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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Louisa Gurney Hoare, childhood upbringing pioneer

Ever heard of Louisa Hoare? Neither had I, not until I read her feature on the online Oxford Dictionary of Biography, but she had quite an effect on the way we bring up our children today.

Louisa was born in Norwich, September 25, 1784, the seventh child of Quakers John and Catherine Bell. One of her sisters was the prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry, while two of her brothers, Joseph and Samuel, were famous philanthropists, and a third brother, Daniel, was a wellknown banker.

Their mother died when her youngest child was only three, but the role of matriarch was swiftly taken up by the eldest daughter, also called Catherine, but known as Kitty. There might have been some premonition of this, because Catherine senior left a memorandum concerning the education of her children, and what their daily routine should be like. Reassured by this, Kitty ruled with a light hand, so that her siblings’ childhood was one of lighthearted play, unusually adult debate, and freedom to raid the library for whatever reading material they liked.

All the children were encouraged to keep journals of conscience – diaries in which they recorded their state of mind, as well as the events of the day. Louisa excelled at this, being candid as well as thoughtful by nature. She recorded adolescent passions, her love of nature, her dislike of injustice, and her disgust when her 12-year-old cousin took the liberty of kissing her. Over the years, however, her feelings about the last changed. That cousin, Samuel Hoare (who grew up to be a banker), became her husband.

The family always thought that Louisa had the greatest intellect, energy, and ability of them all. She played a background role in their concerns and campaigns, such as the anti-slavery movement promoted by her brother-in-law Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, and the prison reform movement of her sister Elizabeth Fry, but her own passion, greatly influenced by the memorandum left by her mother, was the education of parents in the art of child-raising. In a word, Louisa Hoare was the Dr. Spock of her day.

Her first book on the subject, Hints for the Improvement of Early Education and Nursery Discipline (published in 1819), claimed to be the “simple result of experience.” In fact, it was an expanded version of a memorandum she had written for the nursemaid who helped care for her firstborn child. A particularly successful book, it sold well in both Britain and in the United States for more than eighty years.

So what did she recommend? Louisa was a great believer in rules and routine, kindness and tolerance. Discipline, she said, was designed to “preserve children from evil, not from childishness” – though regulated, childhood was supposed to be joyful. Parents, she said, should respect their children, and treat them justly, understanding that they, too, had rights. Most importantly, parents should set a good example. Then, when their children imitated their speech and actions (as children do), they would not feel ashamed.

Obviously, she followed her own precept. Louisa died in Hampstead on 6 September 1836, the idol of all of her six children.

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