Girls are, on the whole, worse off than boys as regards what they get out of school life. There is an element of generosity, of free and friendly “give and take” in boys’ games, which is wanting to the girls. Beautiful and lasting girl friendships are formed in most schools, but girls do not always do each other good; perhaps because they are more delicate, nervous, and consequently, irritable by organisation than the boys, they often enough contrive to get the worst and not the best out of each
other. They have not the common bond which boys find in their games, and their alliances rest upon talk, which too often turns into gossip, possibly into sentimental and unwholesome gossip. A girl of fine, pure, noble character is like salt which seasons a whole school, and such girls are, happily, plentiful enough; but it is well parents should bear the other possibility in mind, that their daughter may be thrown amongst girls, not vicious, but with nothing in them, who will bring her down to their commonplace level.
Because girls, constitutionally sensitive, are open to the small envying, jealousies, “cliquishness,” which hinder them from getting all the good they should of each other’s society, they are more dependent on the character of their head, and on their opportunities of getting in touch with her. If she be a woman of clear and vigorous mind, high principles, and elevated character, it is astonishing how all that is lovely in the feminine character is drawn towards her as by a magnet, and the girls about her mould themselves, each according to her own nature, and yet each after the type of the mistress, the “sympathy of numbers” spurring them on towards virtue, and each—
“Emulously rapid in the race.”
Given, to adapt words used in describing Dr Lant Carpenter as a schoolmaster, a woman with a power of “commanding the reverence and reconstituting the wills” of her pupils, of “great and varied intellectual power, with profound sense of right pervading the whole life and conversation, with the insight derived from a thorough and affectionate sympathy with (girl) nature,” and she will “daily achieve triumphs which most teachers would believe impossible”; above all,
this will be true if she succeed in putting into the hands of her pupils the key to the spiritual life. Such a woman gets all that is beautiful in girl-nature on her side—its enthusiasm, humility, deference, devotion: love works wonders, and the parents see their daughter growing under their eyes into the perfect woman they long to see their child become.
But schoolmistresses, as schoolmasters, of this type are rare; and, indeed, it is as well they are, for if the parents’ highest functions are to be fulfilled by outsiders, what is left for father and mother to do? Parents will, no doubt, take care to place their daughters under generally estimable women, and having done that, they will estimate the training the school affords at its value, and endeavour to supplement it at home. How great the value of school discipline is to girls, they can appreciate who have had experience of the vagueness, inaccuracy, want of application, desultoriness, want of conscience about their work, dawdling habits—of young women brought up at home under the care of governesses. Of course there are exceptions, governesses and governesses, and the girl trained under a woman who delights in knowledge for its own sake, will probably surpass the schoolgirl in range of non-personal interests, delight in life, and power of initiative. Girls often fare well when their fathers have a hand in their education. The home-taught girl may, in happy circumstances, excel in intellectual keenness and moral refinement; but for habits of work, power of work, conscientious endeavour in her work, the faithful schoolgirl is, as a rule, far before the girl who has not undergone school discipline, but has been taught by a commonplace untrained governess.