Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Carpenter, Mary

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CARPENTER, MARY (1807–1877), philanthropist, the eldest child of Lant Carpenter, LL.D. [q. v.], by his wife, Anna Penn, was born at Exeter on 3 April 1807. Her father's teachings and example inspired her whole career. From him she inherited her industry, her warm benevolence, and simple piety; her concentration of energy she drew from herself. At a very early age she was introduced to the whole range of studies pursued in her father's school, gaining a sound classical and scientific training, and developing a taste for art. James Martineau sketches her as a schoolgirl (Life, 9). Accustomed to assist in teaching, and even on occasion taking her father's place before she had completed her fifteenth year, she left home in the spring of 1827 to act as a governess, first in the Isle of Wight, then at Odsey, near Royston. In August 1829 she rejoined her mother, and began with her a girls' school at Bristol, shortly after the close of Dr. Carpenter's school for boys. To this she added in 1831 the superintendence of the afternoon Sunday school. In 1833 the presence of Rammohun Roy, who ended his days at Bristol, and the visit of Joseph Tuckerman, D.D., the Boston philanthropist, turned her sympathy towards India and the ragged urchins of her own country. She was the means of founding in 1835 a ‘working and visiting society,’ of which she acted as secretary for over twenty years; and to this was added in 1841 a ministry to the poor, to which she had given the impulse in 1838. Her father's death in 1840 gave her a new motive for philanthropic work as his representative. Aided by John Bishop Estlin and Matthew Davenport Hill, she opened on 1 Aug. 1846 her ragged school in Lewin's Mead, one of the worst parts of Bristol, removing it in December to larger premises in ‘a filthy lane called St. James's Back.’ In August 1850 she purchased the court in which the school was situated, improved the dwellings, and laid out a playground. While thus engaged she was considering the necessity for schools of a different character, in which moral discipline might be applied to the reformation of young criminals. She corresponded on this subject with Matthew Davenport Hill and John Clay [q. v.], and published her views in 1851. Her book, and her interviews in London and the north with advocates of reformatory principles, prepared the way for a conference, which was held in Birmingham on 9 and 10 Dec. 1851. Mary Carpenter was the soul of the meeting, but did not speak in public; she was always somewhat slow to countenance any innovations on the recognised sphere of woman's work. A committee was formed to carry out the resolutions of the conference; but it soon appeared that there was a radical divergence of view on the question whether the disciplinary treatment of juvenile delinquents should be partly punitive or purely restorative in its aim. Mary Carpenter believed that certain theological ideas fostered the demand for an element of retributive dealing, which she was anxious to exclude. She resolved to establish a reformatory school on her own principles. Meanwhile she gave evidence (in May 1852) before the parliamentary committee of inquiry on juvenile delinquency. On 11 Sept. her reformatory was opened at Kingswood. The house (built for school purposes by John Wesley) was purchased by Russell Scott of Bath, and furnished by Lady Byron. In December 1853 a conference on a larger scale was held in the Birmingham town hall. At the beginning of 1854 the first report of her Kingswood school was issued. On 10 Aug. the Youthful Offenders Act legalised the position of reformatory schools under voluntary managers. On 10 Oct. a separate reformatory school for girls was opened by Mary Carpenter at the Red Lodge in Park Row, Bristol, an Elizabethan mansion which had seen many vicissitudes. It is no wonder that, with all these responsibilities accumulated upon her, her health suddenly failed. Just before Christmas 1854 she was seized with a rheumatic fever, which incapacitated her for six months. As she was recovering, she wrote a gently characteristic letter (3 June 1855) to Harriet Martineau, expressive of her religious trust, and received a severely characteristic reply. The intercourse of the two friends remained unbroken. Mary Carpenter's religion was as little satisfactory to the Somersetshire magistrates as to Miss Martineau. The quarter sessions at Wells, moved by the diocesan board, refused (March 1856) to take cognisance of the Red Lodge, though the government inspector was fully satisfied with the religious teaching. A year and a half after her mother's death Mary Carpenter left the old home in Great George Street to occupy (December 1857) a house in Park Row, bought by Lady Byron, who purchased also other property for the development of the Red Lodge plans. Meanwhile, Miss Carpenter was urging upon members of parliament the need of a measure such as the Industrial Schools Act, which became law in 1857, and the claims of existing ragged schools to participate in the educational grant. Among her best friends in the House of Commons were Lords Houghton [see Milnes, Richard Monckton] and Iddesleigh. As if her hands were not yet full—she had resigned her Sunday school duty in 1856, but was still doing ‘the work of three people on the food of half a one’ (Cobbe)—the difficulties in the working of the act induced her to undertake the establishment of a certified industrial school, mainly in order to show in what way the government provisions needed amendment. This school she opened (April 1859) in premises in Park Row purchased by Frederick Chapple, a Bristol boy who had made a fortune in Liverpool. Many of her proposals were adopted in the amended acts of 1861 and 1866. A third conference on ragged schools at Birmingham on 23 Jan. 1861 urged upon parliament their claims to further government aid. Although attacked by illness in the autumn of 1863, she planned and opened a workmen's hall in December of that year, and published a work on the convict system.

