Female Education

by Claire Zernich

Education in Regency England

During the Regency Era in England, women were oppressed to a life of inequality to men. At this time in history, women were expected to be physically attractive and marry into a higher socioeconomic class so that she may provide for her family and the community. As a married woman she was expected to produce offspring and help them receive the best education and skills needed to take care of the property when her and her husband pass on the fortune. To achieve this goal of marrying wealthy and into the upper class a woman needed to be subservient to men.


Drawing of a young woman and her “master” teacher as she learns to play the piano.

Women in the upper class were given few options of educational growth. Many girls that grew up in the aristocracy might have been given an education by a tutor or governess at home, sent to a private boarding school, or sent to live with a tutor (Perkins). Along with the basic education of foreign languages such as French and writing, the girls might have received lessons by an outside master. An outside master taught lessons regarding the skills such as a playing the piano. However, girls were not allowed to attend the “Grammar” schools offered to the advantage of men to teach basics such as Greek and Latin (Perkins).

Women were also not allowed to attend the public schools in England such as the universities because they taught classical studies of Greek and Latin. The classical languages were, “The prime symbol of academic knowledge, and more-or-less exclusively masculine educational attainments” (Perkins). The classic studies were a privilege and symbolized power and intelligence. Girls were not deemed worthy of receiving such a mind stimulating privilege. As a result, a greater amount of time was spent on the upper-class boy’s education over the education of the girls of the same status.


The Goals of a Woman’s Education 

The main goal of a woman’s education was to prepare herself for marriage and a life of subservience to her husband. “Women were taught domestic skills such as sewing and needlework to be accomplished during her spare time” (Perkins).  The goal of the upper-class woman was to acquire accomplishments in the arts such as drawing, piano, singing, and speaking modern languages of French and Italian, along with the domestic skills. Gaining such accomplishments gave a woman greater chances of marriage into the wealthy upper class, only to then neglect those practices once married.

1818 engraving of the marriage of Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold.

In Regency England, the main goal of a woman was to attract a man of wealth and high social status. As a result, a woman that was not blessed with physical beauty or attraction relied on education and intelligence to entice a well-to-do gentleman. An educated woman with money was highly regarded as a suitable wife for a man of high social status. Lady Mary Montagu “makes a compelling analogy between a young woman’s intelligence and her body” (Farr 1). Lady Mary gives the example of a young woman who was physically disabled and left with a scarred face due to the neglect of her Uncle when she was ill. As a result of the young woman’s deformities her chances of marriage in a high social class were very slim, until her Uncle left his money to be inherited to her and blessed her with the gift of an education. When the young girl received an education and gained intelligence, her chances to marry well increased. (Farr

Reformers of Female Education

During Regency England there were many reformers that fought for women equality. Mary Wollstonecraft played a key role in the feminist movement during the nineteenth century in England. Mary Wollstonecraft fought for the equality of women arguing, “that women had a greater capacity for sensibility, compassion and virtue and thus might be morally superior to men” (Mellor 149). Wollstonecraft had a strong belief that women were equal to men and possessed the same mental capacities and deserved the same human rights. As a result Wollstonecraft built her campaign for equality through the reform of female education arguing “girls should be educated in the same subjects and by the same methods as boys” (Mellor 149).

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie.me human rights. As a result Wollstonecraft built her campaign for equality through the reform of female education arguing “girls should be educated in the same subjects and by the same methods as boys” (Mellor).

Another activist Hannah More combined these two issues to create a program to educate upper and middle-class women for a live of charity work instead of a profession. Unlike Wollstonecraft, More was considered a more conservative activist basing most of her reform ideas off of the Bible.

Jane Austen and Female Education 

Jane Austen was greatly influenced by the women activists in the Regency England and supported the arguments for the education of women. As a result, Jane Austen incorporated female characters that learn basic skills such as reading or life skills from making mistakes to grow as responsible wives and judges of nature.

In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen created the character Caroline Bingley to represent the gentry that received an education by attending a private boarding school for girls.  Jane Bennet represented society’s views of the way a woman should act. Jane is a beautiful, soft-spoken girl with minimal education, but was able to marry into high social class due to her social status of being a gentleman’s daughter. Elizabeth Bennet was not as physically attractive as Jane, but was intelligent and wise through the resources provided to her by her father’s library. Elizabeth’s intelligence along with her social status was the reason Darcy was attracted to her. Elizabeth was seen as a valuable girl to marry because of her intelligence and wit.

