Skip navigation

Marketing religious identity: Female educators, Methodist culture and eighteenth-century childhood

Marketing religious identity: Female educators, Methodist culture and eighteenth-century childhood

Martin, Mary Clare ORCID: 0000-0002-3568-6423 (2009) Marketing religious identity: Female educators, Methodist culture and eighteenth-century childhood. In: Hilton, Mary and Shefrin, Jill, (eds.) Educating the Child in Enlightenment Britain: Beliefs, Cultures, Practices. Ashgate Studies in Childhood, 1700 to the Present . Ashgate Publishing, Farnham, Surrey, UK, pp. 57-76. ISBN 9780754664604

Full text not available from this repository.


John Wesley’s views on child-rearing have been regarded by many historians as harsh and repressive, founded on the premise of childhood sinfulness. By contrast, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s concept of childhood innocence is usually perceived as liberating. Nevertheless, W.R.Ward has argued that John Wesley believed childhood could be a “very active area of the Holy Spirit’s operation” and that he never missed an opportunity to visit schools run by Methodist women, of which he heartily approved. This chapter will challenge this oppositional paradigm through an analysis of the ethos, practices and impact of such schools and residential institutions, in relation to Methodist culture and eighteenth-century educational developments. It will begin by tracing the international context of the “Protestant Evangelical Awakening”. Professor Francke’s Orphan-House at Halle in Germany, founded in the 1670s, and Whitfield’s Orphan-House in Georgia provided models of philanthropic residential institutions, while women might take prominent roles in newly-founded Moravian communities in the 1720s. The texts used for this study were produced as aspects of private journal writing or communication but were marketed for public consumption, notably Mary Bosanquet’s Letter from a Gentlewoman to the Reverend John Wesley (1764), the Arminian Magazine, Bosanquet’s biography (1815), and Wesley’s journal and letters.

The best-documented of these institutions, which reflected a range of current ideologies and practices, was the residential community for destitute orphans and poor women run by Mary Bosanquet (1739-1815), from an elite family of Huguenot extraction, in Leytonstone Essex, then Yorkshire, from 1763-1781. The community was run on a regular routine, a feature of the evangelical imperative to use time well evident in the school for ministers’ sons founded by Wesley at Kingswood, near Bristol. Bosanquet’s orphans were taught to give a reason for everything they did, behaviour also recommended by “rational” educators. Although criticised for being “too strict”, her regime resulted in the training and employment of many poor children, whereas the freedom advocated for Rousseau’s Emile might well have caused a return to destitution. The model of the community of goods, all wearing a common dress, and eating round a common table, was consonant with the ideals of early Methodism. However, the community meeting for mutual discussion of the fate of children who had committed sins has resonances with the jury systems introduced at innovatory fee-paying schools at Cheam and Belfast in the 1750s and 1760s.

Other Methodist women ran schools for poor and better-off children, as at Keynsham, Purblow, and Edinburgh, and some also became a focus for religious worship. Wesley’s belief that every young woman who had the means should be useful, and that the curriculum of schools for elite girls should focus on serious subjects such as history and philosophy rather than novels or dancing, contrasts with the limited education and role ascribed to Sophie, Emile’s future helpmate. Wesley’s belief that such schools had had a beneficial effect on the surrounding countryside in the 1780s and 1790s contrasts sharply with Rousseau’s prescriptions that the young should be secluded from the adult world.

Item Type: Book Section
Additional Information: [1] Chapter 3.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Methodist culture, education, identity, women
Subjects: L Education > LA History of education
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Pre-2014 Departments: School of Education
School of Education > Department of Education & Community Studies
Related URLs:
Last Modified: 14 Oct 2016 09:08

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item