Dr. Guthrie's schools were founded by Dr. Thomas Guthrie (1803-1873), one of the leaders of the Disruption of 1843, minister of St. John's Free Church, Edinburgh and philanthropist.
They were part of the ragged and industrial school movement of the mid-nineteenth century which tried to provide care and education for the large numbers of destitute children roaming the cities of Victorian Britain. The first ragged school in Scotland was founded by Sheriff William Watson in Aberdeen in 1841. Dr. Guthrie's Schools, originally known as the Edinburgh Original Ragged Industrial Schools, opened in 1847, the boys' school on 26 March with 7 pupils and the girls' school on 11 July with 13 pupils. By the end of that year an infant class had also been started. The rapid growth in the schools' rolls is illustrated by their first annual report which contains the first annual report of the Management Committee. Published in 1848, this notes that the boys' school in Ramsay Lane had 105 pupils, the girls' school at 533 Lawnmarket had 90 and the infants' school in Warriston Close had 70 children under 10. (`Report of a Meeting of the Edinburgh Original Ragged or Industrial School Association,' 1848, kept in the Edinburgh Room, Edinburgh Central Library, reference: YLC 4096D).
The schools were originally non-residential, although suitable lodgings were provided for homeless children. In 1852 the building of a new school for boys and the transfer of the girls and infants into their old premises allowed the first provision of residential accommodation with the conversion of the Lawnmarket schoolroom into dormitories for girls. The schools repeatedly outgrew their accommodation until in 1887 the boys' school moved to its final home at Liberton and in 1903 the girls' school moved to its final home at Gilmerton. At one time the schools had a small house in Burntisland for delicate and convalescent children: this closed in 1884. In 1942 the managers opened a school for junior boys in Whittingehame House, East Lothian: this was closed in 1956.
In addition to providing accommodation and education, the schools also gave children vocational training, the boys in tailoring, gardening, carpentry and shoemaking and the girls in laundry and domestic work. The schools were originally funded purely from voluntary contributions, but Dr. Guthrie hoped to involve the government in the provision of care for vagrant and delinquent children. This was first achieved by an act of 1854 (17 & 18 Vict. c.74) empowering courts to commit vagrant children to reformatory and industrial schools and allowing for grants to be made to the schools both by central government and by the parochial boards responsible for the children. State contributions to such schools gradually increased until by the 1950s they accounted for 90% of their income, the rest consisting of contributions from parents, pupils' earnings and the schools' own resources.
The 1854 Act also introduced state supervision of reformatory and industrial schools: any school receiving a Treasury grant had to be open to H.M. Inspectors. The Home Office was responsible for supervision of the schools until 1908 when responsibility passed to the Scottish Office. In 1920 the schools became part of Scotland's education system under the Scottish Education Department. The management of Dr. Guthrie's and most other such schools remained voluntary.
After the 1932 Children and Young Persons (Scotland) (22 & 23 Geo. 5 c.47) Act abolished the distinction between reformatory and industrial schools, all such schools were known as approved schools, ie schools approved by the Secretary of State for the care of juvenile offenders or children requiring protection. Dr. Guthrie's Schools had dropped "Ragged" from their title in 1920 and "Industrial" in 1924: from this date they were known simply as "Dr. Guthrie's Schools".
After the 1866 Reformatory Schools Act (29 & 30 Vict. c.117) children were permitted to live outwith the schools on licence and after the 1894 Industrial Schools Amendment Act (57 & 58 Vict. c.33) the managers supervised ex-pupils for a period after they left school. As part of the aftercare provided, pupils on licence or under supervision received visits and advice and were helped to find accommodation and work. This continued until the Social Work (Scotland) Act, 1968, transferred responsibility for aftercare to the social work departments of local authorities.
In 1985, responsibility for most of the List D schools (as they had been generally known since the 1970s in consequence of the title of a circulation list drawn up by the Scottish Education Department) passed to the regional councils and, partly as a result of falling school rolls caused by the development of alternative methods of care, several closed. Dr. Guthrie's Boys' School closed on 31 March 1985 and the Girls' School on 31 March 1986. Dr. Guthrie's Association SCIO however continues Thomas Guthrie's aims to help children in need and provides financial assistance to former schools pupils.