Mary Carpenter bigraphy, stories - Educators

Mary Carpenter : biography

03 April 1807 - 14 June 1877

Mary Carpenter (3 April 1807 – 14 June 1877) was an English educational and social reformer. The daughter of a Unitarian minister, she founded a ragged school and reformatories, bringing previously unavailable educational opportunities to poor children and young offenders in Bristol.

She published articles and books on her work and her lobbying was instrumental in the passage of several educational acts in the mid-nineteenth century. She was the first woman to have a paper published by the Statistical Society of London. . She addressed many conferences and meetings and became known as one of the foremost public speakers of her time. Carpenter was active in the anti-slavery movement; she also visited India, visiting schools and prisons and working to improve female education, establish reformatory schools and improve prison conditions. In later years she visited Europe and America, carrying on her campaigns of penal and educational reform.

Carpenter publicly supported women's suffrage in her later years and also campaigned for female access to higher education. She is buried in Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol.

Early life

Carpenter was born in 1807, in Exeter, the first child of Lant Carpenter, a Unitarian minister in Exeter, and Anna (or Hannah) Penn. In 1817 the family moved to Bristol, where her father took charge of the Lewin's Mead Unitarian meeting house. He established a boarding school at Great George Street, Brandon Hill, which was run by his wife and daughters,

where Mary studied the sciences, mathematics, Greek and Latin. She taught in the school, had spells as a governess in the Isle of Wight and Hertfordshire and, in 1827, returned to Bristol to become head teacher at had by now become Mrs Carpenter's Boarding School for Young Ladies. 

In 1833 she met Ram Mohan Roy, a founder of the Brahmo Samaj movement which reformed social Hinduism, and was influenced by his philosophy during his short stay with Miss Castle and Miss Kiddel at Beech House in Stapleton

before Roy died of meningitis in September of that year. 
Later that year she also met Joseph Tuckerman, an American Unitarian who had founded the Ministry-at-Large to the Poor in Boston, Massachusetts. 
He is said to have directly inspired her start on the path of social reform, partly by a chance remark made when walking with Carpenter through a slum district of Bristol. A small boy in rags ran across their path and Tuckerman remarked, "That child should be followed to his home and seen after." 
 He had established a Farm School in Massachusetts, which became the model for later reformatories.  Carpenter's later writings are based upon ideas she developed from her correspondence with Tuckerman. 


This was followed in 1851 by the publication of Reformatory Schools for the Children of the Perishing and Dangerous Classes, and for Juvenile Offenders. She sketched out three classes of schools as urgently needed; good free day schools (for the children in the general population), feeding industrial schools (for children in need) and reformatory schools (for young offenders). This book drew public attention to her work, and she began to communicate with leading educational and reformist thinkers and reformers. Carpenter was consulted by those drafting educational bills, and she was invited to give evidence before House of Commons committees

and in 1852 she published Juvenile Delinquents, their Condition and Treatment, which contributed to the passing of the Juvenile Offenders Act in 1854. 

In 1852 she put her ideas into practice, establishing a reformatory school at Bristol in 1852, in Kingswood in the premises of a school which had originally been set by John Wesley. Originally this was for boys and girls, but she soon decided to separate the sexes and set up a girls' reformatory in what is now the Red Lodge Museum in 1854, initially funded by Lady Byron. Her strong religious beliefs drove her reforms. "Love must be the ruling sentiment of all who attempt to influence and guide these children", she wrote in Reformatory Schools for the Children of the Perishing and Dangerous Classes, and for Juvenile Offenders. Now that the principle of reformatory schools was established, Carpenter agitated for free day schools, arguing the ragged schools were entitled to financial aid from the government. At the Oxford meeting of the British Association (1860) she read a paper on this subject, and, mainly owing to her instigation, a conference on ragged schools in relation to government grants for education was held at Birmingham in 1861.

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