Ruth Cox (1890): Education and Schooling

‘I started to work at 13’ (White Knobs Row, p9)

Education, particularly the education Ruth received during her time in school, was not of great importance for Ruth. She does not write of school as being a hugely influential time in her life and opts to give a much more in-depth look at how the workplace gave her an education, as opposed to the classroom.

A Wesleyan School in Manchester, similar to one Ruth will have attended

Ruth begins to delve into her school experiences by first remarking that it was the age of ‘three years when I started to go to School’. She writes of the curriculum that ‘We were taught the three ‘RS’ Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. In our arithmetic lessons we were taught decimals and algebra’. The limited nature of the English curriculum is what to be expected given the time in which Ruth attended school. The school system was designed to instil within children the basics required for the workplace, so that once the children left school they were adequately equipped with basic mathematics and basic English.

Although Ruth does not explicitly state that she enjoyed her journeys to school, she writes that she walked with her brother Jim and sister Ethel to school every morning. Ruth, as you will see in previous blog posts and blog posts to come after this one, was very close to her siblings. So, it is a nice thought to think that even if Ruth disliked school once she was there, that she most probably enjoyed the journeys to and from school with her siblings!

Ruth’s final mention of school is when she leaves to join the workforce. Ruth remarks, ‘I started to work at 13. The school board allowed children to leave school if their attendances at school had been fully completed’ (p9). The national age for leaving school had been raised from 10 to 13 in 1913 therefore Ruth had the right to leave come aged 13.

John Burnett in his book Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood, Education and Family writes about how the determining factor on whether or not a child could enhance their education past the age of 13 was due to strictly financial reasons. Schooling was wholly dependent on family economy. Leaving school to join the mill at age 13 may seem like a strange idea to us, readers in the 21st century, however back then, it made sense that once the child was fully equipped with the necessary knowledge, that they should leave school and become a financial earner whose wages then would contribute to the overall improvement of the home and family life.

Ruth’s school experience is similar to many people around her age who attended school at the same time as her, for example another working-class autobiographer Thomas Wood writes ‘My school life came to an end when I was about eight years old’ (Burnett, 130). Thomas, like Ruth, left school to go straight into working in the mill to provide the family with an extra source of income.

So although school was not of great influence in Ruth’s life, she still gained an adequate education and she writes her autobiography with a wit and tone, that simply cannot be taught in a classroom.

Burnett, John.Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood, Education and Family. Psychology Press:1982

Cox, Ruth, ‘White Knob Row’,1:184 TS, pp.11 (c.4,000 words). Brunel University Library.


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