I work at a public university and about now the campus is slowing down. Soon the graduates will be on their way out into the world and most of the current students will be leaving campus for the summer. It’s always a crazy time but it’s also a proud time. Listening to the stories told by the graduates about the many different roads traveled to earn that piece of paper is exhilarating.
Have you ever thought what it was like for your ancestors? According to historians reading and writing were skills taught in school during the colonial era but if you weren’t lucky enough to have a school in your township then writing would be taught to males and perhaps a few privileged females. It was said that “Men handled worldly affairs and needed to both read and write. Girls only needed to read” Women could read but were unable to sign their names. This is why you so often see documents with an X for the signature.
It wasn’t until the end of the 18th century that education became common in cities. For those families that lived in rural areas, education was not as central in a child’s upbringing. Rural schools were a one room building with students of all ages in a single class. Inequality of education was noticeable. While all were taught reading, writing and arithmetic, the girls were schooled in household duties and chores so they could become better wives and mothers.
For an interesting online site showing a timeline for the history of education check out http://www.pbs.org/onlyateacher/timeline.html
If you would like to learn more about the movement for women’s literacy check out the many books available on the subject. A few of my favorites showing just how far we’ve come are:
Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters with Reflections of Female Conduct in the More Important Duties of Life, (J. Johnson), 1787. http://digital.library.lse.ac.uk/objects/lse:ruf494jak
Beecher, Catharine E, and Harriet B. Stowe. The New Housekeeper’s Manual: [embracing a New Revised Edition of the American Woman’s Home, Or, Principles of Domestic Science, Being a Guide to Economical, Healthful, Beautiful, and Christian Homes]. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC, 2013. https://archive.org/details/newhousekeepersm00beec
More scholarly texts are:
And if you prefer your history as a story:
The Coquette and the Boarding School (Broadview Editions)
Hannah Webster Foster http://amzn.to/1TNgO97