Rigorous Instruction

Rigorous Instruction


Open-air school, Halifax, England

Teacher next to two girls at blackboard


(Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA)


Report of the state of the Northamptonshire Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church, from January 1, 1837 to January 1, 1838

Author:Northamptonshire Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church

Imprint: Northampton : Printed by T.E. Dicey, 1838


Language: English

Microfilm Reel #:2814:24

Physical Description: 16 p

The Making of a Modern World

(Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature, Senate House Library, University of London)


This image depicts two students writing on a black chalkboard in an open space. The teacher is standing over them to the right with her hand on her hip. The students are wearing white uniforms dresses with black tights and black shoes. The teacher is wearing a white frilled blouse that is tucked into a long black skirt. Her hair appears to be pinned towards the middle of her head. The student’s hair is straight/wavy and unruly. It’s interesting the position the teacher is standing in suggests an unpleasant mood. Her body language suggests that she is scolding them. You can see in the image that the girl on the right is looking up to the teacher as the teacher looks down with this unpleasant body language. This picture is similar to the aesthetics described at Lowood School in the story of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.

The image does not have a documented date but judging by the teacher’s long skirt with the frilled blouse it could potentially be in the 19th century. I would pose the question how this photo’s date wasn’t documented. Why was it archived without a date but just a country? Did these students also endure such harsh conditions that it was too shameful to document?


The document included above are pages 6 and 7 of a report from Report of the state of the Northamptonshire Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church, from January 1, 1837 to January 1, 1838. This report is essentially the meeting’s minutes that were discussed amongst the Eduational leaders. These leaders included The Lord Bishop of Peterborough, the patron. The president, the Maquess of Northampton. The secretaries: The Rev. D. Morton, The Rev. J. P. Lightfoot. The chairman of the school committee: The Rev. G. Butler, D.D. The Treasurers: J.Percival, Esq., S.Percival, Esq. The auditors: The Rev. J. L.L. Crawley, The Rev. P. Thornton. All of the above mentioned are church leaders. This document shows that the Education of the Poor was indoctrinated by the Principles of the Established Church.

The purpose of including this document was to gain a deeper understanding of the rigorous instruction provided by the Education of the poor and asylum schools for the poor. It provides a historical context for the Lowood School. The document discusses the regret felt by the committee due to their low enrollment. The document reveals the allocation of funds to church leaders to decide the school’s budget from their salaries. The document also reveals the ideology of using religion to help the poor and their “seek the kingdom of heaven.” (Northamptonshire Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church, 6).  The report discusses the progress of the boys’ schools versus the girls’ schools, revealing the patriarchal ideals. The reports also reveal the committee’s awareness of the poor’s reliance on their schools, amidst the profits made off their children.

The highlight of the report is on page 6 (pictured above) it says:

“any money granted by them towards the opening or maintenance of any school, shall be transmitted to the Clergyman of the parish in which such school is stated. The local committees will then decide on the most fitting application of the grant. This resolution will, it is hoped, prevent any inefficient masters from benefit from Society’s funds, and will also remove an erroneous supposition, which some masters have entertained, that the grants of the Society are made immediately to them as a part of their salary, and are not otherwise applicable to the necessary wants of the school” (Report of the state of the Northamptonshire Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church, from January 1, 1837 to January 1, 1838, 6).

This passage reveals the historical context behind the harsh experiences of Jane and other students of the Lowood School. Mr.Brocklehurst was the headmaster they described at the end of this passage, he may have considered the grants apart of his salary neglecting the school’s basic needs. The Lowood School endures a winter without heat and it can now be assumed that the headmaster’s greed is the cause of it.


Another highlight of this report was on the following page (pictured above) it says:

“…the committee do most urgently appeal to the friends of the Establish Church, and to all who are favorable to the instruction of the poor, not in worldly wisdom, but in that which maketh ‘wise unto salvation,’ as to the especial necessity…The committee believe they are echoing the wishes of subscribers generally, in expressing their own earnest desire, in all schools under their care first by God’ help to teach the child to ‘seek the kingdom of heaven and his righteousness’, ….They do therefore most honestly call upon all who have the means to further the objects of a society which would ever make religious instruction the paramount to all other, they would wish to enlist the interest of the poor on its behalf, and would offer to them all, the opportunity of having their children educated in the principles of the pure and apostolic Church of Christ, and then would humbly but confidently commit their cause to the blessing of that Being whose it is, in the religious and moral, as in all other departments of His Providence, and whose alone it is, to give the increase. If after adequate provision has been made, there are still those who prer a different system, wherein another creed is taught, or even no creed, the Church will have endeavoured to fulfil her duty, and will have responded to the call of her supreme Head on eart, who with a watchful eye to the well-being of her people, has made a first appeal to them by inviting their support for the National Schools.”

(Report of the state of the Northamptonshire Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church, from January 1, 1837 to January 1, 1838, 6).


Though a lengthy quote, the entirety of it reveals the piety that Mr.Brocklehurst possessed- similar to the photo- expressing nuances of an education system with religion at the frontier. Mr.Brocklehurst, much like the Northamptonshire Society, used religion as an agency of self-righteousness. Oh, for the poor should “seek out the kingdom,” should they be worthy of God. Mr.Brocklehurst used this logic to abuse the students because they needed to learn “the word of God.” The rigorous instruction doesn’t involve a pedagogy that implements an educational theory of higher learning. The rigorous instruction is higher learning that involves the figurative and literal beating of bibles over the heads of the poor students, at Lowood school. Once they are knowledgeable enough to see the graciousness of their teachers, they will be so thankful to have been taught the word of God.


