Jane meets Helen Burns on her first day at Lowood Institution, although she does not learn her name until the next day in class.
Jane notices Helen when the girls are sent outside for a period of outdoor exercise after lessons on her first day. As the weather is inclement, many of the girls huddle for warmth on the veranda, and it is here that Jane sees "a girl sitting on a stone bench...bent over a book". Jane ventures over to the girl and asks if her book is interesting, to which question Helen responds in the affirmative, and offers to let Jane look at it. Jane then engages her in conversation, asking questions about the school. In answer to her queries, Helen tells Jane that Lowood Institution is a charity-school which is managed by Mr. Brocklehurst, who is a clergyman and "is said to do a great deal of good". The day to day running of the school is done by Miss Temple, whom Jane has decided is kind, even though she must answer to Mr. Brocklehurst for everything she does. Helen tells Jane about the different teachers at the school and explains that the girls at Lowood are orphans, or have lost at least one parent. Helen says that she herself has been at the school for two years, but when pressed for further information, responds that Jane asks "rather too many questions", and expresses her desire to end the conversation so that she can return to her reading (Chapter 5).