Monday, December 26, 2016

A Peek at Charlotte Mason's Early Life

A Peek at Charlotte Mason's Early Life

January 1st is Miss Charlotte Mason’s birthday (1842-1923). 

Between holiday cooking and company around our table, I nipped up to the chilly attic. This is where I managed to finish polishing a piece of writing for you, in time for the new year.     
The 1983 film "Jane Eyre" is one I like. 
At the mention of a penniless orphan-turned-governess in England’s 19th century, many think of Jane Eyre, the fictional heroine of Charlotte Bronte’s novel, a novel read and loved by successive generations.
Painting by Jules Trayer
I also think of a real-life penniless orphan-turned-teacher, a real-life heroine of mine. She was born near the time of the publication of Jane Eyre. Her life’s work greatly influenced and guided the new way thousands of parents and teachers educated their children in England. About 100 years later her distinctive philosophy of education found its way to America. Its happy revival has been guiding thousands of parents with this new way again. You might be one of these parents.

Miss Charlotte Mason says of herself that she was “rather lonely as a child.” In the book, The Story of Charlotte Mason by Essex Cholmondeley, there is no mention of neighborhood play with the urchins in the streets where the little girl Charlotte grew up. She had no brothers or sisters. Her mother and father hadn’t any either. Nor is there mention of grandparents. Without brothers, sisters and grandparents, without any cousins, aunts and uncles, to round out the family and make a merry party on holidays, her parents did an unusual thing for those days – they spent time with Charlotte. During an era when children were told to sit still, sit quiet, or go play, her parents were her companions.
Painting by George Calusen, a  resemblance to C.M.?
They read to her. Toys were not plentiful. In fact, she says, “I do not recollect any toys.” Mr. and Mrs. Mason had their sober priorities straight. Benjamin Franklin’s motto, “Wear the old coat, buy the new book” enters my mind. Because, of the few household things that could be counted were a handful of precious books.

Miss Mason remembered being a girl of 11 sitting near the fireside, watching and listening to her mother read aloud. She sat clasping her knees and listening as she had never listened since.*1

If, like me, you’ve read Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel, North and South or have seen the British film, you’ve been introduced to the noise, grim, stench, and concrete of England’s northern industrial cities. Such were the cities of Charlotte Mason’s girlhood. In Liverpool where she grew up, the streets were narrow. The row-houses were cramped and narrow, too, fronted by pavement. The city was congested with the people who worked in the factories.

North & South
Charlotte’s father was a merchant and business-owner in Liverpool. He was proud of his contribution to free enterprise. But the city environment was hard on Mrs. Mason’s delicate health. (City-life was also a hardship of Margaret Hale’s mother in North and South.) Therefore, with her daughter Charlotte, Mrs. Mason spent much time living near the Isle of Man. Here Charlotte remembers wading in the waves of the seashore.
Painting by Walter Bonner Gash

A terrible thing happened in the years of 1848 and 49. A business crash left many of the Liverpool merchants with large financial losses. (A similar financial collapse, common of the times, is described in North and South.) By Charlotte’s 8th birthday the Masons, now very poor, were living in small furnished lodgings.*2

Margaret Hale, heroine of North & South

At this time Charlotte was home educated. Her father took some subjects, her mother others. They were glad to keep busy this way. Across the street from their narrow row-house was a curiously big house. It was set back behind a stone wall and shaded by large trees. I can imagine young Charlotte doing lessons in their front parlor in the light of its one window that overlooked the street. (I’ve been inside London’s Victorian row-houses). 

One day, perhaps through that parlor window, Charlotte and her mother caught a glimpse of a “tall lady with a dark shawl thrown scarfwise across her shoulders, a bonnet whose black strings floated, and a whole train of tiny children holding on to her skirts and following her.”*3 This lady was emerging from the big house’s shady footpath. Mrs. Mason found out through a friend that this lady was the mistress of a girl’s school nearby. It wasn’t long before Charlotte’s first thoughts of her vocation entered her mind. She got to know this mistress and took part in classes by aiding her in the girl’s school.

Dean found this photograph of a 19th century girl's school. 

The girls had professional fathers. Charlotte couldn’t help notice that they wore wrist watches and some even wore rings!