Also, in Mansfield Park, the education of women was a major theme throughout the novel. When Sir Thomas took in Fanny to be raised with Lady Bertram and their children, there was an obvious distinction between Sir Thomas’s daughters and Fanny. Maria and Julia Bertram were only a couple years older than Fanny, but “as education had given to their address; no one would have supposed the girls so nearly of an age as they were” (Austen). As a part of the gentry Maria and Julia had been taught French and the piano creating a division between the Miss Bertrams and their cousin Fanny. A governess, Miss Lee, in their home of Mansfield Park, taught Sir Thomas’s daughters. Fanny was not given the opportunity to be taught by Miss Lee who “wondered at her ignorance” (Austen). Throughout the novel it was shown that the Miss Bertrams were to be educated and reminded of their social status above Fanny. This division between the girls represents the privileges given to girls in the upper-class than those in the lower-class. Fanny was born into a family marked with poverty, but was adopted into her Aunt and Uncle’s home. However, Fanny was not seen as an equal to the Bertrams due to her socioeconomic status given to her at birth, so she was not given the same education as the young Miss Bertrams. However, Edmund Bertram, the second son, taught Fanny himself because he represents the reformers in society that fought for equal education rights among women and men.

Works Consulted

Bolen, Cheryl. “The Education of Young Men and Women in the Regency.” TheBeau Monde Romance Writers of America Chapter Website. N.p., 2011. Web. 10 Oct. 2016. http://thebeaumonde.com/the-education-of-young-men-and-women-in-the-regency-by-cheryl-bolen/ 

Farr, Jason S. “Sharp Minds / Twisted Bodies: Intellect, Disability, and Female Education in Frances Burney’s Camilla.” The Eighteenth Century 55.1 (2014): 1-17. Web.

Mellor, Anne K. “Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and the Women Writers of Her Day.” The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft (n.d.): 141-59. Print.

Perkins, Kristin (appearing as Caroline Bingley in BYU’s Pride and Prejudice).”Education of Upper-Class Women in Regency Era.” BYU Presents PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2016. https://byuprideandprejudice.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/education-of-upper-class-women-in-regency-era/

Ruderman, Anne Crippen. The Pleasures of Virtue: Political Thought in the Novels of Jane Austen. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1995. Print.



Dietze, Susanne. “Regency Weddings.” Historical Charm/Timeless Heart. Web. 26 Oct. 2016. http://www.susannedietze.com/regency-weddings.html

Opie, John. Mary Wollstonecraft. 1797. Primary Collection, National Portrait Gallery, London. National Portrait Gallery. Web. 26 Oct. 2016. http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/person/mp01807/mary-wollstonecraft



9 thoughts on “Female Education

  1. Your presentation was very very fluid and your information is very clear and well cited. Since you said you didn’t know a connection that you can make to Mansfield Park when Sir Thomas is discussing the importance of Maria and Julia’s education at the start of the novel and then it continues to go on to give examples of their classes/how they are taught which can be found a few pages later. You could also compare and contrast how Fanny values education based on how Maria and Julia do because of their socioeconomic backgrounds and how this relates to the societal context. But overall very good wiki with good connections to the novel and good info!


  2. I really enjoyed reading through your essay! It was intriguing and organized, and gave readers a new understanding of the structure of women’s education in Regency England. Overall, I believe your essay showed a good amount of research done, and careful editing. Also, your images were lovely and well selected in my opinion.


  3. This is very specific, but for Hannah More, you mentioned in the presentation that she was against women in power, but you don’t have that written in the wiki. I think if you included it, you could clear up how More incorporated both the feminist and anti-feminist ideals in her writing. Otherwise, your information is very strong, as well as your organization.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Overall your page is great, the layout is very well planned and the information is accurate and shows your research. One thing that you do need to work on is inserting links to external sources throughout your work especially in the captions below the pictures. Another, more nit-picky thing, is at the beginning you use Lady Mary Montagu a lot in those sentences I understand you are trying to give credit but it looks and sounds a little redundant on the page. Overall great job!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You have a lot of great information and it all looks really nice.
    I feel like all your information flows together really well and you have linked to a good amount of different wikis.
    All your works are cited really well and I got the feeling that you worked hard on this.
    Very well researched.


  6. I love this topic and I think you presented it very well. Your information is clear and to the point, you can tell you spent a lot of time on this. Job well done. I especially liked your use of examples of women who fought for women’s education.


  7. The first two paragraphs are a bit contradictory–were women given minimal opportunities or many? Be sure you aren’t using genteel (an adj) and gentry (noun) synonymously. I’m also unsure what you mean by “spare time for decorum.” Are you sure that first image is a 19th-century marriage? The clothes look 18th c to me. In any case, a more specific caption would resolve the issue. I think you could edit down the paragraph that references Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s ideas. I love Lady Mary, and just recommended one of her poems to Claire F (and if she somehow puts it into her Wiki you could cite each other’s references in your Wikis!), but you could be more concise here. I’m confused about what you mean when you argue More wanted women to have “corporate” careers. I think you definitely need to add connections to Mansfield Park. Sam’s suggestions are good. Proofreading: watch possessives and shifting verb tenses in particular.


  8. I really enjoyed your topic and I thought that if flowed very well. My main concern is that you don’t have link’s to your images sources in the captions below your pictures. Other than that, good job!


  9. I like the way that you divided your wiki a lot and I thought that the format you used helped with the flow of the information. I liked that you used pictures to split up your transition. Similarly, I liked that you made connections to male education and needlepoint because I thought they were strong. I would add more to any of the female wikis that we have, especially Mary Wollstonecraft.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s