Who was Charlotte Mason?

Charlotte Mason (1842–1923) was a British educator who invested her life in improving the quality of children’s education. Orphaned at the age of sixteen, she enrolled in the Home and Colonial Society for the training of teachers and earned a First Class Certificate. She taught school for more than ten years at Davison School in Worthing, England. During this time she began to develop her vision for “a liberal education for all.” English children in the 1800s were educated according to social class; the poorer were taught a trade, and the fine arts and literature were reserved for the richer class. By “liberal,” Charlotte envisioned a generous and broad curriculum for all children, regardless of social class.

Charlotte was soon invited to teach and lecture at Bishop Otter Teacher Training College in Chicester, England, where she stayed for more than five years. Her experiences there convinced her that parents would be greatly helped if they understood some basic principles about bringing up children. So Charlotte gave a series of lectures, which were later published as Home Education and widely received. From this beginning, the Parents’ Educational Union was formed and quickly expanded. A periodical was launched to keep in touch with PEU members, the “Parents’ Review.”

Charlotte was nearly fifty when she moved to Ambleside, England, in 1891 and formed the House of Education, a training school for governesses and others working with young children. By 1892 the Parents’ Education Union had added the word “National” to its title, and a Parents’ Review School had been formed (later to be known as the Parents’ Union School), at which the children followed Miss Mason’s educational philosophy and methods.

The following years brought more collections of writings by Charlotte, which were eventually published under the titles of Parents and Children, School Education, Ourselves, Formation of Character, and A Philosophy of Education. More and more schools adopted her philosophy and methods, and Ambleside became a teacher training college to supply all the Parents’ Union Schools that were springing up. Charlotte spent her final years overseeing this network of schools devoted to “a liberal education for all.”

A splendid biography, The Story of Charlotte Mason by Essex Cholmondley, was published by Child Light Ltd. Used copies may still be available. If you happen to find one, grab it. It’s a gem.