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EDUCATION IN THE NEW WORLD
Some Noteworthy Examples
Abstract: This article relates to education in the first American colonies, from the 16th century to the 18th century. In finality it cites two important examples regarding education: Webster, author of the first American dictionary, and the Beecher family, one of the most important sagas of it’s epoch, due to the grand social and educative impact it had on it’s times.
Keywords: education, family, American colonies, school
Education in the early american colonies
Archeology maintains the theory that the first
habitants of the American continent were of Asiatic origin. They are calculated to have crossed what was
a great glacier, today known as the
These peoples spread throughout the entire American
continent including Central and
Early Native Americans
The Mayans were the only Native American culture that
developed a form of writing similar to the hieroglyphics of
The majority of Mayan children were educated in home by their parents, in customs, religious beliefs, and the necessary skills of survival. However, the sons of Mayan leaders and priests attended schools where they studied history, hieroglyphic writing, astronomy and medicine.
With the passage of time the Mayan civilization declined, the population abandoned the cities and other civilizations grew.
The Incas and Aztecs
The Incas developed a great empire in
The majority of children did not attend school but
rather learned at home in the process of helping their parents. Some of the sons of nobles went to the city
During the 15th century the Aztecs, who
were experts in medicine, music, and poetry, constructed a great empire, which
extended throughout the region today known as
Parents educated their children up to the age of twelve, and later both girls and boys received a formal education in a school known as “cuicacalli” where they learned tribal songs, dances, and the customs of tribal society. The objective of Aztec education was to promote appropriate social behavior in accordance with tribal interests.
The Cherokee established themselves along the river
Informal education of early American Natives
Among these groups of Native Americans can be found
great similarities in the manner of transmitting to their sons the experiences
of survival, communal language, customs, and religious perspectives. Their education was in many aspects very
similar to that of the children of
The children of Native Americans learned from the earliest age to share their wisdom and knowledge with members of the tribe. The family was the best teacher, most of all keeping in mind that they were large families, in which the elders played an important role in education. Lessons of culture and religion were taught by incantations of history, thus passing the traditions of one generation to the next. Education, therefore, was an important part of life for these people, and not something apart or separate.
Early formal education in the American Colonies
The first European settlement of a permanent character
was brought about in the territory later known as the
Franciscan fathers began to establish missions all
along the coast and inland. Each mission
became a school of learning for the natives in the religious doctrine and moral
values of the colonies. These missions
reached the territories of
Some of the missionaries introduced themselves into the tribes, and attempted to apprehend their language, culture, and practical experience in order to help convert them to the Catholic faith.
Education in the Southern Colonies
The first English settlement in North America was
In 1611 Thomas Dale arrived with 300 more men and began
to divide the territory among the early colonists. One of these began an important tobacco
plantation which experienced great success in it’s commercial sales to
In 1619 a German ship arrived with the first Africans, which in the beginning, came as slaves. At the same time 90 women arrived disposed to marry in order to form the first families and also begin certain incipient commercial relations in these developed colonies.
Education in the southern colonies was determined by
the social and economic life that defined the region. Hence the majority of the southern
colonists accepted the idea that education was a matter that fundamentally
concerned families. In reality, these
families only taught their sons to read and write, while those of greater
wealth and greater economic recourses decided to send their sons directly to
Other plantation proprietors decided instead to bring English and Scottish tutors to the other side of the Atlantic to teach their sons as well as their daughters, English grammar, reading, Latin, music, and dancing.
The majority of families could not afford the luxury
of tutors residing in their homes. For
this reason, some tutors began to establish themselves of their own means,
augmenting their salaries by creating
the first parish schools. As such, the
prestigious George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe and Thomas Jefferson
were educated in Reverend James Maury´s boarding school, in
The hierarchy of the church was not officially implicated in directly bringing about these schools. Nonetheless in the South, the Anglican Church which dominated by means of its foundations for the propagation of the gospel, attained money and books to educate orphan children, Native Americans, and the poor in schools of charity.
In some rural areas of sufficient population density, members of the community established what were called “Old field schoolhouses”. In these communities parents contributed money to pay the salary of the schoolteacher.
