What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“To teach reading, and all Kinds of Needle-Work.”
As spring arrived in 1772 advertisements for boarding schools for girls and young women appeared in several newspapers in New England. Mary Homans took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform readers that “she shall open a BOARDING SCHOOL for Misses, the first of April.” Her pupils would “be taught any Sort of Needle Work,” but that was not the extent of the curriculum. She concluded her advertisements with “Likewise Reading and Spelling.”
Elizabeth Hern’s advertisement in the New-London Gazette suggested a similar course of study for young ladies. Although she stated that she “would take Children from other Towns, and Board and School them, at a very reasonable Rate,” her description of her curriculum made it clear that she taught skills intended for female students. Like Homans, she planned to open her school on April 1. She listed reading first, but then added “all Kinds of Needle-Work, viz. working on Pocket-Books and Samplars, Embroidery on Canvass or Muslin.” Hern further elaborated that her pupils would “also learn Wax Work, or to paint on Glass.”
Reading and some forms of needlework were practical skills, but Homans and Hern sought students whose families desired more than just a practical education for their daughters. They wished for those young ladies to become proficient in feminine activities associated with gentility and leisure that would testify to their social standing. Notably, they did not open schools in Boston or New York or any of the other major urban ports. Instead, they served students in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and New London, Connecticut, and “other Towns.” Just as colonizers throughout the countryside participated in the consumer revolution, acquiring the various imported goods so often advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette and the New-London Gazette, they also cultivated manners and learned skills intended to enhance their status. For young women, that sometimes meant that learning “to paint on Glass” had as much cultural significance as learning to read.