There is little direct evidence about the education of girls in classical times and Late Antiquity. Our conception of what provision was available has to be based chiefly on an examination of the material relating to the education of adult women and to the early training of little girls of four or five years of age. For the second half of the fourth century we are fortunate in possessing the testimony of three Christian writers on the subject of the education of mature women: Palladius, Gerontius of Jerusalem, and Jerome. Nevertheless, we need to be aware of their limitations. All three writers deal with women of a narrow social class, members of the wealthy Roman aristocracy, who were attempting to live a disciplined and austere monastic life, the majority of them against the incongruous background of their family mansions on the Aventine Hill, which was then a fashionable residential district. They were perhaps in the tradition of those earlier learned and cultivated aristocratic Roman ladies, recalled by Cicero, and exemplified by the daughter of his friend Atticus, who provided her with a tutor even after her marriage, and by Hortensia, the daughter of the orator Hortensius, who was trained by her father in public speaking, and who even made a speech in the Forum against a tax assessment. For information about the early training of little girls in fourth-century Rome we are indebted to the letters of Jerome, but this evidence, as we shall see, has certain limitations.
Two difficulties confront us when we examine the evidence provided by our three Christian writers: in the first place, none of them describes the educational process by which these ladies achieved so high a degree of cultivation and learning; secondly, the advice which Jerome gives about the training and education of little girls is intended for child oblates, consecrated to God even before their birth, and is, in any case, suspect, because much of it has been culled from an earlier writer.