In other areas, however, certain benefactors established free schools open to the children of the community, which did not discriminate as to whether their parents were able to pay or not. Approximately a dozen of these schools gave instruction sufficient for entry into secondary school.
The early English colonials encouraged the tribes they encountered to trade their prisoners of war for the sale of Native Americans, which were later established on plantations as slaves. These and African slaves were trained as manual laborers which worked in the fields, or as domestic servants.
As a rule these persons were not permitted to study or learn to read and write. The plantation owners tried to educate them in their English culture, hoping in this way to “civilize” them and later convert them to Christianity. Normally the Native Americans responded negatively to this, being satisfied with their own culture and therefore seeing no need to copy the lifestyle and customs of the English.
No sort of formal education existed for the sons of farmers. Education opportunities existed only for families of a determined social class. This situation persisted in the South even after the Civil War.
Education in the Central colonies
In 1625, Peter
of the Oriental Indies Company, bought an island at the origin of the Hudson
River for Native Americans, and began a new settlement called New Amsterdam on
the island of Manhattan. This was the
first truly multicultural society in
In 1638 the Dutch company of the Oriental Indies
established and financed a town school in the city of
In 1659, a typical Secondary School was opened. In 1664 the English claimed New Amsterdam and
The English were the first to explore the region of
The Dutch also began to establish private schools in
the region of
Education in the English Colonies
In November of 1620, one hundred and twenty persons,
including twenty women and thirty-two children arrived from
These people established a new colony in the
In 1642, The General Tribunal of
Children whose parents were illiterate could attend what were known as a Dame Schools, which were not in reality an authentic schools, but rather a places where women of culture taught children to read, write, and recite the catechism. These women received a small salary for their work teaching these children, alongside the teaching of their own children.
In 1647 the General Court established that all towns that had 50 or more families must seek and pay a teacher to teach reading and writing, and additionally where there were more than 100 families for one teacher, they had to acquire a school as well where the teacher could hold classes.
Thus began the first rural schools in the colonies of
Students who wished to continue on with advanced studies after the rural grade school, attended Latin Grammar Schools (the equivalent of high-school). There they learned European culture in like manner to the schools of Humanities during the Renaissance; studying Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Students read classic authors such as Homer, Cicero, or Virgil. History, geography, mathematics and writing, completed the curriculum of seven years and the attainment of a bachelor’s degree.
In 1636 the General Tribune of
In 1701 the
The first American Dictionary and the history of its author:
Noah Webster was born on the 16th of
October in 1768 in the city of
In those times few children attended college, however
Noah was enchanted with learning new things and his parents allowed him to
Noah did not like the American colleges of his times. Frequently seventy children of varying ages were huddled in places which pretended to be colleges, without desks, few and bad books, and unprepared teachers. Noah thought that Americans should be taught with American books, and hence in 1738 he wrote the Grammatical Institute of the English Language.
Throughout a hundred years, Noah’s book served to teach American children to read, spell, and pronounce words correctly. It was the American book of its epoch, and Benjamin Franklin used it to teach his granddaughter.
In 1789 Noah married Rebecca Greenleaf, with whom he
had eight children. For some time they
When Noah was forty-three years old, he began writing his first American dictionary. He did this because in every part of the country people pronounced and wrote differently the English language, and he thought it should all be made the same.
Noah began to write certain American words in a different way from that which existed in the English of England, such as “color” instead of “colour”. Additionally he included vocabulary that was completely new. He took 27 years to write his book, which he completed in 1828 when he was already seventy years old.
Noah did not do many things in his life: he worked as a copywriter of laws, wrote books, and edited magazines.
Nonetheless, the house of Noah Webster is visited by hundreds of American children and youths throughout the year because this man is considered by all to be one of the greatest personages of American history.
The example of a prestigious American family of the 19th century:
A short history of the epic during which the
It was said that in the city of
The women wore large thick skirts that were hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It was common to take tea every afternoon.
Just like the Kennedy family in
Lyman Beecher married Roxana Foote Beecher with whom he had eight children: Catherine, William, Edward, Mary, George, Harriet, Henry, and Charles. Roxana was brilliant even if her values and intelligence remained hidden because she died very young at the age of 41, having passed almost all of her life occupying herself with her large family, which grew rapidly. A year after her death, her husband Lyman remarried with an elegant youth of 27, Harriet Porter Beecher, who never fully managed to integrate fully into the original family and remained on the margin of the family eccentricities.
