Where Is Miss Minchin's Boarding School in 'A Little Princess'?

Cover of the first edition of 'A Little Princess' illustrated by Harold Piffard for Frederic Warne & Co.

We all know "What Happened at Miss Minchin's Boarding School." 

"A Little Princess," the classic children's book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is one of the greatest riches-to-rags stories of all time, a riveting turn-of-the-century twist on the Cinderella story. This timeless tale of a schoolgirl who remains kind and selfless above adversity and maltreatment has been adapted into many movies and TV shows. 

The story itself cycled through different formats. It found life first in the late 1880s as a serial publication in St. Nicholas Magazine called "Sara Crewe; or, What Happened at Miss Minchin’s" before eventually being reworked into a couple of plays, "A little un-fairy princess" and "A Little Princess; Being the Whole Story of Sara Crewe, Now Told for the First Time." It then became the full-length novel that we have all come to know and love in 1905.

Much like the fictional Sara Crewe with her doll Emily, Frances was fond of pretend play as a child growing up in England. Her father, Edwin Hodgson, died when she was young just like Captain Ralph Crewe in the novel.

Their family out of a breadwinner, Frances left a comfortable life behind, moving through several homes including one in Salford. It was here, in what her mom Eliza called the “decidedly less genteel neighborhood" of Islington Square, that Frances attended a school that would later form the basis for Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Girls. 

With her sisters Edith and Edwina, she went to Islington Square's Select Seminary for Young Ladies and Gentlemen, run by Henry Hadfield’s daughters, Sarah, Jane, and Alice.

Chapel Street, Salford. Photo via Craig Sunter

She would later open a "Select Seminary" herself during her teenage years in Tennessee where she would go as far as selling wild grapes just to make ends meet.

The 1995 movie adaptation of "A Little Princess" actually moved the story from England to America. From London, the Alfonso CuarĂ³n movie set Miss Minchin's all-girls school in New York. 

The Oscar-nominated movie was filmed in several locations stateside, including Warner Brothers' Burbank Studios. Exterior scenes of the boarding school were shot at Hennesy Street in the studios with its NYC-like buildings. 

Liesel Matthews in a scene from Warner Brothers' 'A Little Princess' (1995)

The 1939 Technicolor version was also shot on a sound stage. The classic Shirley Temple vehicle filmed at Stage 8 of 20th Century Fox Studios in Century City. 

Twentieth-Century Fox's big-budget film adaptation of 'A Little Princess' starring Shirley Temple

There were other live-action movie adaptations in the 1990s, one a Russian production starring Anastasiya Meskova and another a Filipino version shot on location in the UK. 

Manila-based movie studio Star Cinema filmed in Scotland for its version of 'A Little Princess' 

The 1980s were also a great decade for the story. The 1985 anime version by Nippon Animation and the 1986 mini-series by Britain's LWT are regarded as some of the most faithful adaptations of Frances' novel.  

It might all be celluloid but the Japanese adaptation of 'A Little Princess' on Nippon Animation's World Masterpiece Theater collection is just as heart-tugging as its live-action sisters


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