Finishing Schools – Part 1

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Winter 1881

There are two kinds of “city” schools during my time. The schools for the regular, public-school children, are pretty much like those of any public school in the 1880s. Some are divided into grades. Some are small and one-room, like the school I attend in Fresno. 

But I want to tell you about the schools the rich kids attend, like the one Mother made me attend in San Francisco (Miss Whitaker’s Academy for Young Ladies). Many times, well-to-do persons opened their homes and turned them into a school for young ladies. In San Francisco Smugglers, this is what Mrs. Edith Whitaker did. This is her academy up on Nob Hill (rich part of the city).

A city school for rich young ladies might be a day school, which I thought I was attending, and spending the nights at Aunt Rebecca’s. It can also be a boarding school, where students spend the entire term and only return home on weekends or holidays, and where I ended up stuck. First, the girls do not wear whatever we want except for dancing days or special occasions (of which there are very few). Instead, no matter what our ages, we wear the same uniform–a dark-blue middy (sailor) outfit.

The only advantage of this uniform is that it is comfortable. No corsets for school girls, thank goodness! I don’t have a bad feeling when it comes to these nautical outfits. I wore my own middy blouse and skirt at the Fourth of July celebration last July, about seven months before I attended Miss Whitaker’s Academy. The style for the school uniform varies only slightly. My friend Jenny Grant says the outfits are hideous, but I think she’s only upset because we all have to dress alike (I agree with her on this, but clearly, the pupils have no say in pretty much anything here. If I were to complain to Aunt Rebecca, I’m afraid she would quickly put me in my place.)

I think Miss Whitaker read this ad for school uniforms.
I’m wearing my middy outfit and sitting with Misty, Mother’s mare.

A typical day at Miss Whitaker’s Academy starts early. We have to wake up at 6:30 AM and have morning prayers by 7:00. (I confess that I sometimes fall back to sleep.) After washing up and making sure our rooms are neat as a pin, we begin classes promptly at at 9 o’clock. 

An hour and 45 minutes of classes, and then we get a short recess at 10:45. And I do mean short. Fifteen minutes. Barely enough time to find the washroom. “Luncheon” is served promptly at 12:15, but thankfully we don’t have to go back to afternoon classes until 1:30 PM. 

We are in classes two hours and 45 minutes until recreation at 4:15 PM. That’s when I have my horsemanship lessons with Juan for about an hour (and by that time it is nearly dark in gloomy February. The sun sets at 6 o’clock). Then supper is at 5:45, and free time until 8:00 PM, when we have to study and do homework. We all gather for evening prayer and Bible reading at 9:00 PM. Lights out come promptly at 10:00 PM. What a long day!

Two students riding side saddle in their habits

Speaking of horsemanship lessons, it’s “sidesaddle” riding lessons. Very tricky. I finally figured it out after Juan Carlos gave me some tips, but it is no fun at all. Not with that bright-blue long and heavy riding habit. I found out later that Aunt Rebecca had to pay extra for those riding lessons. She was probably glad to do it, though, seeing as she has never approved of me riding astride. 

Miss Whitaker’s Academy for Young Ladies isn’t cheap. Oh, how I wish Mother would have invested the money she paid for that school into more practical things for me, like a new saddle blanket. My old one is getting worn. Do you know how many saddle blankets Mother could buy for the price of one year at a rich city school?  

It cost $100 to enroll me for just one term. One hundred dollars! I think Aunt Rebecca paid the money, because Mother thought I was a day student, which is only about $10 a term. And that is only the base price, for food and the basic curriculum. Of course, Aunt Rebecca wanted me to be instructed in other subjects too, and each “extra” subject costs money. Here are the extras dear Auntie paid. I did not do well.

  • French class cost $25, and so does Latin, so that’s $50 (wasted) right there. But I persevered and I can understand French and Latin reasonably well.
  • Music cost $50, but that only lasted a couple of weeks. The piano and I did not get along.
  • Drawing and painting, $50. I needn’t say much about that. I spilled the yellow and red paint the second day and was quickly withdrawn from the class. Auntie got her money back.
  • Horsemanship cost $25. The only extra course I enjoyed. It wasn’t the riding lessons but the conversation with Juan Carlos that I enjoyed the most.

Washing costs extra (Lin Mei probably got stuck with the laundry, and it’s a good bet she didn’t see any of the money our folks pay for this service). 

Miss Whitaker’s Academy began the year on October 15 (fall term) and went through July 15 (a summer term). I attended the rest of the winter term and the entire spring term. That was plenty of “finishing” school for me.

Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow.

Published by Andi Carter

I'm the main character in the Circle C Adventures series. I live on a huge cattle ranch in 1880s California. These are my adventures.

7 thoughts on “Finishing Schools – Part 1

  1. SO glad I don’t have to attend one of those schools! I am homeschooled and couldn’t cope in a normal school today, let alone one like that. Sidesaddle looks so uncomfortable in that picture!!!

    Liked by 3 people

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