Harriet added four new children to the
In their day, the Beechers were loved and hated for being considered excessively radical because they involved themselves in all the problems of the epoch such as the liberation of slaves, or women’s´ rights.
Lyman Beecher was a Calvinist minister with a very
dominant personality who exercised a strong influence over all of his
children. For him, religion was not just
something for Sunday, but rather something which concerned as much the church
as the family home, especially in the gaining of souls. Everything in the home was subject for
discussion, and every idea or thought had to be contested, discussed, or
debated among all the members of the
In this rich documentation appear references of daily life, curious and charming such as; one of the brother’s molars hurt as well as his heart, or that Catherine got into a great metaphysical discussion over breakfast, which lasted the whole day.
The boys followed their father in the religious state, but the women encountered their own careers in proposing social reforms, which they brought about during their lives.
As such, Catherine was a pioneer in the promotion of the idea of academic education for women. Harriet revolutionized the treatment given in those times to slaves with her famous novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. She was also one of the first students of her sister Catherine. On the other hand, her fiery half sister, Isabella helped lead the women’s suffrage movement. “Bossy” was lively and intelligent.
At the end of the 19th century however, the social revolutions changed and Catherine was forgotten while all praised and exalted her two sisters, Harriet and Isabella.
Catherine Beecher Stowe (1800-1878)
Catherine was born in East Hampton Long Island, later
She learned from her mother to be an agreeable person, optimistic and caring, and to have a great sense of justice. When her mother died, being still very young, she left school to take care of her father and brothers and sisters for one year until her father remarried.
In 1818 she began to give classes at Pierce´s School
and some time later went to another college for girls in
In 1822 her life changed radically when she became
engaged to the young and eminent professor of natural philosophy and
mathematics at Yale, Alexander Fisher. The wedding was to be celebrated when Fisher returned from a trip to
At first Catherine Beecher was completely devastated by the death of her love, and in fact never recovered from this hard blow, deciding to never marry or have children.
Some time later however, reading the papers of Alexander, she returned to an awakened interest in culture, and began to think about establishing her own school to encourage women to pursue studies, and not only those materials that up to this point were considered specifically feminine. In fact, Catherine came to change the culture of a nation when she affirmed, “a woman should study, not just to shine, but to rather to act”.
She converted, therefore, into a professional woman with a completely full life dedicated to teaching. This way of thinking was tremendously revolutionary for her epoch, in which the habitual was that a young woman who had become widowed remained in her home mourning the death of her husband, and it was inconceivable that later she would have an active social life in the locality. However, Catherine used her home as a place for meetings and discussions on current events.
In May of 1823 there appeared, on the front page of the newspaper Connecticut Courant, a large announcement which read: “Women’s college, Misses C&M Beecher will open in this place a college dedicated exclusively to those who wish to attain the highest branch of women’s education: geography, grammar, rhetoric…No one under 12yrs of age admitted, unless she has an unusual level of education for her age.” (M. Beecher referred to Catherine’s sister, Mary, who was a professor at the College)
The College opened at the end of the month in a rented
room, to which seven girls walked in line with their large heavy skirts down
the main street of
Catherine, as the daughter of a Calvinist minister, had had access to a life of greater culture that the majority of the girls of her times. But before she could offer the girls of her school a curriculum similar to that offered to boys, she said, “I was obliged to form myself, and give more formation to my professors as well as myself.
Hence, she studied the books of her betrothed on
mathematics and sciences, and asked her brother Edgar who had studied at Yale
and who directed a boy’s college in
In 1829, Catherine aspired to build a residence where
the girls who came to study from outside
Despite all these oppositions, Catherine persevered in
her projects, time and again more ambitiously, and in 1832 emigrated to the
west to the frontier city of
With little money in the bank Catherine decided to tackle the situation by writing articles for women’s magazines. Thus she increased her influence on society and made known her ideas on the education that the women of her time should receive, which should be similar to that received by men.
