CARPENTER, MARY (1807-1877), English educational and social reformer, was born on the 3rd of April 1807 at Exeter, where her father, Dr Lant Carpenter, was Unitarian minister. In 1817 the family removed to Bristol, where Dr Carpenter was called to the ministry of Lewin's Mead Meeting. As a child Mary Carpenter was unusually earnest, with a deep religious vein and a remarkable thoroughness in everything she undertook. She was educated in her father's school for boys, learning Latin, Greek and mathematics, and other subjects at that time not generally taught to girls. She early showed an aptitude for teaching, taking a class in the Sunday school, and afterwards helping her father with his pupils. When Dr Carpenter gave up his school in 1829, his daughters opened a school for girls under Mrs Carpenter's superintendence. In 1833 the raja Rammohun Roy visited Bristol, and inspired Miss Carpenter with a warm interest in India; and Dr Joseph Tuckerman of Boston about the same time aroused her sympathies for the condition of destitute children. Her life-work began with her taking part in organizing, in 1835, a "Working and Visiting Society," of which she was secretary for twenty years. In 1843 her interest in negro emancipation was aroused by a visit from Dr S.G. Howe. Her interest in general educational work was also growing. A bill introduced in this year "to make provision for the better education of children in manufacturing districts," as a first instalment of a scheme of national education, failed to pass, largely owing to Nonconformist opposition, and private effort became doubly necessary. So-called "Ragged Schools" sprang up in many places, and Miss Carpenter conceived the plan of starting one in Lewin's Mead. To this was added a night-school for adults. In spite of many difficulties this was rendered a success, chiefly owing to Miss Carpenter's unwearied enthusiasm and remarkable organizing power. In 1848 the closing of their own private school gave Miss Carpenter more leisure for philanthropic and literary work. She published a memoir of Dr Tuckerman, and a series of articles on ragged schools, which appeared in the Inquirer and were afterwards collected in book form. This was followed in 1851 by 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: - (1) good free day-schools; (2) feeding industrial schools; (3) reformatory schools. This book drew public attention to her work, and from that time onwards she was drawn into personal intercourse with leading thinkers and workers. She was consulted in the drafting of educational bills, and invited to give evidence before House of Commons committees. To test the practical value of her theories, she herself started a reformatory school at Bristol, and in 1852 she published Juvenile Delinquents, their Condition and Treatment, which largely helped on the passing of the Juvenile Offenders Act in 1854. Now that the principle of reformatory schools was established, Miss Carpenter returned to her plea for free day-schools, contending that the ragged schools were entitled to pecuniary aid from the annual parliamentary grant. 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 (1861). In 1866 Miss Carpenter was at last able to carry out a long-cherished plan of visiting India, where she found herself an honoured guest. She visited Calcutta, Madras and Bombay, inaugurated the Bengal Social Science Association, and drew up a memorial to the governor-general dealing with female education, reformatory schools and the state of gaols. This visit was followed by others in 1868 and 1869. Her attempt to found a female normal school was unsuccessful at the time, owing to the inadequate previous education of the women, but afterwards such colleges were founded by government. A start, however, was made with a model Hindu girls' school, and here she had the co-operation of native gentlemen. Her last visit to India took place in 1875, two years before her death, when she had the satisfaction of seeing many of her schemes successfully established. At the meeting of the prison congress in 1872 she read a paper on "Women's Work in the Reformation of Women Convicts." Her work now began to attract attention abroad. Princess Alice of Hesse summoned her to Darmstadt to organize a Women's Congress. Thence she went to Neuchâtel to study the prison system of Dr Guillaume, and in 1873 to America, where she was enthusiastically received. Miss Carpenter watched with interest the increased activity of women during the busy 'seventies. She warmly supported the movement for their higher education, and herself signed the memorial to the university of London in favour of admitting them to medical degrees. She died at Bristol on the 14th of June 1877, having lived to see the accomplishment of nearly all the reforms for which she had worked and hoped.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)