Thomas Guthrie, the author of this pamphlet, established the Ragged School movement in Scotland. A Plea for Ragged Schools sets out to persuade readers of the necessity and value of the cause, in the hope that it will gain both their financial and moral support. It was written in 1847, during the movement’s burgeoning decade.
What is a ragged school?
Borne out of Christian principles, ragged schools provided a free education for the poorest children. Education, Guthrie believed, was the key to alleviating poverty and driving down crime.
First established in the 1840s by Thomas Guthrie, the movement grew out of a mounting recognition that only a small number of inner-city children had access to an education in the existing charity, denominational and dame schools. Unlike other charitable schools, which set strict admittance rules, children were welcomed no matter what their appearance, state of hygiene or living arrangements. Meals were provided, too; as Guthrie points out on p. 14, children could not even begin to learn if they were starving and malnourished.
In the pages shown here (pp. 14-15), Guthrie describes his personal experience of witnessing homeless and orphaned children, for whom there was next to no support, to inspire a sense of justice and social responsibility. ‘These neglected children, whom we have left in ignorance, and starved into crime, must grow up into criminals,’ he writes. The figures in the table on p. 42 do indicate that, in the 1840s, those being prosecuted and imprisoned were largely uneducated. Out of approximately 5000 criminals, the majority of them ‘cannot write’ and only ‘read a little’. Those who received an education beyond reading and writing are below 6 in number.