Like the image of the Teacher next to two girls at blackboard, Lowood School is a religion-based school that upholds the ideology of poverty equaling inferiority. This is the logic behind the rigorous instruction that was lathered in the piety the headmaster, Mr.Brocklehurst, hid behind to inflict pain. Students are condemned publicly and literally whipped into shape. Their poverty acts as an agent of permission for their teacher’s withholding of food, water, and even heat! This image could undoubtedly represent the public condemnation that Jane endures at Lowood School. The students in the image look as though they are writing a series of “I will not…,” several times across this board while the teacher, similar to Mrs. Scatcherd, evaluates for penmanship to be up to her standard. There may only be two students, based on the historical context, due to the low enrollment rates as referenced in the report. At Lowood school, there isn’t any way to infer the population of the students at the school, based on the conext clues. However, we can assume there aren’t many because of the historical context provided by the report.


The harsh reality of this photo is at the hip of the teacher and her arm that rests on it. Her body language combined with the student’s current activity suggests that these may have been subjected to strict and harsh conditions similar to Lowood school. The report suggest that the girls’ schools are more difficult to manage as opposed to the boys’ schools. Teachers are uncapable of fostering a positive environment for the students of Lowood. Jane says, ““The other teachers, poor things, were generally themselves too much dejected to attempt the task of cheering others,” (149) Lowood was an all-girls asylum school for orphans. The teachers are unpleasant as we see with Mrs.Scatherd.


Lowood barely provided the basic needs for the girls and drilled their head with religion and called it a miracle. The historical context for this is revealed in Report of the state of the Northamptonshire Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church, from January 1, 1837 to January 1, 1838. The headmaster was the only male in the building who provided everything for the students. This was due to the previous policy, as referenced in the report, that allowed headmasters the entire grant to allocate for schools’ necessities.


The lack of meeting basic This is seen in the novel where Jane says, “Then the scanty supply of food was distressing: with the keen appetites of growing children, we had scarcely sufficient to keep alive a delicate invalid.  From this deficiency of nourishment resulted an abuse, which pressed hardly on the younger pupils: whenever the famished great girls had an opportunity, they would coax or menace the little ones out of their portion.  Many a time I have shared between two claimants the precious morsel of brown bread distributed at tea-time; and after relinquishing to a third half the contents of my mug of coffee, I have swallowed the remainder with an accompaniment of secret tears, forced from me by the exigency of hunger” (148). Poverty is used as a way to justify the “failure” of these children’s lives. Additionally, these schools such as the one in the image and Lowood feel they are doing their Christian duty by caring those these orphans. “Oh, the poor kids!”


The students in the image appear to be mismatched and/or slightly uniformed. This may have been the reason behind why they’re writing on the board. Conformity is a highly regarded principle for orphan schools. This uniformity is spoken of in Jane Eyre it says, “Oh, dear papa, how quiet and plain all the girls at Lowood look, with their hair combed behind their ears, and their long pinafores, and those little holland pockets outside their frocks—they are almost like poor people’s children” (80). This shows that uniformity of the school represented in the image similar to Lowood heavily relies on the low socio-economic of the students that attended there. The historical context given in the report suggests that all schools were required to maintain uniformity across all schools regarding rules and policies of the students’ behavior. The students didn’t have a say on what they wore because it was mandatory. Additionally, they were poor, so their clothing options were limited regardless.


The students are mandated to wear their hair straight just like in this photo both students appear to have uniformity. Students at Lowood were reprimanded for not having neatly straightened hair. They would be punished for this. Possibly these students were punished for their wavy unruly hair. Similar to Jane Eyre on page 158, Mr.Brocklehurst demands that a girl’s naturally curly hair should be shaved off because it cannot be straightened. Her physical attribute was condemned as a sign of failure. She was singled out by the oh so pious headmaster.


Jane discerns the punitive culture of Lowood School which encompasses a class and gender hierarchy in Victorian England. Similar to this image, she was sent to the school at the age of ten years old. The students, similarly to this image, seem to be condemned for their physical appearance. This is rewarded with punitive action and ostracization. As we see in Jane Eyre, she’s publicly condemned as a liar and placed on a stool with signage that states her status as so. This photo, similarly suggests the ostracization of these students possibly due to similar infractions.


This image illuminates several layers of culture. It illuminates the culture of Victorian England orphan schools. The Report of the state of the Northamptonshire Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church, from January 1, 1837 to January 1, 1838 provides the historical contexts providing readers with an understanding of the harsh treatment/rigorous instruction implemented in schools similar to the image and Lowood. The socio-economic hierarchy that exists for children to be sent here to endure such harsh treatments, is also enlightened with this image and report. Through the body language and physical appearance in the image we are able to analyze this information. With the report we are able to gain insight on the education system during that time. With the use of the comparison to Jane Eyre, we are able to infer what the purpose of this image is despite the lack of the archive date.



Works Cited

Brontë, Charlotte. (1897). Jane Eyre.

Northamptonshire Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church. Report of the state of the Northamptonshire Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church, from January 1, 1837 to January 1, 1838. Northampton, 1838. The Making Of The Modern World. Web. 13 Dec. 2018.
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Open-air school, Halifax, England. [No Date Recorded on Caption Card] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/2004668296/.



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