‘I was nearly nine years old when I started why I had not gone before I don’t know’ (p.42)
David Vincent writes that ‘the foundation for the eventual victory [full literacy] was laid not in the schoolroom but in the working-class family’ (1981, 54).
In Martha’s case, it was her father who ‘taught me so much’ (p.42). Her father’s influence on her learning is evident when she recalls a poem ‘with eight verses in’ that her father taught her ‘before I was four years old’ (p.8):
‘Sparrows in a nest one two & three
Under mother’s breast as warm as you can be.
Mother keeps you warm, Father brings you food
Trouble you for not Happy little Brood
Mind you do not fall from your nest so high
You have got no Feathers yet so you cannot fly
When your feathers grow on a sunnie day
You will learn to fly. Chirp, chirp away’ (p.9)
Martha remarks that, due to her father teaching her so much, ‘by the time I started I could read fairly good’ and ‘I was never put in the infant’s class’ (p.42).
In her memoir, Martha writes about a time when (instead of going to school) ‘we went along’ with her sister Phoebe and a child she looked after and ‘stayed there all day’ (p.26).
Jonathan Rose writes of parental interest in education ‘although parental interest in education did decline steadily with class status, no less than 71.3 percent of working class people described their parents as interested in their schooling, compared to the 82.3 percent in other classes’ (1993, 131).
Martha’s father appears to be interested in her schooling but her education is put on hold for various reasons. First, she had to help her father earn money for the family: ‘I used to have stay away from school on a Wednesday and go with Dad’ (p.49). Her father would ‘not let me go to school’ following the birth of her brother Louis, which had a strong effect on her emotionally: ‘I cried my eyes up at the idea of having to leave school, as they were the happiest days I think I ever had’ (p.57).
Despite Martha’s capability when it came to her education, she had to put it on hold to help fund and care for her family- something which was not uncommon for working-class girls. Not being able to continue her schooling is something which Martha regrets when she writes ‘…as I have looked back and thought that if I could have a good education. What a different career’ (p.58).
I have enjoyed learning about Martha’s education and schooling and her father’s influence on this aspect of her life and I hope you have learnt something, too!
Martin, Martha. ‘The Ups and Downs of Life’ Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library 1:499
Rose, Jonathan. ‘Willingly to School: The Working-Class Response to Elementary Education in Britain, 1875-1918’ Journal of British Studies 32.2, 1993
Vincent, David. Literacy and Popular Culture: England 1750-1914. Cambridge : Cambridge UP, 1989, pp.18-25.