What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He now teaches LATIN in his Grammar School.”
At the turn of the new year, Walter Coningham sought students for his “Grammar School” in Charleston. He deployed several strategies to convince the parents to enroll their children in his academy.
Coningham opened his advertisements with a message of appreciation for fathers of his current and former students, stating that he “gratefully acknowledges the many favours he has received from those gentlemen who entrusted him with their childrens education.” While probably sincere, this public thank you also allowed the schoolmaster to underscore that other colonists previously sent their children to his school and had been satisfied with the results.
He then announced a new element of his curriculum – Latin – and described his teaching methods. He used “a plan entirely new” that immersed students in the language by consulting “books without English translations.” He assured parents that this method was “both easy and beneficial for the scholar,” but he understood that some readers might harbor some doubts on that account. Accordingly, he offered “ocular demonstration” of the “improvements his scholars make” in studying Latin through “the performance of those now under is care.” In other words, Coningham offered demonstrations. He invited those with reservations about his methods to observe his current students and decide for themselves how well they learned Latin. That he made this offer at all suggested his own confidence in the effectiveness of his pedagogy.
Coningham then elaborated on his curriculum – Greek, Latin, English, writing, and arithmetic – before noting that he cared for the mind, body, and spirit of his students, especially any boarders who were under his supervision at all times of the day and night. He promised that his students would be “improved in their morals” as well as undertake “necessary exercises, during their leisure hours.” (Coningham did not indicate the nature of these “necessary exercises.” Elsewhere on the same page Mr. Pike – a dancing and fencing master who never volunteered a first name in his advertisements in Charleston in the 1760s or in Philadelphia in the 1770s – stated that several days throughout the week he “employs in teaching at the principal boarding schools.” Was it possible that Coningham hired Pike and included fencing and dancing in his curriculum?)
Marketing is a major part of modern education. Anyone who works for a college or university is well aware of the institutional obsession with “the brand” in recent years, yet efforts to promote and to sell education through a variety of hooks and promises are not new to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Eighteenth-century educators also developed advertising to entice prospective students and their parents.