I had been at my Finishing School for about two months when I was punished for breaking the strict rules in place in this establishment. I found the whole culture of the school less than in keeping with my view of the world. As a 19 year old I found spending my time doing cooking, literature studies, deportment, letter writing, typing, short hand, needlework, flowering arranging, elocution, public speaking and household accounts, basically being trained to be a good housewife, out of date. It was 1973.
In addition there were many strict rules including, except for on a Saturday afternoon, being confined to the school and having to wear exactly what you were told from a set of specified and conservative clothing, which made it feel more like being still at school. On any given day, all of the students dressed identically, be it in a skirt, blouse and jacket, twin set and skirt, dress and cardigan or other combination.
The daily discipline was overt; they checked how one was dressed, how you sat, stood and spoke, with immediate correction for deviance from the expected standards. I was shocked in the first week to see other students subjected to a ruler across their hand or behind, evening detention where standards in lessons were not met, as well as frequent lectures in front of the other students.
Many students, myself included, had the unpleasant experience of the French deportment teacher applying a martinet to our bare calves when we did not perform adequately in her lessons.
Students were sent to the Principal’s office for their performance to be reviewed and sanctions applied as she deemed necessary. Despite knowing there were disciplinary consequences for breaking these strict rules I was stupid enough to not comply, with the result that I was to experience punishment that a schoolgirl might have expected rather than a young woman. On this Sunday morning, I found myself standing near the school entrance wearing a high collared white blouse, tartan pinafore, white knee socks, a white Arran cardigan and a matching white Arran woollen beret, ready to go to Church. I guess I was not in a good mood and having to wear what I thought was basically one of the more immature and unstylish outfits was too much to accept. We all complained in our bedrooms about being told what to wear and on this date I decided to complain. I gave vent to my view and unfortunately swore as I delivered it. I was immediately told off and to report outside the Principal’s office when we returned from Church.
By half past ten I found myself standing in my Arran and tartan outfit, facing the wall with my hands neatly folded behind my back, outside the Principal’s office, where I remained for what was probably an hour. Finally I was directed into the office by my tutor and had to stand in front of the Principal’s desk whilst she and my tutor left me in no doubt of their view of my misconduct.
They told me that I would be punished for using bad language, objecting to having to wear the clothing I had been told to, disobedience and then having a poor attitude. I was given no opportunity to speak and was told that if I behaved in such an immature manner I would be dealt with accordingly. They were hoping to educate young ladies but if I was going to behave like a schoolgirl I would be treated in that way.
My punishments were to serve two Saturday afternoon detentions (5 hours each) and to receive eight strokes of the slipper which would be applied that afternoon in the Principal’s office. I was then taken to my dormitory to remain until the Principal was ready to deal with me.
Just before 4 o’clock the Matron came and accompanied me back to the Principal’s office where again my Tutor and the Principal were waiting. I was given yet another stern lecture about my misbehaviour and the need to improve.
The Principal then went to her cupboard and produced a thick rubber gym shoe. I was told to undo my cardigan and then to bend over and touch my toes. She asked the Matron firstly to raise the pleated dress of my tartan tunic and then to lower my knickers. I asked for this not to be done but was told to be silent.
“You are a young lady now, not a small child. If you misbehave you must not be spared the full impact of your punishments.”
I was told to remain in position, to keep my fingers touching my toes and not to speak and that if I failed to obey these rules I would have extra strokes applied. Finally she asked the Matron to keep count of the strokes.
I had been slippered before and it was clear she knew what she was doing. She applied each stroke forcefully, ensuring that the entirety of my buttocks and upper thighs felt the slipper. By six strokes I was in tears and she ensured that the final two strokes back across my already slippered behind left me in no doubt of the stupidity of my earlier actions.
Eventually I was told to stand with my knickers hanging round my ankles, cardigan hanging undone and crying. She asked me if I felt like the naughty little girl my behaviour had shown me to be. I meekly replied that I did and that I was sorry. I was made to remain standing while she formally recorded my corporal punishment in the school punishment book.
To complete my humiliation for the day, I was taken with tear stains down my cheeks, still dressed in the clothes I had protested against, to stand in the corner of the dining room with a sign I had to write saying, “I must learn not to swear” in front of the other students.
Unfortunately I offended again the following week by failing to complete my detention punishment adequately and received an even more severe punishment. This ensured I became compliant with the rules for a long time.
To make things worse, when my parents were made aware of my misconduct I was punished even more severely when I went home for the Christmas holiday.