It was in this classroom that Charlotte was first struck with the misery of the schoolbook. The class was reading a textbook of English history. As Charlotte was reading Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley at home, the contrast of the two histories must have been blaring. Students ought to have well-written books, she thought. What a pity that England was a land of literary genius but so little good writing ever reached the classroom. The necessity for well-written books, books not combed and condensed by a textbook committee - and factual to the extent of leaving out the color of literary detail - stayed to the forefront of Miss Mason’s mind and heart all her life. She called these well-written books, living books because they are alive with the ideas. Their literary language sumptuously pads the facts. This writing contributes to (not squelches) a student’s sense of wonder and delight.

The strain of poverty on the families of the Liverpool merchants took its toll on the well-being of Charlotte’s beautiful mother. In 1858 she died. Mr. Mason couldn’t bear it. Soon after, he died, possibly of a broken heart. At age 16 Charlotte was alone in the world. Without relatives and penniless, a friend of the family took her in. It was a frightening and depressing time. 

One thought stayed on Charlotte’s mind. Teaching was the thing to do.*4
Painting by James Charles
At age 18 (I will now refer to her as Miss Mason) she began her life work by becoming a student of the only teacher’s training college in England. In this London college, 1860 was a year of making friends. One friend remembered Miss Mason’s “earnest striving of the soul for light”.   

It might have been her lack of finances, but for her second year of study the college found a teaching post in Sussex for Miss Mason. Thus, she worked and continued her education by distance-learning. At age 19 Charlotte Mason was looked up to as headmistress by the little children of this village school. The school had no connection with the government. It was run by the Anglican church. Miss Mason kept in touch with her friends through letters during her working experience. She wrote to one friend how parents must be the happiest of people “to have God’s children lent to them . . . I love my children dearly.” In another letter she writes of her resolutions, “I mean to be so firm, so kind, so loving, so altogether admirable”.*5

The Colonial Training College of London awarded her a Certificate in 1863. Miss Mason kept a log book of her experiences at the Davison School (1861-73). At times the children were “disorderly”. Her aspirations for the building of a new school for girls was realized. It was much work but she was pleased at the girls’ interests in their lessons.

Miss Mason is said to have had a bad heart, although she carried on without a precise diagnosis. At the insistence that she must rest after an illness she spent time in London staying with a friend she made during her year at the teacher’s training college, observing this married friend’s curious children. Then she stayed with another married college friend in Ambleside. She became fond of taking long walks in the country. It was here, at her friend’s house (used both as a home and day school) that Miss Mason “first became familiar with the countryside she so deeply loved for the rest of her life”. One of the few photographs we have of Miss Mason was taken during this stay in Ambleside. It is black and white so I’ll mention that her friend said “her hair was of the darkest shade of brown. . . Her eyes were blue-grey, her height five feet four inches.” *6 My son Nigel did the meticulous job of tinting the old photograph to honor my request. (copyright on colorization)

During the years of being a classroom teacher Miss Mason explored books of philosophy and education. Why so much digging? She says, “I thought with the enthusiasm of a young teacher that education should regenerate the world”.*7 I can understand how she, being a Christian, could hold this high ideal. Consequently, with a close observation of children and her reading, she was struck with the realization that just as the body craves food so does the mind have its appetite to know. She asked herself. Is it necessary that we teach so many things to children? It was the children, with their “insatiable curiosity”*8 that showed her that this world is happily “so full of a number of things”*9 that it seems barely enough to satisfy a growing child who hasn’t become lethargic by boredom.  

And yet she noted that what is presented to a child will only feed his mind sufficiently to become knowledge when the child’s mind has “acted upon” it. Rather than "cram" he must ruminate, digest it, and make it his own.*10 Later, it was her insistence on the method of narration that would set the wheels of child’s mind in motion.
With Miss Mason’s study, experience, and spirit of dedication, came her next appointment. She was lecturer at a new teacher’s training college. Then, she became vice-principal of Bishop Otter College. She gave her all to this new position. But it proved too much for her health. It drained her of her last drop of energy. What a disappointment it must have been to suffer a “serious breakdown”*11 and be forced to give up.  

