Early National Education

     Even in Williamsburg, Pennsylvania in 1774, there were still few schools.  Many parents taught their children to read and write at home using a bible and a hornbook.  A hornbook was a wooden board with a handle. A lesson sheet of the ABCs in small and capital letters, some series of syllables and often, the Lord's Prayer, was attached to the board and was protected by a thin layer of cow's horn.  Some hornbooks of wealthy families were very fancy, decorated with jewels and leather and included ivory pointers.  Most of them were plain and had a string around the handle to be worn around the neck.

     People who wrote the early primers and readers used pictures of animals learning to read and write to show that reading and writing were natural and fairly  easy processes! By the 1750s, literacy rates (percentage of people who could basically read and write) were the highest in the New England colonies, at about 75% for males and 65% for females.  The literacy rates, however, were  lower in the the Middle and Southern colonies.

      Children wrote using a quill dipped in ink, which sometimes blotted on the page, so they sprinkled on pounce. Pounce is a powder-like sand that helps not blotch the page.    


Most children wrote in a copybook because paper was so expensive. Wealthy children had a tutor (always a man) teach them privately. Some boys went to grammar school and sometimes even college but never girls. Girls were given lessons on how to run a home. It wasn't even expected for girls to spend any of their time reading! Instead their mothers taught them how to cook, sew, preserve food, direct servants and serve an elegant meal. Some girls were sent to teachers to learn how to sing, play a musical instrument, sew fancy stitchery, to serve tea properly by learning manners and how to carry on a polite conversation. When boys grew older, they could become apprentices to learning to become shopkeepers or craftsmen by working with and watching an adult.  Education was becoming more secular in order to produce socially responsible citizens.


Learn More About:

Education in Revolutionary America

English Grammar Schools


 English Grammar Schools were born as the growth of middle-class businesses in the 1700s led to the demand for a secondary education that would provide practical instruction in many subjects, from navigation and engineering to bookkeeping and foreign languages.  Students needed more than elementary instruction; but were not interested in preparing for college.  Commercial subjects were emphasized over religious ones.  Some other subjects such as music, art and dancing were also taught as means to train students for socializing in polite company.  These schools were the first secondary institutions to accept female students.  Girls who lived in the Middle Colonies had greater educational opportunity than girls who lived elsewhere because of the larger number of schools there.  Quakers and Christian leaders such as William Penn and Anthony Benezet, were concerned with and supported the education of several deprived groups such as women as well as African-Americans and Native Americans.      


Later in the 1700s, English Grammar Schools became more flexible in allowing women to attend.  They were taught the 3 Rs (Reading, Writing, and 'Rithmetic), as well as dancing, French, and Training on being a Lady.




The Academy was a new type of secondary school that grew up during the second half of the eighteenth century.  It was basically an attempt to combine Latin and English grammar schools through separate Latin and English departments within one school.  These schools were private, and women were allowed to attend.  Academies were unlike the Latin grammar schools in  that the primary language was English.  Also, classical subjects were included in the curriculum, unlike the English grammar schools.  Later on, the academy became the most popular type of secondary school.



African Free School    (You will need a username and password to access off campus)



Opened after the abolition of slavery in NYC


Became primary means of education for African Americans for almost 50 years


Native American Education

The formal education of NativeAmericans was left up to missionaries, most notably within the Choctaw, Cherokee, and Chickasaw tribes. The aim of these institutions was to "de-indianize" the children and begin the road towards assimilation into European-American society. The missionaries worked primarily to inculcate Christian religion and morals in the students, which was also viewed as a necessary step in the assimilation process.  Native Americans were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, religion, and English.


Visit Schools from the Early National period

18th Century Schoolhouse in York, Maine           

Eureka Schoolhouse, Vermont

Meet the People behind Early National Education

Horace Mann


Back to Introduction

To 19th Century Education


If there is inaccurate information on this page,
please send correction or comments to: lrcdesk@chesapeake.edu