In the autumn of 1860 her sympathy with India had been rekindled by the visit of Joguth Chunder Gangooly, a young convert of the unitarian mission at Calcutta. The subsequent visits of Rakhal Das Haldar (1862), and of Satyendra Nath Tagore and M. Ghose (1864) convinced her that the condition of Indian women could be improved by judicious education. On 1 Sept. 1866 she left England for India, Ghose being among her travelling companions. Her plans and expectations were small, but no sooner had she arrived than her advice was sought by the Bombay government on the problems of education and prison discipline. At Madras and at Calcutta (where she interested herself in the monotheistic movement of Keshub Chunder Sen) similar calls were made upon her judgment and experience. Here she became for the first time a public speaker. Her general impressions were summed up in a communication (12 Dec. 1866) to the governor-general, Sir John Lawrence, on the subjects of female education, reformatory schools, and the state of the gaols. She left India on 20 March 1867. At home she took up again with zest all her old labours, but at once opened communications with the India Office, with a view to urge the home government to overcome ‘the incubus of Indian red-tapeism.’ In March 1868 she had the honour of an interview with the queen, and in October she again started for India. Offering her gratuitous services to the government as superintendent of a female normal school at Bombay, she was soon in the midst of a band of lady coadjutors, English and native. Her health gave way in February 1869, and in April she returned to England. Her third visit to India, in the winter of 1869–70, was somewhat disappointing. She made up her mind that more was to be done by the influence she could exert at headquarters in this country than by personal work in India itself. At Bristol, in September 1870, she inaugurated, in connection with a second visit from Keshub Chunder Sen, a ‘National Indian Association,’ of which the Princess Alice ultimately became president. Its object was twofold—to enable Indian visitors to study the institutions of England, and to ripen English opinion respecting the wants of India. She was on the point of adding to her travels a visit to America to study the condition of prisons there, when an invitation to attend, as the guest of the Princess Alice, a congress (September 1872) at Darmstadt on women's work, opened the way for an examination of some of the reformatory systems of the continent. Her voyage to America was made in April 1873. She accepted an invitation to speak on prison reform in the largest church at Hartford, all the other churches being closed for the occasion. From the United States she proceeded to Canada, pointing out the defects in prison arrangements, and interesting herself warmly in the condition of the aborigines. Returning home in the autumn, she had a fresh subject for her applications to government—the state of the Canadian prisons. Her last journey to India was undertaken in September 1875, and lasted till 27 March 1876. Her impressions were now more hopeful. On all her great subjects she made careful reports to the authorities in India and at home, and saw many of her suggestions carried into law. In July 1876 parliament at length authorised her plan of allowing school boards to establish day-feeding industrial schools. She died 14 June 1877, and was buried in the Arno's Vale cemetery, Bristol. Among the mourners were two Hindu boys whose education she was superintending. A tablet to her memory, with an inscription by James Martineau,was placed in the north transept of Bristol Cathedral. An admirable likeness, engraved by C. H. Jeens, is prefixed to her ‘Life.’ Of her personal characteristics there is a brief glimpse (Life, p. 418) by the Rev. W. C. Gannett, who speaks of ‘her great grey eyes, so slow and wise, yet so kind sometimes;’ and a valuable detailed account, doing justice to her quaint sense of humour and her capacity for art (Theological Review, April 1880, p. 279), by Frances Power Cobbe, who was associated with her for some time from November 1858 in her work at Red Lodge. In Harriet Martineau's autobiography there is a charming picture of Mary Carpenter acting as bridesmaid to one of her Red Lodge protégées. Mary Carpenter was a familiar figure at the Social Science congresses, and some of her ablest papers were read at these meetings. Her ‘Life’ gives many evidences of a true poetic vein. In early life she had written poems in the anti-slavery cause, which were printed in America, but her most touching verses were called forth by the loss of friends. Of her separate publications the following are the chief: 1. ‘Meditations and Prayers,’ 1845 (1st ed. anon.; five subsequent editions). 2. ‘Memoir of Joseph Tuckerman,’ 1848 (reprinted in ‘American Unitarian Biography,’ 1851, 8vo, ii. 29 sq., with corrections by Tuckerman's daughter, Mrs. Becker). 3 ‘Ragged Schools, their Principles and Modes of Operation, by a Worker,’ 1849 (reprinted from the ‘Inquirer’ newspaper). 4. ‘Reformatory Schools for the Children of the Perishing and Dangerous Classes, and for Juvenile Offenders,’ 1851, 8vo. 5. ‘Juvenile Delinquents, their Condition and Treatment,’ 1853, 8vo (dedicated to ‘my three helpers in Heaven, my dear Father, Dr. Tuckerman, and Mr. Fletcher,’ i.e. Joseph Fletcher, H.M. inspector of schools). 6. ‘The Claims of Ragged Schools to Pecuniary Educational Aid from the Annual Parliamentary Grant, &c.,’ 1859. 7. ‘What shall we do with our Pauper Children?’ &c., 1861. 8. ‘Our Convicts, how they are made and should be treated,’ 1864, 8vo, 2 vols. (this had the ‘great honour’ of being placed on the Roman ‘Index Expurgatorius’). 9. ‘Last Days in England of the Rajah Rammohun Roy,’ 1866, 8vo. 10. ‘Six Months in India,’ 1868, 8vo, 2 vols. She published also an abridgment of the ‘Memoir’ of her father; and a ‘Young Christian's Hymn Book,’ with supplement.

[Life and Work of Mary Carpenter, 1879, by J. Estlin Carpenter (her nephew); authorities cited above.]

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