Types of English Schools: Dame Schools

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 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 establish a state system of tuition-free schoolsd. A dame school was the place that very young children from working-class or other modest-income families learned to read, 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 tounger children, often in her home. In many cases it was a middke-aged or elderly woman with just a basic education if any at all. Other skills were tought, 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.


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Created: 11:23 AM 12/3/2010
Last updated: 10:01 PM 2/3/2018