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Bonus: scroll to the end of this post to download a free PDF file of a true-to-life Diary of a Little Girl in Old New York set in 1849-1850 to see what a school was really like.
All righty! I’m back to finish (as quickly as possible) my memories of what it’s like at a rich young ladies’ academy in the city. I found this old photo of Miss Whitaker. Believe me, it looks just like her. I was not attending the academy at the beginning of the school term back in October, but I heard it all from my new friend, Jenny Grant. She told me exactly what happened. Miss Whitaker, the head mistress, gathered all the young ladies together that first day in the common room (like when she got us all together to announce that Lin Mei was missing). She introduced the other teachers then read off a long list of rules. Not just any rules, either. These rules make Mr. Foster’s rules sound EASY to keep.
All you have to do at the Fresno grammar school is mind your p’s and q’s. Here at Miss Whitaker’s Academy, she has taken proper behavior to a whole new level. I was not prepared when I heard it second-hand from Jenny. And when I finally took the time to read it for myself, I nearly collapsed. Are you ready? Hang on. The following rules were read aloud to the assembled scholars once a year only, at the opening day of school (You better hope you can remember them all!) Miss Whitaker handed me the rules and expected me to memorize them too, with no explanations for why a particular rule was required.
- Each young lady must be in her seat at 9 o’clock with Bible in hand, ready for opening exercises. Each one should bow her head in a respectful manner.
- Each scholar should familiarize herself with her studies, so she may commence preparation for her first recitation. This way all unnecessary questions to the teacher may be avoided.
- All talking and laughing, note-writing, conversation by “signs,” eating and leaving of seats, are strictly forbidden during study and recitation hours.
- Loud conversation, romping, or rudeness of manner must not in any case be indulged in during recess. (I broke this one pretty fast)
- Perfect neatness in person is expected of every young lady. (I broke this one the first day I arrived, after I visited with Juan Carlos, before I even knew about these ol’ rules.) Books should be carefully covered and carefully used, and not left to lie upon the outside of the desk at any time.
- No tardiness at school or failure in lessons will be excused, or permission given to leave before the close of school, except by a written note from one of the parents of the young lady.
- For every perfect lesson the scholar will receive 4 good marks. Two failures in answering, or general imperfect answers, will incur a forfeit mark.
- Good marks will be given for punctuality, neatness, order, and general excellence; disgrace marks will be given for tardiness, disorder, improper manners, and deficiency in studies. (I earned disgrace marks within the first couple of weeks.)
- At the end of each month, the marks will be counted so each young lady may know her standing in her classes. Reports will then be sent to the parents (in my case to Aunt Rebecca).
- School will end a few minutes before 4 o’clock. When the bell is rung, the young ladies will arrange their books silently for leaving, and remain at their places until they receive permission to leave. The young lady who sits nearest the door in each class may lead the way.
- We desire that the rules of politeness and good breeding will uniformly be practiced here. As the Bible is the great rule of duty for both teachers and scholars, it is hoped that this truth and virtue and Christian kindness and courtesy will be the governing principle of conduct to all the members of this school.
Note from Mrs. M: I found the above rules in a book called Diary of a Little Girl in Old New York by Catherine Havens. This book is in the public domain. It is the 1849-1850 diary of the author as a ten-year-old girl in New York City. You can download (for free) the PDF file of the entire book (takes about 5-10 seconds) by clicking the cover image.
And last but not least, here is the course of study that takes up my entire day.
- English grammar and literature
Some of the older students (like Florence, forever showing off) take extra courses.
- Italian (whatever for?)
I was allowed to take Horsemanship after being dumped in Golden Gate Park for not being able to manage sitting side saddle. It was quite humiliating, but in the end God worked it for my good. I met a nice stable hand, Juan Carlos, who became a friend.