This just makes no sense. Public, by definition, means open to the public. So why are private snooty schools in England called public schools? And what word do they used to call the schools that anybody can attend?
They were called Public Schools (in the 19th c.) because they were open to the public (as long as one could pay) as distinct from the older schools which were for sons of a particular trade or guild (e.g. Merchant Taylors or Haberdashers Aske’s). It was Arnold of Rugby who practically reinvented these schools and marketed them to the newly monied middle class who wanted their boys to have an education.
These days, they tend to favour ‘independent school’ rather than ‘public school’. ‘State schools’ is what we called the publicly funded schools.
Some of these schools have been in existence for over a 1000 years: they were founded to educate anyone, and in particular to educate poor students. As time went on the gentry and the wealthy decided to preserve them for their own offspring and to exclude those whom were financially disadvantaged ( and thus unworthy of being educated ).
I’ve always said, the rich envy the poor more than the poor envy the rich.
The upper classes colonising these schools is a fairly recent social trend. Really upper class families would have had their sons educated by private tutors.
That would have been a necessity until roads improved along with a pleasing absence of robbers lining the way. However, the gentry until the 18th century would have looked no further than the nearest grammar school along with the farmer’s sons ( and on the continent, at least in Germany, early and middle schooling was classless even in the nineteenth century*. )
But even from the middle 18th century on the great public schools were mostly for the better off such as Byron or Gladstone.
- And in Scotland, where someone such as Carlyle from a near peasant background could get a good enough education to attend university ( Scottish universities being also less class-conscious compared to Oxbridge… ).
What about their daughters?
Educating a woman? What a hearty jest. Their brains are simply to weak to understand much more than burping a baby.
She’d have a governess (& who might bring the occasional specialist tutor) to educate her in ladylike arts like French, music, watercolours, & dance.
Girls were thought to scarcely need more than an elementary education, to enable them to read, write, add up figures and conduct the interior economy of the home. Girls’ boarding schools did begin to appear (Cheltenham in 1853, Roedean in 1885, Benenden in 1923) but their numbers were always smaller.
The correct answer is that before the public schools were founded, the only “schools” that existed were seminaries.
In other words, the only way to get a formal education was to train for the priesthood. Formal education for public life, as opposed to the priesthood, was a new idea. The word “public” at the time was used to mean “secular”. A lot of the teaching was still done by priests and/or monks, but the goal was to educate people for politics &/or business rather than the priesthood. Public life, not the Church.
And having been brought up poor in the ghetto, I say your head is overstuffed with diseased crumpets to the point of catastrophe if you believe this.