Passenger Education

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This is just my general opinion and perhaps Mr. Standart and the other experts might enlighten us.
(I use the term "expert" in a flattering manner and with a great deal of respect for Mr. Standart et. al.)

I would think that the education of all Titanic passengers ranged from those in Steerage who were illiterate and had little or no education...some of the reports seem to indicate that many of them could not speak or understand English, for example....possibly there might be some traveling in Steerage who had more education but were traveling in that manner for economic reasons.

The "upper classes" in First and possibly Second Class most likely had at least some "Finishing School" for the ladies or University or College Education with perhaps some or many of the ladies and gentlemen who had achieved the Doctorate level. In 1912, the education of the ladies might have been more limited than the gentlemen, of course ?

Just IMHO.
My own understanding is much the same as Roberts. The Upper classes and even the middle class...such as it was...could afford the luxury of a complete education but for those in the lower or "Working Classes" the story would have been very different for economic reasons. The sooner you could go to work, the better and that made for a lot of people going to work at a very young age.

That doesn't mean that upward mobility wasn't a possibility. Thomas Andrews got his start as an apprentice, and Senator Smaith...who was a very accomplished trial his start selling popcorn.
We might assume that late Victorian and Edwardian women, even those from affluent backgrounds, were poorly educated. But this was not always the case. Edith Pears and Elsie Bowerman were both pupils at the prestigious Wycombe Abbey School which then, as now, maintained a very high academic standard. Elsie went on to study Languages at Cambridge and was admitted to the Bar in 1924.

To cite another example from first-class, Alice Leader was a qualified physician. Although I know next to nothing about her, I assume that she too had been extremely well educated.

In general, there remained a strong prejudice against the 'blue stocking' in high society - debutantes coming out as late as the 1950s found that a reputation for being 'clever' could easily deter potential suitors. And, as I have pointed out on another thread, the concept of an 'all round' female education was most eagerly embraced by the more progressive members of the middle class. Smart girls would either have been trained in traditional feminine accomplishments (the arts, foreign languages, a little history and geography) by a governess at home or they would have attended a small, select and decidedly unacademic seminary with a handful of similarly well bred contemporaries.

On a different note, Robert wrote:

'I would think that the education of all Titanic passengers ranged from those in Steerage who were illiterate and had little or no education...some of the reports seem to indicate that many of them could not speak or understand English, for example....'

I know what you are getting at, Robert, but I wouldn't necessarily see the lack of English on the part of some third-class passengers as evidence of their illiteracy. I've been through school and university but I can't speak Syrian or Swedish! Under different circumstances, and by their own standards, I've no doubt that there were many individuals travelling in steerage who were surprisingly well educated.
Now then, you nautical gents. Belay the idea of illiterate and ignorant masses. You might find plenty of those on cruise ships today
, but back in 1912 the industrial nations were well aware of the need for a well-educated workforce. It had not passed without note that the rise of Germany as a commercial and industrial force to be reckoned with had been based in its excellent and progressive system of State education for all. I cannot speak for the education systems of all nations in 1912, but a review of the system for England and Wales will serve as an example. This had been much influenced by the German system, and was fairly typical of that of other European nations at the time.

All children were required to attend elementary schools (free of charge) from the age of 5 to 13 (soon to be raised to 14). The State schools were administered by Local Education Authorities for each County and Borough, which were in turn guided by a central Ministry of Education. The basic curriculum was still the 'three r's', in which the standard of attainment was, if anything, higher than that of most school-leavers today. To this were added a basic grounding in science, literature, history (of the British Empire, naturally!), health and citizenship, along with physical education and practical skills (generally woodwork for boys and domestic skills for girls). Most schools provided a 'senior' class in which the best pupils were worked harder and provided with extra subjects (sometimes even foreign languages) to prepare them for scholarship examination and progress to secondary education. Most if not all of the pupils in the senior class would have been boys. In 1912 there were around 4,000 secondary schools in England and Wales, but only 1 in 8 of them offered any places to girls.

Unlike the elementary schools, secondary education was neither free nor compulsory. Anybody whose family could afford to pay the fees could gain entry to these schools, so the majority of pupils in secondary education were the children of middle class fathers like clerks, shopkeepers and skilled artisans. The government had decreed that at least 25% of the places in secondary education should be reserved for subsidised 'scholarship' pupils - ie working class children of proven ability. Not all of the scholarship winners, however, were able to take up the offer of several more years of free education. Their parents still needed to feed and clothe them, and would also of course be deprived of their contribution to the family income as paid workers. But for any ambitious young person who was forced by economic circumstances to leave school and start working, there was still the possibility of continued education through the use of the public libraries and evening classes (in both technical subjects and liberal education) which were available in every town in an age when self-advancement was greatly encouraged.

Hopefully this sheds some light on the basic educational standards and opportunities for the masses in 1912. Not an 'equal opportunity' system by any means (and certainly not for girls), but not quite so far removed from the present system as many of us might suppose. It must be said, however, that many of the older passengers and crew on the Titanic would have been at school at a time when standards were less advanced, so it's the younger adults and the children who would have had the best education.
Bravo, Bob! A truly masterful insight into the state of education for the masses during the Edwardian Era.

For anybody who'd like to know more, I'd heartily recommend Flora Thompson's exquisite memoir 'Larkrise to Candleford' which contains detailed information about the kind of education given to working class children in an Oxfordshire village of the 1880s.
My father's family were beneficiaries of the UK State education system between 1911 and 1925 (7 children). Their parents, my grandparents, were from labouring people, although my grandfather had already worked his way up through the Sheffield steel works to a foreman position by then (which he lost in the Depression). They were completely absorbed by the idea of educating their children. Of their 7 children, all were well educated through the elementary system, and the older boys all went on to Matriculate and then get degrees. The older girls did not because money was short (for the clothes, books etc.), but the youngest girl did. All, however, gained or married into middle-class lifestyles, and all their children went on to Universities.

My own father, keen to become a doctor, made a chemistry laboratory in the cellar of their terraced house, which his mother strongly defended in the name of his education, even after an experiment in producing hydrogen sulphide resulted in a Sunday tea-party, including the Methodist Minister, being abruptly interrupted by a terrible stench rising from below, embarrassing all the guests who thought one of their number was responsible. Grandfather was furious, but in the end (grandmother got at him) meekly just built a baffle over the air brick in the cellar and told my father to warn them in future when he was making noxious gases.
How was it in the Eastern European nations, Bob? The impression I've had, and I could be wrong, was that they were nowhere near as progressive as Germany.
Martin - thanks!

Mike, the aims were generally similar, but of course a country with a less successful economy would have had less to spend on education. If you look at East European countries like Bulgaria or Romania, for example, at first sight their education systems were not unlike that of England. A school in every community, and elementary education was both free and compulsory for all. But the average amount of spending on each child's education was about half to two-thirds of the UK figure. The elementary systems were quite adequate, but there was less provision (and arguably less need) for secondary and higher education, which was not in any case of the same high standard. Wealthy families preferred to send their children to technical schools or universities in Paris rather than to establishments nearer home. I obviously don't have the background information to go into detail about every country, but hopefully that gives some idea.
Dr. Leader's travelling companion, Mrs. Swift, had a law degree from NYU (New York University). I did not know this until rereading some of the contemporary news coverage linked to her ET bio recently.

What interests me are the American passengers who got degrees from non-Ivy League institutions. Richard White graduated from the small but prestigious Bowdoin College in Maine. Richard Mock went to Susquehanna University, of which I know nothing. Kornelia Andrews and the Chaffees all went to Oberlin in Ohio, though I'm not sure if any of them got degrees (their ET bios say). Today, this is a quite respected school with sort of a funky reputation (though it made the mistake of rejecting yours truly). I'm not sure how it was rated in the nineteenth century.

Lucian Smith went to the University of West Virginia, which seems an unlikely choice for a young man with rich Philadelphian roots.

Eleanor Widener dropped out of Vassar to get married, and I'm sure other first class ladies attended this school.

In terms of what Americans call prep school and the British call public school, Colonel Gracie went to St. Paul's and Gretchen Longley went to the Windsor School in Boston. Both of these schools are still flourishing, but I've never hard of Briarcliff, where Olive Earnshaw, Margaret Hays, and Helen Newsom went. The Baxters went to Montreal Catholic schools.

This is all that comes to mind just now.

sashka pozzetti

Former Member
Were there Titanic passengers who had been to school together at all? and as was mentioned before has anyone on ET been to a private school or similar, and could explain what the benefits are that continue after you have left??
Colonel Gracie mentioned a school connection in his account. Perhaps he had gone to St. Paul's with the husband of one of the Lamson sisters?

I think Jack Thayer and Richard Norris Williams were later at Harvard together.

Jason D. Tiller

Staff member
Major Peuchen was educated in private schools in Montreal, up until 1871 when his family decided to move to Toronto. I have not been able to find out which schools he went to here, but I'm assuming it would have been the same. I don't see why his parents would switch him from a private school to a public one.

As far as private schools go nowadays, I can't say as I went to a public school for two years. Then my parents and I moved, and I went to Catholic schools for the rest of my education.
Although Bob Godfrey has clearly refuted the suggestion that British Third class travellers would have been illiterate, it should perhaps be explained that education in the UK was still very much in the hands of the churches and, more especially, the Anglican church. In Oxfordshire, for example, the vast majority of elementary schools were C of E schools, rather than local authority schools. Church schools in England and Ireland were sometimes called "National" schools.

Grammar schools were, similarly, dominated by the church - the Act of Parliament by which my own school was governed stated that the headmaster should hold the degree of MA and be ordained (although that requirement had been dropped long before 1912). Many grammar schools offered free places to "foundationers" from their respective towns, whereas outsiders (who were often boarders) had to pay fees.
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