In July 1861, The Illustrated London News published an article praising the efforts of Rev. C. Woodstock to create a successful school to educate middle class boys and prepare local orphans for a life of service. The article states that “there has quietly been springing up over the last 20 years, under the hands of one energetic man, a group of schools, which, beginning from the nucleus of a very small parochial school, has now attained such a size and importance to be dignified with the somewhat ambitious title of “St. Andrew’s College.” The article continues to describe the accomplished young boys reciting Latin, French, and English at St. Andrew’s College, but even more effusively praises “the energies of one earnest man,” Rev. Woodstock, than any of the school’s charitable goals or successful pupils. Such a depiction of a benefactor juxtaposes quite starkly with the description of the character Mr. Brocklehurst, the hypocritical and cruel clergyman responsible for managing Lowood Institution in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), who kept the orphan and middle class girls at Lowood deprived while his own family lived luxuriously. Overall, the article shows that even several years after Brontë published her novel, the state of schools and educational institutions for orphan children, though perhaps improving, was still far from ideal.Though Jane’s Lowood Institution, filled with malnourished pupils and the heartless benefactor Mr. Brocklehurst, does not receive a pleasing depiction in Brontë’s novel, the orphans at St. Andrew’s College and Industrial Schools seem to have experienced a similarly unpleasant education, if it can even be called that. About 80 orphans made up the Industrial School, and they did not receive education in books or academia, but instead were responsible for the upkeep of the school for the Middle Class children, as explained in the article:
The difficulty of retaining any adequate number of his poor parishioners at the good schools which he earlier provided, induced the Vicar, the Rev. C. Woodstock, to add industrial teaching to his national school; but, as housework for the girls, who are trained for service, could not easily be found without a large establishment, the greater part of the children are lodged and boarded in the village, and the whole of the cooking, washing, and house-cleaning is done by the pupils, under the superintendence of a matron and housekeeper.
Indeed, including orphans in the Industrial School seems only to have been an afterthought for this facility, meant simply to bolster the number of pupils and provide more children to assist with housekeeping duties. In the article’s introduction of the school, it calls the middle class “that class which of all others has been the most neglected,” but perhaps that title would be more fitting for the poorer orphans who would have had no hope at a “sound and liberal education” and were trained to remain in the lower classes of society from which they came. This article reflects the belief of the era that the “primary function” of education “was to fit people for their place in the social order,” as Dr. Bruce Rosen writes in The Victorian Web. This desire is reflected in Jane Eyre as well, when Mrs. Reed tells Mr. Brocklehurst about Jane on their first meeting, saying, “‘I should wish her to be brought up in a manner suiting her prospects,’ continued my benefactress; ‘to be made useful, to be kept humble.’”
Though under the direction of Mr. Brocklehurst, Lowood Institution was an unsafe and despicable environment, the situation of orphans at St. Andrews displays that Jane Eyre was actually very fortunate to be able to attend a school that taught orphans and other middle-class girls about literature and art as opposed to simply preparing them to be maids or servants for the upper class. Though Jane’s remaining family whom she knew of at the time of her childhood were uncaring toward her, Jane was not completely alone in the world to fend for herself and was able to be placed in what eventually turned into a decent school for girls and prepared her to support herself as a teacher or a governess.
Overall though, the article rewards the benefactor Rev. Woodcock with the majority of its praise, calling the school itself a “work of love in Mr. Woodcock and his family, who have, at great personal sacrifice, devoted their energies to afford the county of Dorset a first-rate education for the sons of the middle classesÉ” Though the article does focus more on the school’s benefactor than the actual school itself, the article also reflects the the late nineteenth-century movement toward the acceptance of public education for all, not simply the children of the wealthy. The article begins with acknowledging this trend by explaining that the paper decided to report on St. Andrews chiefly due to “the interest in middle-class schools so lately renewed by the advocacy of the veteran educationalist, Lord Brougham,” a member of Parliament who introduced five bills supporting public education that were all voted down (Spartacus Educational). Yet though this article indicates that interest was building in support of education for all, free public education for every child in England was not available until 1899, meaning that for children of the poor or for orphans, the prospect of upward mobility through the attainment of a good education was, at the time, an unrealistic dream.
Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Victorian Web. Ed. George P. Landow. Web. 10 May 2010.
"Henry Brougham." Spartacus Educational. Web. 10 May 2010. <>.
Rosen, Bruce. “State Involvement in Public Education before the 1870 Education Act.” Victorian Web. Web. 9 May 2010.
“St. Andrew’s College and Industrial Schools, Chardstock.” The Illustrated London News (6 Jul. 1861): 4.
Last modified 11 May 2010