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Synopsis

This book compares the formal education of the majority of girls in Britain and Ireland in the nineteenth century. Previous books about ‘Britain’ invariably focus on England, and such ‘British’ studies tend not to include Ireland despite its incorporation into the Union in 1801. The Schooling of Girls in Britain and Ireland, 1800-1900 presents a comparative synthesis of the schooling of working and middle-class girls in the Victorian period, with the emphasis on the interaction of gender, social class, religion and nationality across the UK. It reveals similarities as well as differences between both the social classes and the constituent parts of the Union, including strikingly similar concerns about whether working-class girls could fulfill their domestic responsibilities. What they had in common with middle-class girls was that they were to be educated for the good of others. This study shows how middle-class women used educational reform to carve a public role for themselves on the basis of a domesticated life for their lower class ‘sisters’, confirming that Victorian feminism was both empowering and constraining by reinforcing conventional gender stereotypes.

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