The Industrial Revolution of the mid 1800´s produced great tension and chaos within all of American family life, especially that of middle class white women. Machines entered the family home and women converted into consumers who were pressured by their husbands to buy food, clothes, or furniture. Catherine took advantage of this new social situation writing a book that spoke of the new economic responsibilities of women, and the importance of being sufficiently valued for this by society. Her publication became an authentic best seller.
This manual for women was not simply a compendium of recipes or simple advise, but rather aspired to be a book to train women in their work as housewives, that is to say, to form them to do housework successfully, the same as men needed formation for their work outside of home in the business world.
Catherine encouraged women to always work with great order, in order that they would always be able to control the circumstances which life presented, avoiding as such that circumstances controlled them. The book also included some tips on health; warning of the dangers of the use of charcoal in the kitchen, which could be toxic. Diagrams were made to show a system of kitchen ventilation.
The success of this book encouraged Catherine, after
the failure of the college in
Some years later she returned to the state of
At the end of her life, she went to live with her
brother Tom and his wife Julia, in
Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
Harriet was born in Litchfield, on the 14th of June 1811 and was the seventh of nine children born of the marriage of Roxana Foote and Lyman Beecher. Her mother died when she was only five years old. (She was named Harriet, after another sister that was also called Harriet that had died at the age of two)
From a very early age, when she was only seven or eight, instead of doing the pranks proper to her age of stealing cake from the kitchen, Harriet kept to her room reading the Nights of Arabia. When she was only nine she began to write her first weekly essays, and at the age of twelve she wrote, Can the immortality of the soul be proved by natural law?, which was selected to be read at a literary conference in Litchfield.
Her father was soon surprised by the strange habits of Harriet and recognized that his daughter possessed some extraordinary talents, and thus wrote in a letter when she was only eight years old: “Harriet is a great genius. I’d give ten dollars if she were a boy.”
In 1824 when Harriet was thirteen, she went to live in
In 1832, when Harriet was only twenty-one, she left
with her father and her sister Catherine to live in
There also, both sisters were invited to form part of a literary society called the Semi-Colon Club, which offered Harriet an agreeable audience for her first writings as well as friends.
In this part of the country there was a great debate
over slavery because it was located between the slave State of
Therefore, Harriet, who had married a professor and
minister named Calvin Stowe and was pregnant with twins, was scared to defend
her ideas against slavery. As it was not
convenient for a woman in her condition to defend her ideas, she decided to
begin her career as an anti-slavery writer using the pseudonym
It was also in
With the passing of time, some of these accounts became part of the collected stories in her work Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Those first years of marriage were hard for Harriet. Her little children required a lot of attention, and neither did they dispose of a buoyant family budget because her husband Calvin earned little money. He was a Calvinist minister who taught in the seminary, and even though he liked to write, he wasn’t as good a writer as his wife.
Harriet found herself exhausted from so much domestic
work, which she did along side her literary work, and as such, wrote a letter
in 1838 to her friend Georgiana in which she related that she spent three hours
a day writing because they needed the money and because she decided not to just
be a domestic slave. There came a time
when she fell ill from depression and later felt sick due to certain medicines
prescribed by the doctors. In the end
she had to be secluded in a spa in
Nine months after returning home, she gave birth to her sixth son, Samuel Charles, in January of 1848. The child suffered in the epidemic of cholera, which scourged the city in the summer of 1849, and died shortly after. She later wrote: “I have learned how a poor slave mother must feel when they take away her son…..I felt oppressed and of broken heart for the sadness and injustice which I have witnessed.”
Harriet still had to suffer certain persecutions in
However, the financial success of the Stowe family did not last long, and Harriet had to return to being a “slave of the pen” as she liked to say, in order to feed, clothe, and educate her large family. She wrote another nine novels, more than a hundred short stories, and many magazine and newspaper articles.
Despite this great editorial productivity, her family life continued to be full of tragedy. Several of her sons died violent deaths in their youth, from accidents or from drugs.
