Though children under 14 represented 30 to 40 percent of the population of Victorian London, very few of them attended school at the beginning of the 1800s. Wealthier families could afford school for their sons, but the majority of children raised by lower class families did not have the resources to pay.
The only free schools in London in the 1800s were the Ragged Schools. These charitable groups provided a religion-based education that did little more than prepare children for a life of hard labor.
Ragged Schools were not an option for girls. Wealthier girls had governesses to homeschool them or went to boarding school. The poorest girls had no opportunity for an education.
Boarding schools were not much better than Ragged Schools. Beatings and dunce caps (hats labeling students "dunces" or idiots) were used to discipline students and to embarrass slow learners.
It was not until 1870 that action was taken to better working conditions for children and to guarantee them a decent education. The Education Act in 1870 ensured there was at least one school in every town and village. Each school was built and run by local school boards, and students attended for the price of just a few pennies a week. Within 10 years, all children ages 5 to 10 were required to attend primary school. By 1890, public education was free.
Backgrounds by T. Charles Erickson, Mike McCormick and Jann Whaley.