The King's Scholarship

The King's Scholarship examination at the end of five years practical teaching would finally admit Mary to the profession. She had to commit to memory most of Shakespeare's Macbeth and The Merchant of Venice, all of Milton's L'Allegro, Goldsmith's Deserted Village and Wordsworth's The Traveller. This formed only a small part of the English course, which also included Reading and Penmanship which was one of the 'failing' subjects. At this time legible handwriting was extremely important because of the job opportunities it offered and the chance of promotion to clerical work instead of unskilled manual jobs.

Teachers were expected to know things. They were not expected to think, but they were certainly required to know. Everything was to be learned by heart: Joyce's Irish History, British Constitutional History, the Physical and Political Geography of the World, no less, Music, Drawing, Penmanship, Arithmetic and Mensuration, English, Reading, Poetry, Drama, Composition and Literature, Household Management and the ever-ghastly Needlework at which Mary was no better now than she had been as a child. One failed the whole King's Scholarship, a pre-requisite to training in Dublin ... if one failed in any one of the 'Failing Subjects' - English, Arithmetic, Music, Drawing, Needlework or the all-important Penmanship. Mary feared nothing but the Needlework.
Florence Mary McDowell, Roses to rainbows, Belfast, 1972, p. 89.

Mary always associated handwriting with Vere Foster (1820-1901) who was both an educationist and philanthropist, as well as a founder member of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO). In 1868 he began a revolution in the teaching of handwriting by designing the beautiful Vere Foster Copy Books and donating them to schools, as well as annual prizes worth £3,000 for the best copperplate handwriting.


  1. Why was Penmanship considered so important?
  2. List the subjects prescribed for the King's Scholarship Examination for admission to the teaching profession. Underline the 'failing' subjects.
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