Following a typical remedy of the times, she visited Switzerland for a rest-cure. When she returned to England she had a bright idea. Because she had for years loved to explore the English countryside - by train and by footpath - and "had laid the crumbs of these journeys in a notebook," unknowingly collecting material for a book, she did just that. She wrote, The Forty Shires. Published in 1880 it was widely read. For the time being this was a relief to Miss Mason’s financial cares.

Lake District of England - Oh, to be sitting on this bench and walking through the shady footpaths.

In the light of its success she was asked to write a series of geography schoolbooks. “They took me 12 years and hundreds of books on travel, in fact all the travel there was then, went into the making of them.”*12 The British Museum Reading Room in London was her usual place of study. Years later these volumes would be re-issued as the Ambleside Geography Books and used in the curriculum of the day-school at Ambleside and in Miss Mason’s home correspondence course.

Charlotte Mason combined her high thinking with lowly living. She exercised her generous soul. I believe this was the fruit of her deeply held Christian beliefs. While living in the city she got involved in parish life of the Anglican church. As “district visitor” she saw the poor living conditions of the working-class. She sincerely sought to be a greater help. But how? If only she could offer parents (without seeming holier-than-thou) a “few principles which are the very gospel of education . . . that would enlighten and encourage them in bringing up their children.”*13 It was the new building fund of her church that gave her an idea. She couldn’t give money. Instead, she offered to give a series of lectures for the parish that winter as her contribution. (I assume a donation or a very small fee was collected.) Would people come? They did. In fact, she was happy to see much interest. Months later, gathering all her lecture notes in a book, she contacted a publisher. In 1886 these were published as Home Education.

Soon after, the author of the insightful Home Education, was approached with a cushy job-offer, that of governess to an aristocratic family. I would think the role might be easy on Miss Mason's health. But unlike the character Jane Eyre, governess was a role Miss Mason resisted. It was not her calling. Perhaps also, familiar with the Bronte sisters’ plight, she was well-aware of the hazards and loneliness of the job.

Wider horizons are part of Charlotte Mason’s story. But I break here for the sake of brevity. Copyright Karen Andreola, 2016 

Paperbacks we published. My old hardcovers copies.
Following publication of A Charlotte Mason Companion in 1998, paper-letters came my way giving testimony of Miss Mason’s principles changing lives. Only one letter, received by email, asserted Charlotte Mason couldn’t possibly have been a Christian. The writer made other demeaning, unsubstantiated, inferences. Dean wrote a gentlemanly reply. 
Published 1998.
This is one reason I appreciate the blog post by Art Middlekaulff where he states why a Charlotte-Mason-Education is the best way to evangelize children. His post "For Whose Sake?" is refreshingly clarifying.  
Wives & Daughters, Cranford, North & South. A winter supply.
To read about A Charlotte Mason Companion click here. 
If you like period-piece drama I recommend the British films based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels. I was gifted the DVD 3-film set. Found on Amazon here. 

I've read a handful of Mrs. Gaskell's novels and recommend them.     
Happy New Year friends,
Karen Andreola  

End Notes
*1 Essex Cholmondeley, The Story of Charlotte Mason, Charlotte Mason Foundation, 1960. p. 3
*2 & 3, Ibid, p. 4
*4 Ibid, p. 5
*5 Ibid, p. 7
*6 Ibid, p. 9
*7 Ibid, p.10
*8 & 10 Ibid, p. 11
*9 The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Child’s Garden of Verses
*11 The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 12
*12 Ibid, p. 14
*13 Ibid, p. 15


  1. Merry Christmas! Thank you for this fascinating look into Miss Mason's life.

    I would like to purchase the two books, but can't find a link anywhere. Could you please help?

    Best wishes in 2017!

    1. Hello Penny,

      Nice to have you stopping by the blog. Sorry I didn't supply a link. You can transfer funds to my PayPal account from your PayPal account. Please email me for specific info for PayPal ( Or you can write a check to Charlotte Mason Research for the price of two ($44). This includes postage for United States orders only. Send check to: P.O. Box 296, Quarryville, PA, 17566.

