What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Mrs. Cosgreve would undertake to teach young Ladies to sew and read.”
Although several schoolmasters and –mistresses offered their services in Savannah in the late 1760s, James Cosgreve published one of the most extensive advertisements in the Georgia Gazette. The length was due in part to the schoolmaster’s description of his curriculum. Like his counterparts, he taught the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. However, he also delivered lessons in several other subjects not as widely taught by other schoolmasters in Georgia at the time. For instance, Cosgreve indicated that he provided instruction in “Mathematicks, such as the first six books of Euclid, with their application in the theory and practice of Trigonometry, Navigation, Surveying, Gnomicks, Astronomy, Geography, Algebra, and the Use of the Globes.” He also offered two tracks of language instruction to match the abilities and resources of his students. Advanced students learned Latin and Greek, but those who “cannot spend so much time at school as to acquire” those languages “to any degree of perfection” could instead study “the English and French tongues grammatically.” Cosgreve was well qualified to teach all of these subjects, “having acquired a competent skill and communicative faculty … by the laborious study and experience of a long course of years, in the most noted Seminaries, Academies, and Schools in Ireland, England, and America.”
In a short nota bene Cosgreve first noted where he resided and then added that “Mrs. Cosgreve would undertake to teach young Ladies to sew and read.” Mrs. Cosgreve was not nearly as accomplished as her husband, yet she also contributed to their household economy by offering her services as a teacher. She too participated in the marketplace, yet the representation of her activities that appeared in the public prints was dramatically overshadowed by her husband’s lengthy narration of his credentials and subjects he taught. Such was often the case for wives of schoolmasters and others who provided goods and services. If their contributions to family businesses and household finances were acknowledged at all, they tended to be mentioned only briefly in the conclusions to advertisements, almost as an afterthought. Admittedly, James Cosgreve did require a greater amount of space to detail the many and varied subjects he proposed teaching to “young Gentlemen and Ladies,” but that did not mean that Mrs. Cosgreve’s parallel instruction in sewing and reading had to be consigned to a nota bene. The husband could have instead chosen to depict his wife as an assistant or junior partner while still maintaining his status as the head of a well-ordered household. Such an approach was not unknown in eighteenth-century advertisements placed by schoolmasters whose wives made contributions to the enterprise. In this case, however, Cosgreve may have believed that placing any more emphasis on his wife would have distracted from the image of himself, the atmosphere of genteel learning at his school, and the extensive curriculum that he sought to market to prospective students and their parents.