** historical English schools : dame schools

Types of English Schools: Dame Schools (17th-18th centuties)

dame school
Figure 1.--This is a good example of a dame school, an elderly woman teaching a small group of children in her own home. Notice the spiining wheel at the right. The children probably learned how to spin. This work, 'The Dame School', was painted by Fredrick George Cotman in 1887. It suggests that dame schools ma have still existed in rural England into the late-19th century. Cotman was well known for his images of rural East Anglia. Click on the image for a magic lattern fun slide of children acting out a dame school complete with dunce, probbly in the 1890s.

The dame school is an English school with a long tradition, largely because England was so late in establishing a state system of tuition-free schoolsd. The dame schools appeared (16th century). We are not entrely sure why the dame chools appeared st this time. The developing economy wa probably a factor. The Reformation and the desire to read the Bible may have also been a factor. They do not seem to have been widely prevalnt until the 17th century. They seem especially prominent (17th-18th centuries). On contemprary observer writes, "There are few country villages where some or other do not get a livelihood by teaching school, so there are now not many but can write and read, unless it have been their own or their parent's fault." (18th century) [Brokesby] THe dames school was important becuse thry was so prevalent. It was the oinly school that many children attended, especially girls. The educatiin was nothing like the grammar schools, but they did provide literacy to a subataial number of children, foat more individuals than the gammar schools. The dame school persisted into the 19th century, finally declining as Britain began to create a state school system, espcially after Parliament passed the Education Act (1870). [Curtis] A dame school was the place that very young children from working-class or other modest-income families learned to read. The children may have azlo learned to do math, and write. They were not schools in the modern sense of a building where a groupe of teachers taught a sizeable number of children. Rather it was usually where a single woman taught a small group of younger children, often in her home. In many cases it was a middle-aged or elderly unmaaied woman with just a basic education if any at all. Other skills were taught, such as sewing for girls. We are not sure just when dame schools began. We think they were operating in the 18th century. We know that this was the way that many English children learned to read and write during the early- and mid-19th century. Because of the time line, there are virtually no photographic images of dame schools. The quality of education varied widely. Some teachers provided a good basic education. Others were basically just child-minders. Fees were very low, some likev 3 pence a week. The British Government founded a state education system with the Educational Reform Act of 1870. This eventually ended the dame school as a form of primary education, although we continue to see them into the late-19th century, at least in rural areas. The 1887 Coman painting of a dame school in East Anglia is a good example (figure 1). We believe some women began operaring essentially pre-schools in more urban areas. We are not entirely sure what these early pre-schools would hve been called. We are guessing the term 'dame school' was no longer being used by the end of the century.

Brokesby, Francis. Of Education with Respect to Grammar Schools and Universities (1701).

Curtis, S.J. History of Education in Great Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963).


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Created: 11:23 AM 12/3/2010
Last updated: 7:10 PM 9/14/2021