    2. Hi Karen :)

      I don't use Paypal, so I will mail you a check. It will be in my mailboox in exactly 3 minutes and be whisking its way to you! It will be for $44 for both books. Thank you so very much!! Penny

  2. What a fascinating account. Thank you for sharing it. There is depth I didn't realize. Happy new year!
    Laura Lane
    Carthage, Missouri

  3. So informative! Thank you..
    God bless

  4. Karen I sent you an email about purchasing the two books. Thanks for writing this it is great!

  5. What a beautiful life. I like her thought about God lending us his children.

    Thank you, Karen.


  6. What a lovely tribute to Miss Mason, with movie and book reviews on the side. :-) I very much enjoyed reading this, Karen, and I like the pictures you chose to go along with the narrative. Nigel did a very nice job tinting the photograph. He is very talented.
    Happy 2nd day of Christmas!
    God's blessings in the new year,

  7. What a lovely and interesting post, Karen. :) <3 I want to sit on that bench with you, please?! :)

  8. Karen, this is wonderful. Thank you for posting. She remains an inspiration in my home. Our youngest child is finishing up her senior year as a homeschooler, and I will miss terribly the time we all spent together around the table. However, I will continue to use Miss Mason's teaching approach with my students at the college where hubby and I teach. God gave Adam the garden to tend. In the same way, I believe He gave us our minds to use. This generation sadly seems to have lost sight of the value and satisfaction of working and learning.

  9. So well communicated, Karen, as always. Thank you for sharing the link to the article. I, too, have heard and read detractors say that Miss Mason was not a Christian or that she had her theology wrong. I have read her books. I don't see that at all. She simply states that children have all the potential for good or evil and for their sake, we must do all we can to gently show them the Savior and His Word. She does not contradict the scriptures regarding original sin.She simply shows us that we have a huge role to play- one that God has given us- in leading our children in all truth. For such is the kingdom. I, for one, am so thankful to have stumbled upon your book when I did. I have found the philosophy and support that has fleshed out what I had always felt in my heart was the best way to evangelize and guide our children in all knowledge. I am sure my husband and I have done much wrong, but as our oldest two enter adulthood, I am seeing fruit and it is sweet. Thank you for all you do.

  10. Good to hear your thoughts, Ladies. Thank you for keeping in touch.

  11. Thank you for sharing this article. It was very interesting to learn about Charlotte Mason, as up until now I knew very little about her. May you have a blessed New Year!

  12. Loved how you intertwined those beautiful films with CM's life!

  13. I dearly love Elizabeth Gaskell's works! Sigh!

  14. Do you still have any books available?

    1. Hi Nicole, Yes we still have some "Home Education" and "Philosophy of Education" and will offer them to you for the price mentioned here in this post. Thanks for asking. We take Paypal or check: Charlotte Mason Research, PO Box 296, Quarryville, PA 17566.

  15. Ms. Karen, Can you tell me how I could go about purchasing "Home Edcucation"? I was also wondering if you had the whole 6 volume set available? Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Tina, You can send a check to our PO Box or transfer funds into my PayPal. You can write me for this information by typing in my email (karenjandreola(at) (Avoiding a link here helps to avoid spam) Thank you.

  16. I would love to buy a copy of Vol 1! Are any still available?

    1. Hi Tata, Yes, we do have a limited supply of Home Education in stock. You may email me at the above address for PayPal details or send a check to the PO Box above. Karen

  17. Alright, I'm looking for Home Education, as well. Any more available? If so, let me know and I will stick a check in the mail!

    1. Home Education and Philosophy of Education are $22.00 each. (includes postage). You can send a check for one or both to: Charlotte Mason Research PO Box 296, Quarryville, PA 17566 Thank you, Liz.

  18. Replies
    1. Please email me: karenjandreola(at) Type this in please. I'm trying to avoid spam by not putting a link here. Forgive the inconvenience. Karen

  19. Karen, I would love a copy of Home Education! Do you still have some available for $22? If so, I will send the check to the address above. Thank you.

  20. Hi Karen,

    Do you still have Home Education and Philosophy of Education available? I have tried emailing the address above with no luck (maybe a new address?).

    I am also very interested in a complete set if you have one.

    Thank you very much.
    Erika Prince

    1. I am all out of complete sets of Miss Mason's books. I do have several left in stock of Home Education and Philosophy of Education as of today.

      People can find me through my website: or through my Facebook: KarenAndreola/Author

      I'll try your email again. Karen