Charlotte Mason and Henrietta Franklin

Charlotte Mason and Henrietta Franklin

Copyright © 2017 Bonnie Buckingham

A few weeks ago, Art Middlekauff and I were discussing what kind of influence Henrietta Franklin may have had on Charlotte Mason and the development of her ideas. Art knew that I had read the biography of Henrietta Franklin by Mark Gibbons, so he asked me if I would investigate this further. I have since spent some time investigating this, and I would like to share with you what I have learned.

Henrietta Franklin

In truth, Henrietta Franklin was Charlotte Mason’s strong right hand. Michael Franklin, son of Henrietta, wrote in his tribute to Miss Mason, “Just as God could not have made Stradivarius’ violins without Stradivarius, so Charlotte Mason could not have made the P.N.E.U. without her helpers and disciples” (M. Franklin, 1923, pp. 98-99). His mother became Charlotte’s disciple and friend as she looked for the best education for her two daughters and four sons.

Henrietta (also known as Netta) was Anglo-Jewish and she was a Montague. Her father was a London financier, member of Parliament, and 1st Baron Swaythling. Her mother was a Dowager Baroness. After attending Cambridge, Henrietta married Ernest Franklin, Fellow of the Economic Society and Justice of the Peace. In early 1890’s, she read an issue of The Parents’ Review, then joined the Hyde Park and Bayswater branch in London. She soon made an excursion to Ambleside to meet this educational reformer (Coombs, 2015, p.181). Charlotte was in her early fifties and Netta was 28. This Judeo-Christian friendship soon helped the PNEU movement grow. If it had not been for one word in the constitution, this wide breadth of education may not have moved forward: religious. Here was an orthodox Christian and an liberal Jew. Henrietta wrote about this difference:

I think it was the intellectual and religious side of her teaching that attracted my eager, young mind. Without the religious basis her teaching would have meant nothing to me. Though she was an earnest Christian and I a no less earnest Liberal Jewess, she accepted me with her wide tolerance and often said how glad she was that the Bishop of London (at whose Palace the P.N.E.U. was launched) had altered the word “Christian” to “religious” in the Constitution. “Otherwise,” he said, “you would never get Jewish members.” “Nor,” Miss Mason added, “would I ever have had you.” (Franklin, H., as cited in Gibbons, 1960, p. 43)

Charlotte wrote in one of her letters, “…the Jewish people are for the education of the rest of us… I think I must have Jewish blood, if I could trace it, or I should not be so bent on bringing up the world at large” (Mason, as cited in Gibbons, 1960, p. 44). A bond in faith and in educational vision brought them together.

Henrietta included her children in that bond:

In 1897 Mrs Franklin tested Miss Mason’s methods by sending her ten-year-old daughter, Madge, to Ambleside to be ‘habit-trained’ out of an unspecified fault. Miss Mason had categorically asserted that if six to eight weeks were set aside for consistent behavioural habit-training, any child could be cured… The regime ended abruptly when Madge caught flu. Whether or not it worked, Madge returned in 1907 as the sole Jewish student, winning a first-class certificate in 1908. (Coombs, 2015, p. 194)

The PNEU grew because this friendship of two minds sought the best education for all children. Netta became Honorary Executive Secretary in 1890, arranged for conferences, started The Mothers’ Education Course, developed a network of schools, and created Reading Circles in the branches. Charlotte protected her principles and trusted Netta, as shown by a letter from 1907:

Bearing this in mind you will understand that the loyalty I talk about is that of persons working together in a common cause. (Mason, as cited in Cholmondley, 1960/2000, p. 110).

It was not always an easy friendship. Any problems were solved by the magnanimity of both these friends, devoted to the benefit of their work together. Charlotte wrote to Netta:

I rejoice over you with great joy all the more because I am an old woman and the great forward movement will in a few years be in your hands. Your very happy friend in spite of contrary things, C. M. (Mason, as cited in Cholmondley, 1960/2000, p. 111)

There are several letters in the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection which show the nature of their faiths. In 1910, Charlotte wrote to Netta on her birthday:

May God be with you dearest, through the day and through the year… But don’t you think one becomes more and more able to say “Whom have I in heaven but Thee and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison with Thee.” (Mason, n.d., p. 17)

Mason’s New Year’s wish in 1914 was, “Chiefly what I wish for myself — increase in the knowledge of God” (Mason, n.d., p. 18).

