety
Of stores intellectual - I solemnly vow
Since the earliest days of the Quaker Society,
Such achievements by girls were ne'er heard of till now."
"No science, no art, in their tribe is a mystery
The path of the earth and the tides of the sea,
Cosmography, Algebra, Chemistry, History
To those juvenile Blues are a mere A.B.C"
"And in languages -oh you'd not credit their skill !
One can scarce name a tongue, Coz, but what they can reason in,
Greek, Hebrew, French, Latin, Italian at will,
With Irish and Welch for occasional seasoning."
"The straight path of Truth the dear Girl's keep their feet in
And ah ! It would do your heart good Cousin Anne
To see them arriving at Gracechurch Street Meeting
All snugly packed 25 in a van."