Charlotte Mason Biography

Charlotte Maria Shaw Mason (1 January 1842 – 16 January 1923) was a British educator and reformer in England at the turn of the twentieth century. She proposed to base the education of children upon a wide and liberal curriculum. She worked for five years under Fanny Trevor at Bishop Otter College.


Charlotte Mason was born in the hamlet of Garth near Bangor on the Northwest tip of Wales, near Caernarfon. Garth has now been incorporated into the modern city of Bangor. An only child, she was mostly educated at home by her parents.

Mason taught for more than ten years at Davison School in Worthing, England. During this time she developed her vision for “a liberal education for all”.

Mason was employed in 1874 at the Bishop Otter Teacher Training College under the Lady Principal of Fanny Trevor in Chichester. She worked there till 1878 as Senior Governess and gave a series of lectures about the education of children under 9, later published as Home Education (1886).

Between 1880 and 1892, Mason wrote a popular geography series called The Ambleside Geography Books:

  • Elementary Geography: Book I for Standard II (1881)
  • The British Empire and the Great Divisions of the Globe: Book II for Standard III (1882)
  • The Counties of England: Book III for Standard IV (1881)
  • The Countries of Europe Their Scenery and Peoples: Book IV for Standard V (1883)
  • The Old and New World: Asia, Africa, America, Australia: Book V (1884)

Mason moved to Ambleside, England, in 1891 and established the House of Education, a training school for governesses and others working with young children. She co-founded the Parents’ Educational Union (PEU), an organization that provided resources to parents educating their children at home. She launched and served as editor-in-chief at the Parents’ Review to keep in touch with PEU members.

By 1892, the Parents’ Educational Union had added the word “National” to its title to become the Parents’ National Educational Union (PNEU). A Parents’ Review School had been formed (later to be known as the Parents’ Union School), at which the children were taught according to Mason’s educational philosophy and methods.

In 1890 she met Henrietta Franklin, in what others consider to be the “inspiring experience” of Franklin’s life. By 1892 Franklin had opened the first school in London based on Mason’s principles. In 1894 Franklin became the secretary of the renamed Parents’ National Educational Union and she undertook speaking tours to major cities in America, Europe and South Africa. She devoted her own money to the cause and wrote on its behalf. Franklin’s biography cites that the PNEU’s continued operations is down to her.

Charlotte Mason as Author

Mason wrote and published several other books developing and explaining her theories of education:

  • Parents and Children: a collection of her articles and essays previously published in various sources.
  • School Education: outlines her methods for educating children from approximately age 9 to 12.
  • Ourselves, was also published in 1904. In it, Mason addressed herself directly to the children, or for parents to read aloud with their children, to help them learn to examine themselves and develop high moral standards and self-control. The first part is for children under age 16. Book two of Ourselves is written for students over 16.
  • Formation of Character, published the following year, in 1905, was developed from a revision of earlier volumes. Mason explained in the preface to volume 5 (Formation of Character) that “In editing Home Education and Parents and Children for the ‘Home Education’ Series, the introduction of much new matter made it necessary to transfer a considerable part of the contents of those two members of the series to this volume, Some Studies in the Formation of Character.” Her purpose with this volume, she said, was to demonstrate how her methods should assist children to naturally develop and strengthen good character traits.

“We may not make character our conscious objective,” she wrote, but she believed that parents and teachers should “Provide a child with what he needs in the way of instruction, opportunity, and wholesome occupation, and his character will take care of itself: for normal children are persons of good will, with honest desires toward right thinking and right living. All we can do further is to help a child to get rid of some hindrance––a bad temper, for example––likely to spoil his life.”

Mason’s last book, Towards A Philosophy of Education was published in 1923, nearly forty years after her first book. It is written primarily to address the application of her methods and principles with high school students, but she also revised a summary of her principles, and in some cases revises and refines what she had written in previous volumes. Many home educators who read her volumes recommend starting with volume 6.

In addition to the geography series and her six volumes on education, Mason also wrote and published a six-volume work called The Saviour of the World (published between 1908–14), a study in verse of the life and teaching of Jesus.

Over the years between the publication of volumes 1 and 6 of her education series, other schools adopted her philosophy and methods. The Ambleside establishment became a teacher training college to supply all the Parents’ Union Schools that were springing up, as well as to assist with correspondence programs provided for British parents living overseas and educating their children. The school trained young women according to Mason’s methods in both homes and schools. Mason spent her final years overseeing this network of schools devoted to “a liberal education for all.”

After her death, the training school was developed as Charlotte Mason College and was run by the Cumbrian Local Education Authority. In the 1990s, due to financial pressure, it became the tenth college of Lancaster University. An unfavorable Ofsted report four years later led to a merger with St Martin’s College, and it became the Ambleside campus of St Martin’s College.

The buildings now form part of the University of Cumbria and a health centre. There is also a museum attached. In March 2008, the University announced plans to end teacher training in Ambleside, and to develop the campus for postgraduate work and a conference centre.

Educational Philosophy

Mason’s philosophy of education is probably best summarized by the principles given at the beginning of each book mentioned above. Two key mottos taken from those principles are “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life” and “Education is the science of relations.” She believed that children were born persons and should be respected as such; they should also be taught the Way of the Will and the Way of Reason.

Her motto for students was “I am, I can, I ought, I will.” According to Mason, children have a natural love for learning and she devised strategies that facilitated this through the creation of a positive learning atmosphere. She believed that children should be fed upon the best ideas, which she called ‘mind-food.’

She believed even the youngest children should be given ‘ideas, clothed upon with facts’ as they occur, inspiring tales, and worthy thoughts. Her approach is child-centered and is focused on liberal arts. It also emphasizes more on concepts (ideas) than on facts. Today, one can find Charlotte Mason inspired homeschool curriculums in many subject areas including mathematics and science.

Mason placed great emphasis on the reading of high-quality literature, and coined the phrase “living books” to denote those writings that “spark the imagination of the child through the subject matter.”


Charlotte Mason was the first person to perceive the educational potential of Scouting applied to children. In April 1905, she added Aids to Scouting by Robert Baden-Powell to the syllabus of the Parents’ Union School. Later, Baden-Powell credited a governess trained by Mason, coupled with the reputation of Mason herself, for suggesting the educational possibilities of Scouting. This, amongst other influences, led to Scouting for Boys and the formation of the Scouting movement.

Mason and her teachers organized the Parents’ Union Scouts for boys and girls around the country, both those educated at home and those at schools using the P.N.E.U system. When the Girl Guides were established, Mason suggested that the P.U. Scouts amalgamate with national organizations for boys and girls respectively.


Some thoughts on how Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy impacts curriculum choices in the present day:

Choosing Curriculum: Christian Worldview or Christian Content?

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