What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A BOARDING SCHOOL in Savannah, for the education of young ladies.”
In the summer of 1769 Elizabeth Bedon proposed opening a boarding school “for the education of young ladies” in Savannah, but only if she “meets with the proper encouragement” from other colonists. She inserted an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette that provided an overview of the curriculum (“Reading, Writing, Arithmetick, and all kinds of Needle Work”) and the tuition for day scholars, day boarders, night boarders, and students who wished to attend only the lessons on needlework.
Bedon used her advertisement to undertake rudimentary market research, much like printers used subscription notices to determine whether publishing a particular book would be a sound investment of their time and resources. She identified the enterprise she wished to pursue, but made opening the school contingent on receiving encouragement from the parents and guardians of prospective pupils. Bedon stated that “it does not suit her to open school until she can engage such a number of scholars as will render it worth her while.” To that end, she invited “those who intend to intrust their children under her care” to send a message. Once she had a sufficient number of students she would open her school, just as printers took books to press once they achieved a sufficient roster of subscribers. On the other hand, if she could not enroll enough students to make her school a viable venture she was not obligated to instruct any who had indicated interest, just as printers did not publish books for an inadequate number of subscribers.
Printers most often used advertising – both newspaper notices and separate subscription papers – to conduct market research and estimate demand for particular products in eighteenth-century America, but members of other occupational groups sometimes adopted similar methods to better determine their prospects for success before launching a new endeavor. Elizabeth Bedon, for instance, used the public prints to present a proposal for a boarding school for young ladies to colonists in Georgia. She anticipated using the results derived from this minor investment to determine her next step.