What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He intends to open School … she will undertake to teach the Girls their Needle.”
In preparation for opening a school in Charleston, Daniel Stevens placed an advertisement in the March 29, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. He advised “the Public, and his Friends in particular” that he would teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, establishing a curriculum that set his school apart from the “British Academy on the Green” that Osborne Straton promoted in another advertisement in the same issue. Osborne taught English, Latin, and French as well as drawing, “Poetry, Rhetoric, [and] Logic.” Instead of “Writing” and “Arithmetic,” he taught “Writing in the Mercantile and Law Hands” and “The various useful and practical Branches of the Mathematicks.” Straton implied that he welcomed only boys as “Day Scholars,” but he tutored “Gentlemen or Ladies” in their homes on selected afternoons.
Stevens, on the other hand, invited readers to send both boys and girls to his school, where he provided a more modest and practical education. To that end, his advertisement included a short section in which Katharine Stevens announced “that she will undertake to teach the Girls their Needle.” As Straton cornered the market when it came to a genteel education, Daniel Stevens offered a different sort of enhancement to his curriculum, an enhancement that readers who could not translate the Latin quotations sprinkled throughout Straton’s advertisement may have considered much more useful and important.
That enhancement depended on the contributions of Katharine Stevens, presumably Daniel’s wife (but possibly a sister, daughter, or other female relation). The wording of the advertisement presents the school primarily as Daniel’s venture, but Katharine likely acted as more than a mere assistant in the endeavor. Even if she did not teach the academic subjects, she did participate in the instruction of the female students. In the process, she also supervised the children at the school, contributing to good order within the classroom. Some parents of prospective students may have been reassured simply by Katharine’s presence, assuming that it signaled more care and attention than Daniel could deliver by himself.
Both the copy and the format of this advertisement position Katharine as subordinate to Daniel. He sought pupils for his school; she taught a gendered skill, sewing, to only some of his students, the girls. Yet that description likely belied a more equal partnership that guided this joint venture in both planning and execution. At the very least, Daniel Stevens relied on the contributions made by Katharine Stevens when marketing his (their?) new school. She provided instruction in an area that he did not possess skill or expertise, an addition to the curriculum intended to make the school more attractive to prospective students and their parents.