In 1911, Charlotte wrote to Netta and asked her to read a portion of her poetry volumes entitled The Saviour of the World. This shows her confidence in Netta’s faith in God:

Do you mind my asking you to read again Vol. II. of the little red books [The Saviour of the World] pp.71-76 and Vol. III. pp. 106-117. I have tried to say there In a very crude way something of what I mean. (I know you too receive Jesus as “a teacher sent from God” and that is all the argument requires). (Mason, n.d., p. 20)

Here is an acknowledgment of Judeo-Christian roots. Mason ends the note with:

Of course “His servants shall serve Him” always in all manners… I shouldn’t wonder if this is the sort of Gospel our age is waiting for and we are so sick waiting that we play like tired children at a fair. (Mason, n.d., p. 20)

In 1958, H.W. Household explained Netta’s contribution in a letter:

… in the long and difficult task of bringing the world to a knowledge of Miss Mason’s teaching & principles … always keeping the movement before the world in the best and wisest way. You have been the great organiser throughout. You knew Miss Mason’s mind as no other living being knew it … and had an influence with her (as well as with the world) without which her own generation would never have been won to the knowledge of her. (Household, as cited in Coombs, p. 256)

At the core of their deep working friendship was the faith resonating in the children’s motto. Both Henrietta and her son understood what each student knew from a Charlotte Mason education as they wrote tributes in In Memoriam. Michael wrote:

“I am, I can, I ought, I will.” This was the motto she gave us. I am a human being, one of God’s children; I can do right by my fellowmen and by myself; I ought so to do and God help me, I will so do. Is this not a great message she has given us? (M. Franklin, 1923, p. 99)

And Netta wrote:

“I am, I can, I ought, I will.” Miss Mason chose your inspiring motto. You can say,

I am the greatest thing in God’s creation: a human being with a spark of God’s divine spirit in my body. Because I belong to the human family I can do the great things that other human beings have done: I have powers of doing, thinking and loving.

I can use these powers. I can change my thoughts from things that harm me and that worry me to the beautiful things I have learnt in my School: I can know the joys of activity, I can think kindly thoughts of God’s creatures in the past and in the present, in this and other countries, of people who do not think as I do in religion and politics.

I ought to do these things: I owe it to my God, my parents and my School.

I will forget myself, and live up to the ideals of my School.”

God is on the side of those who will, and with His help we will all go on working as Miss Mason hoped we would. (H. Franklin, 1923, p. 114)

Editor’s note: Bonnie Buckingham homeschooled her five children and now teaches middle school and high school classes in Charlotte, North Carolina ( Forms III – VI). She teaches what she loves: literature, composition, poetry, picture study, Shakespeare, architecture, and Plutarch.


Cholmondeley, E. (2000). The story of Charlotte Mason. Petersfield: Child Light Ltd. (Original work published 1960)

Coombs, M. (2015). Charlotte Mason: hidden heritage and educational influence. Cambridge: The Letterworth Press.

Franklin, H. (1923). The parents’ union school and its founder. In In memoriam, (pp. 111-118). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

Franklin, M. (1923). The children’s tribute, VII. In In memoriam, (pp. 95-99). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

Gibbons, M. (1960). Netta. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Mason, M. (nd.). Letters to Franklin (i02cmc309). Hamilton: Redeemer University.

3 Replies to “Charlotte Mason and Henrietta Franklin”

  1. Bonnie, I so enjoyed your article! They maintained their great friendship with such loving care and it is a beautiful testimonial of their devotion to God, each other, and their important work.

  2. Bonnie,
    In the quiet of today I can at last catch up on reading posts here. I loved this especially: “The Jewish people are for the education of the rest of us … I think I might have Jewish blood, if I could trace it, or I would not be so bent on bringing up the world at large.” Thank you for this!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *