Learning to be Good Girls and Women

Education, training and schools

Authored by: Rebecca Rogers

The Routledge History of Women in Europe Since 1700

Print publication date:  December  2005
Online publication date:  April  2006

Print ISBN: 9780415301039
eBook ISBN: 9780203969120
Adobe ISBN: 9781134419067


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In 1846 an obscure French provincial schoolteacher wrote to the administrative governing council of Algeria that

Woman is the most powerful of all influences in Africa as in Europe, but even more so in Africa. If you convert to our civilization 100 young native girls in all classes of society and in all the races of the Regency [of Algeria], these girls will become, in the nature of things, the privileged wives of the most important men of their class; they will become our guarantee of the country’s submission to our authority, as well as the irrefutable pledge of its future assimilation.1

She argued specifically that schooling Muslim girls was the solution to assimilating the new colonial subjects into French civilisation. This heart-felt endorsement of girls’ education as a pivotal aspect of the civilising process speaks powerfully to the values attached to learning in nineteenth-century Europe. Throughout the continent educated men and women believed that progress and the spread of civilisation came through learning. More importantly, from the eighteenth century onwards, women were included in this reflection; a country’s degree of civilisation increasingly depended on women’s status within society, and this status in turn hinged on their access to education.

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