At the end of her life, Harriet and her husband
Her novel: Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Harriet revolutionized the genre of fiction in
Mark Schenker, deacon of Academic Affairs at
He is book was considered the first great American novel for the theme that it addressed and the influence that it had in all parts of the country. It was the envy of all writers who thought that despite all their great literary efforts, they didn’t even compare with “the sole of the shoes” of the great writer Harriet Beecher
Harriet was a very religious woman and always thought that her book was the fruit of an inspiration from God, because after some time praying in a church she had a vision of heaven and began to write, almost racing, that which was to be her masterwork. The stories that she related proceed from her very own observations and research, as we indicated earlier. Her words awoke the consciences of the majority of Americans and accelerated the beginning of the Civil War and the end of slavery.
As such, it can be said that this novel helped to change the course of history, as President Lincoln acknowledged when he met with Harriet in 1862: “And you must be the little woman who wrote the book that provoked this great war.”
This work was first published in the newspaper, and later issued as a book on the 20th of March, in 1852. It put the lives of the Stowes in danger, because they were pursued by slave owners who intended to do them harm solely for having related the truth of what was taking place in American society.
This book soon had great success, reaching the sale of
10,000 copies in one week and various printing presses had to stay in
production for 24hours in order to attend to the great demand for copies,
150,000 in only six months. Sales of Uncle Tom’s Cabin were of the highest,
comparing only with sales of the Bible, not only in
Soon Harriet, at only 40 years of age, converted
overnight into the most famous woman in
At the end of the Civil War, as slavery began to wind down in history, criticism began against Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Harriet was accused of creating slave characters that were excessively good and even saintly.
In the 30s of the twentieth century, the book was criticized as being simple trash. In the 60s, the words of Uncle Tom were considered pejorative, as insults given by black people against white culture, and in the 70´s mention of the book was reduced to a few short paragraphs in history classes and even ignored altogether in classes of literature.
Despite all this, in the last decade, certain academics have begun to give a different view of this book, and the ideas that it holds with respect to racism. Recently, Store Centre is unrolling an important campaign to return introducing this book in education programs, so that the new generations may know and value it. Despite everything, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is not an easy book to read, for Americans of African decent.
Isabella Beecher Hooker (1822-1835)
Isabella was the eldest daughter or Lyman Beecher and his second wife, Harriet Porter. She was born in Litchfield, as were her sisters mentioned earlier.
When she was very young, at the early age of 13, she left to live at Hartford to attend the Women’s Seminary, which was directed by her older sister Catherine. There she learned to read and write. At the age of 17 she met John Hooker, a lawyer who was working with one of his cousins and descendent of one of the founders of Hartford. After two years of many doubts, she married him and moved to live at Farmington until finally her family established itself in a large house in Hartford where she met with many friends and where important discussions were held on topics of the greatest contemporary interest for that epoch, such as slavery and feminism.
Isabella had four children, one of which died within a year. We know from the letters she wrote to some of her brothers that she would have liked to continue studying and have had more of an intellectual life like her sisters, but attention to family and home impeded her. Nonetheless, she wrote with her husband John, various articles against slavery in favor of its abolition, anticipating her sister Harriet.
At times Isabella had certain supernatural visions such as conversations with persons already dead, such as for example, her brother Henry Ward Beecher who had been dead for three years or with her sister Catherine. She also said on various occasions that she had correspondence with Napoleon, Joan of Arc, and Beethoven, in the last years of her life.
Not all the Suffragettes were spiritualists however spiritualism embraced a certain universal equality, and was the popular religion among the first feminists.
Isabella organized the Liberation Movement of the
In 1870 she wrote along with her husband John, a
proposition of law in order that a woman’s right to own property might be
recognized for the first time in
She died at the age of 86 of a cerebral hemorrhage with out having seen the realization of the women’s vote, something that she had fought so hard for all of her life.
Comnell, M. (1988) Indian Education in American Colonies 1607-1
Finholm, Valerie, Cabin Fever, Ibidem.
Megan, Kathleen, From Bookworm to Victorian Oprah, Ibidem.
Morgan, T. (1993) Wilderness at Dawn: The Settling of the North American Continent. New York Simon & Schuster, p.19, 23, 33.
Shaver, R. (1994) The Ancient Mayan.
Townsend, R. (1994) The Ancient Mayan.
Web Pages Consulted:
Information acquired from https://noahwebsterhouse. org/biography.html
Information acquired from Noah Webster House in
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